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Trip Ideas

The Most Scenic Hiking Trails in the U.S.

America's most eye-popping natural wonders aren't visible from any overlook parking lot—Mother Nature makes you work for it. Our favorite day hikes are worth the sweat for the highly 'grammable views.

See recent posts by Kathryn O'Shea-Evans

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
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Horseshoe Bend Hike, Arizona

The easiest hike on our list also happens to be one of the most photogenic. You’ll have to walk just over a mile to reach the dreamy viewpoint over Horseshoe Bend, named for the path the Colorado River takes through 200-million-year-old "Navajo" sandstone cliffs. Pack a wide-angle lens to capture the full effect, and ask the ranger to point you in the direction of 800-year-old petroglyphs (I.e. Ancient emoji) in the Glen Canyon.

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Grinnell Glacier Hike, Glacier National Park, Montana

Warning: Pack bear spray. This 10.3 mile hike wends past turquoise Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake to some of the last remaining (and, sadly, rapidly melting) glaciers. If you’d rather skip the trek, hop a shuttle boat to zip across the lakes (well worth the small fee). Keep your eyes out for bighorn sheep, the 9,000-foot high Mt. Grinnell, and possibly a few Grizzly bears.

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Cathedral Lakes Hike, Yosemite National Park, California

Let the crowds have Yosemite Valley. Tuolumne Meadows is every bit as beautiful by our measure—and you won’t be jockeying for camera space.
You’ll see both of the twin Cathedral Lakes on your eight mile round-trip hike from the trailhead; their glistening waters reflect the surrounding granite mountains and evergreen trees. Reward yourself post-hike with the mango and white fish tacos at Tioga Gas Mart—almost certainly the best you’ll ever have from a gas station.

RELATED: Cali’s Top Hot Springs Resorts

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Summit Loop Hike, Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Adventurous types have a well-kept secret in central Oregon, and it’s not (just) Deschutes Brewery. On the steady climb of the 7.3-mile Summit Loop at Smith Rock State Park, hikers will pass nesting golden eagles as they climb the tuff and basalt formations slung around the Crooked River. Your most insta-worthy moment: when you reach Monkey Face, a spire that juts from the earth like a red rock skyscraper.

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Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

If you’ve ever wanted to exit real life and step into a screen saver, pay attention. This eleven mile hike along Kalalau Trail looks like a scene out of Jurassic Park (think craggy cliffs, leafy foothills, and lapping blue seas shrouded in mist). Secure a state permit and you can actually camp on that too-powdery-to-be-believed white sand beach.

RELATED: The Best Beaches in Hawaii

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Sylvan Lake Trail, Custer State Park, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore is…interesting, but for our South Dakota hiking time, nothing beats Sylvan Lake. An easy one mile hike winds around a lake where granite monoliths rise from the water like cresting whales. Keep your eyes out for mountain lions, prairie dogs, and Northern flying squirrels (they really do fly!).

Acadia National Park, Maine
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Beehive Loop, Acadia National Park, Maine

Our favorite hike in Acadia National Park is the meandering Beehive Loop, which takes you over a roche moutonnée (a rock formation created by the passing of a glacier)—which, thankfully, has been fitted with iron rungs for support. Your reward for all your effort: sweeping views of the Atlantic, including Frenchman Bay, and a mile-long retreat on the Ocean Path to powdery Sand Beach.

RELATED: Northeast Vacations: The 9 Cutest Small Towns

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Cane Creek Falls Hike, Tennessee

If Cane Creek sounds like a name for a Country Western song, that’s because honey—y’all are in Tennessee. This tumbling 85-foot waterfall in Fall Creek Falls State Park is best seen after a steep descent to the water’s edge, with help of sturdy cables (who needs a hiking stick?). Tip: go after a rainy day for the most generous and misty waterfall pour.

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The Narrows Hike, Zion National Park, Utah

Bring your water shoes: on The Narrows hike in (yes, in) the Virgin River, you’ll essentially wade up to 16 miles through a stunning slot canyon, whose walls sometimes reach a thousand feet. Just be sure to check rain/flash flood warnings before you begin.

RELATED: A Guide to Utah’s National Parks

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The Most Comfortable Walking Shoes for Your Next Trip

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Any upcoming trip will likely call for a decent amount of time on your feet. Make sure you’re traveling in a comfortable style with some of our favorites.

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