Out And Back: 20 Best Day Hikes In America

A pair of boots, a pack large enough for some snacks and water bottles, and some weather appropriate clothes. That is just about all you’ll really need to go on a day hike. This, in large part, is why we love them.

With day hikes, there is none of the fussing about prepping, packing, and trying to reserve the right campsite on your lunch break at work. All you have to do is pick a trail and go. That last part, however, can be deceptively tricky. National Parks websites can be really hard to navigate, and even the best guidebooks not quite as forthcoming as you’d like. Finding the perfect trail usually results in a combination of lots of internet research and some trial and error. We can’t help you with that last part, but we are more than on top of the first. We’ve put together a list of what we think are the Best Day Hikes In The U.S. for you to peruse and go on. From sea to shining sea, we’ve included wild hikes that take you on everything from intense climbs to more low-key jaunts through the forest. Take a scroll through and see for yourself.

Black Mountain Trail

Channel Islands National Park

Located on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California, this trail shoots straight up to the top of one of highest peaks, offering up amazing views of the nearby Santa Cruz Island and the distant more distant mainland. The island can get incredibly windy, so it is important to pack a windbreaker and at least one warm layer for the 2.5 hour boat ride out.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 1,279
Length: 6.0
Level: Moderate

Channel Islands National Park

Canyon Trail Black

Koke'e State Park, Hawaii

A more moderate hike located on the smaller Hawaiian island of Kauai, this trail dips down in the first mile and a half, only to climb again consistently over next 2. The hike offers up scenic views of the surrounding woods, takes you by some smaller waterfalls, and puts the native flowers and birds on display.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 1,669
Length: 3.8
Level: Moderate

Koke'e State Park

Glady to High Falls Trail

Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

A longer day hike with a simple out and back route. After parking in the small town of Glady, the trail leads hikers out through the West Virginian woods through a slight grade down the first portion of the trip and then back up and along a set of live railroad tracks towards a large waterfall and swimming hole. If you’re going in the summer, bring bug spray. Lots of it.

Seasonality: Summer
Elevation Change: 744
Length: 9.1
Level: Moderate

Monongahela National Forest

Harney Peak Highpoint Trail

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Big loop that takes hikers on a trip up to the top of one of the peaks in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The hike features a substantial, but not impossible climb all the way up to an old historic fire tower that has fallen out of use. While that is a primary attraction of the hike, the trip both up and back are just as interesting thanks to the unique geologic formations of the Black Hills.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 3,287
Length: 7.3
Level: Moderate

Black Hills National Forest

Hellhole Canyon

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Don’t let the name of this hike fool you. Starting out at the hot desert floor, this path takes hikers up into a canyon that gets cooler and more shaded the further in one goes. The payoff at the end of the trail is a pumping waterfall and a stream that shaves a solid 20 or so degrees off the usually sweltering temperatures. Bringing lots of water and a pair of sunglasses is an absolute necessity on this hike.

Seasonality: Spring, Fall, Winter
Elevation Change: 980
Length: 5.1
Level: Moderate

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park, California

One of the coolest things about higher altitude hikes is getting the opportunity to look *down* onto the tops of flying birds. This well worn trail offers up plenty of opportunities for that. It snakes up the sides of steep rock faces, dips into caves and canyons, and brings hikers by stunning rock outcroppings. The trails are open year round, but are best enjoyed during the spring, summer, or fall.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 2,011
Length: 6.7
Level: Hard

Pinnacles National Park

Hoh River Trail

Olympic National Park, Washington

While this trail may go on for over 30 miles, we couldn’t resist putting it on our day-hikes list. It’s so beautiful it is worth heading out on for a simple out-and back trip. The well maintained trail snakes under large, mossy trees and goes along the side of the fast moving Hoh River, making for a cool and moist hike. While few will make it this far out in a day, it is worth noting that hike in features a slight incline, but at about 11 miles in, it gets steep.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 253
Length: Varies
Level: Easy

Olympic National Park

Hot Springs Trail

Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of the more popular trails in the park, this loop takes hikers up a limestone cliff where one can get a great view of both the Rio Grande below and the Chisos mountains in the distance. Towards the end of the trail near the hot springs, hikers will also get a chance to see old Native American carvings. There is little to no shade throughout the entirety of the nearly 6 mile loop, so bringing sunscreen, water, and a good hat should be mandatory for any hiker.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 1,135
Length: 5.8
Level: Moderate

Big Bend National Park

Mazama Village To Rim Village Trail

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

A straightforward hike out and back from Mazama Village to the rim of Crater Lake. The end of the trail offers up views of the incredibly blue waters of the lake, and a clear view of Wizard Island to the north. In order to get to that point, however, hikers have to push themselves the last 1.5 miles to climb a little over 1,000 feet. A good challenge with a great reward.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 1,912
Length: 8.6
Level: Moderate

Crater Lake National Park

Metacomet-Monadnock Trail

Holyoke Range State Park, Massachusetts

A fun but challenging trail that takes hikers along the tops of the Holyoke range in Western Massachusetts. While the mountain range is far from the highest, this trail offers up steep descents and climbs throughout – challenging even your more seasoned hiker. A fun bit of trivia – the trail up the Bare mountain section of the hike goes along an old abandoned post attack command center dating back to the hight of the Cold War.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 3,159
Length: 11
Level: Hard

Holyoke Range State Park

Mill Creek Trail

Los Padres National Forest, California

Located near Big Sur, this hike into the forest near the famously untouched coastal section of California is ideal for hikers of all skill levels. Featuring only a brief climb, the trail descends into the forest until it hits the bottom of the canyon. As the hike goes further from the coast, it brings adventurers to a waterfall. Some water-crossings are on the trail – so having some good waterproof boots can be a help. Also – keep an eye out for poison oak here; there is lots of it.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 3,387
Length: 7.3
Level: Easy

Los Padres National Forest

Moab Rim Trail

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

A solid hike that really puts the hurt on your legs for the first mile by climbing a little over 800 feet. The pain is worth it through once you regain your breath – the trail offers views out over nearby Moab and the Colorado River below. There isn’t a lot of shade to be had, so lots of water and sunscreen are recommended.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 2,017
Length: 7.9
Level: Hard

Dead Horse Point State Park

Mount Cammerer Loop

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

A tough hike that starts out with a really steep three mile long climb up to the Appalachian trail. Once connected, hikers can follow the trail out to the summit of Mt. Cammerer – a mountain with an elevation of 4,928 feet. The old stone fire tower located at the peak of the mountain offers up spectacular views of the surrounding forest. Given the length and difficulty of the climb – this is a hike you want to get out on early in the day to provide enough time to enjoy the peak.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 3,570
Length: 5.6
Level: Hard

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Old Rag Mountain Loop

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Generally considered one of the better, if not best hikes in Shenandoah National Park, this 9 mile long trek takes hikers up steep switchbacks, rock scrambles, and well worn trails all the way to the top of Old Rag Mountain. Once on top of this first section, the trail goes along a ridge, then gradually dips down back to the starting point. All things said, a great loop with really stunning views.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 2,493
Length: 9
Level: Hard

Shenandoah National Park

Precipice Trail

Acadia National Park, Maine

One of the shortest hikes on our list, but a fun and challenging one all the same. In just under a mile, the trail climbs up over 1,000 feet, at one point even going straight up the face of a rock via a steel runged ladder. True to its name, once at the top of the trail, hikers can look clear out to the surrounding Acadia park and the Atlantic.

Seasonality: Summer
Elevation Change: 1,072
Length: 1.5
Level: Hard

Acadia National Park

Rim and Gorge Trail

Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Located out near Ithaca, this laid back loop follows a well worn path from a swimming hole up along a series of waterfalls. For those looking to cool off a bit in the summer, it’s a great pick for a hike.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 1,085
Length: 4.3
Level: Moderate

Robert H. Treman State Park

Rim Trail

Grand Canyon National Park

It would be misleading to call this trail anything but popular. The Grand Canyon is among the most famous of National Parks, so as result – many of the trails are going to be well worn. For those looking for a good jaunt along the rim of the canyon though, this is a solid pick.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 419
Length: 5.6
Level: Easy

Grand Canyon National Park

Spring Mountain Trail

Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area, Georgia

A dog friendly trail located outside Elijay, Georgia that snakes up to the top of a mountain where it briefly meets up with the Appalachian trail. During the spring the trail is flanked by wild flowers, and offers a fantastic view of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains from the top.

Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Elevation Change: 2,158
Length: 10.3
Level: Moderate

Blue Ridge Wildlife Management Area

Surprise Amphitheater Lakes Trail

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Located in Moose, Wyoming, this out and back trail shoots almost straight up about three thousand feet to Amphitheater lake. The trek is a hard one both up and back due to the steep climb, but that reward on top makes the whole trip more than worth it.

Seasonality: Summer
Elevation Change: 2,975
Length: 9.2
Level: Hard

Grand Teton National Park

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Yosemite National Park, California

You can’t honestly put together a list of the best day hikes out there and not include at least one from Yosemite. Our choice was easy. The Upper Yosemite Falls trail is one of the most visited for a reason – once at the top, hikers can look out over the Yosemite Falls Overlook and take in the amazing views of the valley below and surrounding mountains. But getting to that point takes work. The hike is steep, and requires a lot of stamina to accomplish.

Seasonality: All Seasons
Elevation Change: 3,323
Length: 5.8
Level: Hard

Yosemite National Park

10 Best Hiking Dog Breeds

You’ve got the trials, now you just need your partner. Take a look through our list of the best K9s for hiking and adventure.

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