Summer in the United States is always special. The kids are home from school, the weather is great and the amazing outdoors beckons. Throughout most of the country, there is access to some of the most beautiful American hiking trails that one can experience anywhere in the world.
America is justly proud of its National Parks and wildernesses that scatter the country. There’s nothing better than getting your boots on and getting out onto those trails to check them out. Here are three of the best ones in order of ability:
3 Amazing American Hiking Trails
Best Easy Hike
Muir Woods National Monument, California. The Muir Woods National Monument is situated in northern California, in Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Within easy access of the city, the National Monument makes up a part of the Redwood Trail that stretches all the way up to Washington State in the Pacific Northwest, but the forest here is about as spectacular as anywhere else along the trail.
The trees here are enormous, with an average age of 600-800 years old. That means that they’re high – 250 feet on average, and around 18 feet wide at the bottom. The trails in the park offer the most perfect family option for getting out into nature. Level, not too difficult, and awe-inspiring for kids and adults alike. For Star Wars fans, here is where the forest moon of Endor (home of the Ewoks) was filmed in Return of the Jedi.
Muir Woods is purely a day visitors park. No camping is allowed here, although Mt Tamalpais State Park next door does have camping facilities. But really, there’s no need to camp here. The whole idea of the place is to come and go in the daytime and give the children their first tastes of the majesty and beauty of the natural world and of nature.
To that end, Muir Woods completely succeeds, and many experienced adult hikers and nature lovers put their love of the outdoors to those hikes among the redwood trees when they were children. Muir Woods is a must-do for any family. More on the National Park Website.
Best Moderate Hike
Red River Gorge, Kentucky. The Red River runs through a series of canyons in the Appalachian Mountain range of eastern Kentucky. The gorge is comprised of sandstone cliffs, natural bridges and waterfalls. It’s set mostly inside of the Daniel Boone National Forest and the area offers some of the best hiking and climbing opportunities among some of the most spectacular scenery east of the Mississippi River.
The Red River Gorge is a hiker’s dream, with trails to suit all abilities, but in the opinion of most old hands and regulars in the region, the 5.6 miles that cover access to the Double Arch, the Star Gap Arch, and the Arch of Triumph offer the best that area has to offer. These three arches typify the natural splendor of the Red River Gorge’s unique rock formations and offer the hiker who is looking for something a little more challenging – but not crazily so – a wonderful day out with the option of camping too.
The Red River Gorge is fantastic all year-round, even in the winter, but the best time to come and get the most out of the place is during the fall months of September and October when the autumn colors are truly inspiring or during spring to catch the blooming of the wildflowers. No-one comes to the Gorge and doesn’t remember it forever. Find more information on their Wikipedia page.
Best Difficult Hike
Haiku Stairs, Hawaii. What it lacks in natural ground to walk on, it makes up for in sheer gruel. The Haiku Stairs on the island of Oahu in Hawaii is probably the best – maybe even the only – manmade hiking attraction in the world that you’ve never heard of. Nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, the Haiku Stairs were constructed in WWII by the US Navy in order to access a radio station in the Koʻolau Range set in the east of the island. There are almost 4,000 steps that make up the Haiku Stairs, and there’s no getting around it – this walk is tough. However, those people that actually attempt it are rewarded with some of the best views in Hawaii.
The Stairs follow mountain ridges with steep drop off on either side falling 100s of feet below. Hikers attempt the trail at their own risk nowadays – the Stairs have been officially closed to the public since 1987 and are not deemed safe for people to attempt. Despite that though, hikers often ignore the rules and attempt it anyway. Sporadically the local municipality talks about reopening, but nothing concrete has happened yet.
This, of course, makes the hike even more appealing to some. The illicit nature of undertaking this tough trek means it’s more worthwhile to get that selfie when you’re up there. Make no bones about it, the Haiku Stairs are truly unique and that’s what earns it its reputation. More about my favourite difficult hike can be found on earthpoet.com.