Best Park for Hiking (2015)


From sea to shining sea, the United States is home to miles upon miles of gorgeous hiking trails – 193,500 miles of trails on federal land and another 42,500 on state land according to the American Hiking Society. In 2013 an estimated 34 million hikers hit the American trails.

  • Rocky Mountain National Park

    Rocky Mountain National Park

    Relaxed Rocky Mountain-strolls give way to sick, spectacular summit hikes that culminate upwards of 12,000 feet. Behold the 350+ miles of Rocky Mountain National Park’s trails, a Colorado trekkers’ paradise where distance doesn’t necessarily dictate the hiker’s reward. Case in point, the Alberta Falls Trail winds little more than a half-mile but remains among the park’s most popular. Why? Those who venture enjoy the gushing torrent of Glacier Creek as it careens over a stunning waterfall.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Isle Royale National Park

    Isle Royale National Park

    An outdoor enthusiast’s wonderland at the U.S.-Canadian border, Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park boasts myriad day hikes into the solace of its woodlands, but more experienced trekkers may choose to tackle its Greenstone Ridge Trail over several days. This roughly 40-mile route runs the length of the island, which is one of America’s least-visited national parks, a pristine gem that Great Lakes Staters – particularly those who love its Lake Superior locale – are happy to have much to themselves.
    Photo courtesy of MDuchek / Wikimedia Commons

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    North Carolina, Tennessee

    Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be a literal badge of honor. The park’s “Hike the Smokies” program encourages folks to log their mileage in a record book and earn badges, pins and kudos along with all the great exercise and fresh air. Awards for 100-, 250- and 500-milers notwithstanding, a similar program encourages the youngest hikers to get in on the fun with awards for families who log 10-, 40- and 50-miles on the trails. The famous Appalachian Trail (known to some as the AT) runs for 71 miles through this park, passing numerous notable landmarks along the way.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

    Towering Sequoia sentinels, rushing waterfalls, great granite cliff faces are just a few features breathless hikers enjoy at these conjoined California parks. The mountain views aren’t half bad, either – elevations here range from 1,370 to 14,494 feet! While the Grant Grove area is popular for hikes featuring General Grant, one of the world’s largest living trees, those looking for sweeping vistas may favor the steep Moro Rock Trail which rewards hikers with magnificent views of the Great Western Divide.
    Photo courtesy of Mitch Barrie / Flickr

  • Ocala National Forest

    Ocala National Forest

    “Not only can you hike 100 miles of continuous trail on the Florida National Scenic Trail here,” notes hiking expert Peter Olsen, “but there are many other opportunities to explore the unique and wondrous beauty of this place.” Indeed, backpackers flock to Ocala and its wondrous miles that meander through woodlands, pine sandhills and other unique Florida habitats, but so, too, do novices enjoy the forest’s easy-walking half-mile boardwalks, a beautiful beginners’ method of exploring a wilderness Olsen calls, “spectacular.”
    Photo courtesy of US Forest Service photo by Susan Blake

  • Grand Canyon National Park

    Grand Canyon National Park

    Want to time travel? The colorful rock layers of Grand Canyon National Park represent three of the four eras of geological time and its many trails allows hikers to explore both the Southern Rim or less-explored Northern Rim. Though hikes here allow for a range of ability, experts agree there are no truly easy paths into the canyon. “Explore the unique geography and soak up the spirit of this special place but do so carefully,” says hiking expert Peter Olsen. “Read up about the trail you’ll be hiking and be adequately prepared, then go enjoy the splendor.”
    Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park

  • Zion National Park

    Zion National Park

    The pioneers, and the Native American ancients before them, were the first to marvel at the massive sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park, where every sunrise and set transforms the rock’s colors into a show that rivals the most elaborate of fireworks displays. The popular Narrows, with its thousand-foot walls, is one way to literally get your feet wet hiking at Zion. There are easy and moderate hikes a’plenty, along with precipitous journeys; acrophobic hikers need not apply! Backcountry fans may choose to visit the famed Kolob Arch; the trail to get there boasts some of Zion’s most beautiful scenery.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Glacier National Park

    Glacier National Park

    With the rugged and beautiful Montana terrain as a hiker’s carrot, the winding trails of Glacier National Park are enjoyed in some capacity by more than half of its annual visitors. And with some 700 miles of them to explore, both newcomers to the pastime, as well as seasoned vets, will find ample opportunity for scenic day hikes and long-haul backpacking excursions. Outstanding waterfall, lake, meadow and of course, mountain views abound. A couple of trails are even wheelchair-accessible.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Shenandoah National Park

    Shenandoah National Park

    Bold, beautiful wilderness lies less than 100 miles from the nation’s capital, a place powerful and pristine enough to cleanse hikers from the work-day woes. Even the political kind. Visitors meander amid jagged rocks, quiet forests cascading waterfalls, enjoying everything from moderate out-and-backs to the trails that navigate Hawksbill, leading hikers to its summit and the highest point (4,051 feet). The best vistas here generally fall outside the summer season, when pollution from the nearby cities can haze up the views.
    Photo courtesy of Shenandoah National Park

  • Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite National Park

    Sure, Yosemite's a classic – and quite well known, “but it’s classic and well-known for a reason,” says expert Peter Olsen, vice president for programs and government relations at the American Hiking Society. “The beauty you encounter here will take your breath away.” Indeed visitors can wander amid its grove of giant sequoias on one- to five-hour hikes, spy waterfalls and wildflowers in the oft-overlooked Hetch Hetchy, or secure a permit to conquer Yosemite’s iconic and beautiful Half Dome.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock


For the past four weeks USA TODAY 10Best readers have been voting for their favorite park for hiking from a pool of 20 nominees, and the results are in!

Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park took the title by a wide margin, thanks to its 350+ miles of trails – everything from relaxed strolls to intense treks to altitudes of over 12,000 feet.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Park for Hiking are as follows:

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. Isle Royale National Park
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  4. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
  5. Ocala National Forest
  6. Grand Canyon National Park
  7. Zion National Park
  8. Glacier National Park
  9. Shenandoah National Park
  10. Yosemite National Park

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Peter Olsen (American Hiking Society), Karen Berger (America's Great Hiking Trails) and Diana Gerstacker (The Active Times) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of hiking in U.S. parks.

Other nominees for Best Park for Hiking included Arches National Park, Baxter State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Chugach National Forest, Denali National Park, Mt. Hood National Forest, North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park, Superior National Forest and White River National Forest.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.

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AlertThe Experts

Peter Olsen

Peter Olsen

Peter Olsen

Karen Berger

Karen Berger

Karen Berger

Diana Gerstacker

Diana Gerstacker

Diana Gerstacker