Get inspired to plan your next epic adventure with these 63 incredible hikes!
The United States National Park System protects more than 85 million acres of Planet Earth's most incredible landscapes. From towering mountain ranges to arid deserts, verdant jungles, arctic tundras, and almost every other landscape imaginable, the national parks are the USA's most valuable treasure.
The National Park System (NPS) was born in its nascent state on March 1, 1872, when "President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law," according to the NPS. However, the NPS truly came of age on August 25, 1916, when "President Woodrow Wilson signed the 'Organic Act' creating the National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for maintaining national parks and monuments that were then managed by the department," according to the NPS.
Since then, the NPS has become a model for conservation and preservation that has been followed around the world. Above and beyond national parks and monuments, the NPS manages 423 different units with 19 naming conventions (at the time of this writing in late 2022).
While the National Park System includes many different types of units, this guidebook is only concerned with the fully-fledged national parks themselves. As of late 2022 when this description was written, there are currently 63 national parks in the system. This number continues to change as new parks are regularly added to the list. Most often, current national monuments will get upgraded to national park status, thereby receiving additional resources... and fame.
The national parks are some of the most visited natural sites in the world. In 2021, NPS sites received a total of 297 million visits, with the most-visited national park—Great Smoky Mountains—receiving over 14 million visits alone. Despite their popularity, the beauty of these parks—and the famous hikes within their borders—inevitably ignite the human imagination, beckoning people from around the world to come, visit, and experience the beauty for themselves.
Many of the popular sites and hikes have become a bonafide checklist for any self-respecting traveler. While perhaps the lesser-known hikes can offer equivalent beauty with a fraction of the crowds, you sometimes still have to check off the most famous itineraries just to say you've done them.
In this guidebook, we've rounded up what is arguably the most famous hike in every single USA national park, arranged in alphabetical order by park. For some of these parks, it's difficult to choose exactly which trail is the most famous. For instance, in Sequoia National Park, is it the Congress Grove to the famous sequoia trees, or Mount Whitney—the highest point in the Lower 48?
In other parks, the hiking trails themselves aren't the main attraction. In Mammoth Cave, for example, most people head under the ground instead of hiking along the surface. In Dry Tortugas, most people choose to paddle instead of hike.
While many of these "most famous" hikes are also the most popular in the respective national parks, be warned that some of these ultra-famous hikes are still incredibly difficult. Mountain peaks included in this guidebook, such as Longs Peak, Mount Whitney, and Half Dome, are all challenging mountains that should not be attempted without plenty of preparation and training. Similarly, epic traverses like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim and the Greenstone Ridge Trail comprise challenging multi-day backpacking itineraries for most people. And, it's worth noting that many of these epic hikes—and even many of the shorter ones, like Angels Landing—have claimed lives on multiple occasions. Do not underestimate them.
This incredible diversity and the raw challenge of the natural world are exactly the allure of the national parks. The landscapes are beautiful, wild, and ever-changing, and each and every park is home to something truly unique. Whether you use this guidebook as a checklist of adventures that you must complete or simply as inspiration to get you to plan your next big trip, the important part is the dream that fuels your next adventure.