Top Ten American National Park Day Hikes
Explore the lower of the United States with a hiking nomad who has put one foot in front of the other all over the country!
Greetings from the dirt paths to all of you Happy Hikers!
My name is Mike Rudd and I am an outdoor adventure writer, hiking/trail running junkie, and part of the HPH Community.
I’m STOKED to be doing a guest blog series on hiking for HPH. I am going to primarily share with you hiking ideas and tips around the lower 48 of the US while being a nomad living out of my car. In this article I am going to share my Top Ten Day Hikes in the US National Parks!
My wife & I made the choice to put belongings in a storage unit and head West to enjoy the more wide open outdoor spaces and to hike our butts off safely during COVID19. As opposed to living in our downtown apartment in one of the 15 biggest cities in America.
As a result of this I have revisited some of my favorite hiking destinations in the National Parks system, discovered new ones, and had enough time as a result of COVID19 to think of my Top Ten (what are you daydreaming about?!)
One note about my TOP TEN list of National Park Day Hikes in America, these are ones that I have done so far and I omitted any off the list that I want to do but have not done yet.
Maybe you have one to add that I have been yearning to do and you can add your thoughts?! It was hard enough to come up with just ten on the list let alone put them in order so this is not in any particular order. Let’s get to hiking!
1. Rim to Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
While not always recommended as a day hike in but rather a multi-day backpacking trip I did it in one day back in 2018 and played a support role for my spouse in her doing it in one day in October of 2020. Starting on the North Kaibab Trail and heading up the Bright Angel were the routes we both did. It is basically equivalent to a marathon in distance and a mile straight up and down in elevation gain. There is nothing like it. It’s an experience you will never forget. If you want to learn more about the logistics piece I wrote an article HERE on it.
2. Highline Loop, Glacier National Park, Montana.
Spanning almost a dozen miles of the Big Sky terrain just off the epic Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana this hike packs it all in. Wildflowers, steep drop offs, snow capped mountains, panoramic photo worthy meadows, wildlife, and oh yes; the ability to read when the last shuttle will take you back to the start! We had to truck this hike in four hours and I trail the final mile or two but we made it. Starting near the visitor center at the highest point of the Going to the Sun Road and then shuttling back afterwards is my recommended route.
3. Hoh Rainforest Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington.
The One Square Inch of Silence as said by a scientist as designated in the wilderness portion of the Hoh Rainforest as the quietest square inch in the world. Throw in moss covered trees, the Hoh river, miles of terrain, and jaw dropping waterfalls in the rainforest and you’ll be wanting to turn this into a backpacking/camping trip. The trail is just under 17 miles one way and mostly flat until the final few miles. Go as long as you feel safe, I have done this trail twice. Once four miles in for an eight mile round trip and once about seven miles in. I look forward to doing the whole 32.8 as a backpacking trip one year!
4. Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
I have been hiking in RMNP since I was two years old and it was HARD to pick my favorite from this park. I could do a top ten list just from RMNP. But the alpine lake, sweeping views of Longs Peak, and steep elevation for a great workout give Chasm Lake the edge to make it on this list. I first did this trail at seven years old when I was introduced to my first altitude headache. (Eating donuts and drinking milk likely didn’t help as the pre hike meal.) Chasm Lake is one of the prettiest lakes I have ever visited in the world.
5. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California.
The steel cables. The John Muir quotes. The waterfall chasing. There is nothing about Half Dome that isn’t 100% scary and amazing. If you are lucky enough to snag permits like I did this year be prepared for one of the harder day hikes in your life and leave your fear of heights at the trailhead. It’s worth every second of terror on the steep cables, I promise. I wrote about the hike HERE.
6. Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah.
Zion, while barely even in my top five favorite National Parks at number five, sneaks in three hikes on the Top Ten List! Angels Landing is Utah’s sweaty palm version of Half Dome as you grip chains for the final three quarters of a mile to make it to the top. The views are epic, the crowds are huge, but it’s definitely an experience you will never forget! I would recommend going early in the morning on a weekday in shoulder season. Both times I have finished this hike I can’t even begin to tell you the thrill (AND RELIEF)I felt, the number of people I saw who opted out part way, the even higher number who got themselves into dangerous situations on the hike, and those that faced their fears and amazingly made it to the top. It’s more intimidating looking up to where you are going I believe than if you just put one foot in front of the other and breathe deeply. I wrote about the hike HERE.
7. Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah.
This hike has been closed for sometime due to a rockfall in the region and they have no idea when it might open again. The picture from the top made the cover of my third book though and I have done this hike twice. More of a workout and no fear of the chains of Angels Landing always made this a less crowded but equally gorgeous hike to me in Zion. I hope it will open again soon for the world to experience however just being in Zion I was told it might never reopen from this trailhead. All the more special to dream about then right?!
This was a fun experiment to put together a top ten list of hikes in the US National Parks! However it was really hard because of the options. The parks offer so much more than just epic day hikes but for me it’s something that can really transform you as a person and push your edges. I hope the list has inspired you to new ideas and wellness goals for 2021 and beyond.
8. The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah.
I have now done the Narrows twice and I must say there is NOTHING to compare this hike to. If you only have one epic day hike left to do in America I would consider this, Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon, and Half Dome as the most unique choices to consider. Submerged between ankle and chest deep water for the day hike option, you hike up the Virgin River inside the canyon before making your way back down. Pack your drybag, closed toe waterproof shoes, hiking poles, and of course be extremely careful in checking conditions before going on this hike. I did this once in September and rented a drysuit to do in late November of 2020. Spring is often not a good time due to high water levels and it’s closed for flash flood dangers so plan accordingly. I wrote more about the hike HERE. Pardon the crappy pics, it was with my waterproof gopro that was way old.
9. Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.
One of the secrets of the National Park System and in the home state of the HPH founders! Isle Royale takes time and energy and a small window of the year to make it to but once you do you’ll likely never want to leave. Especially if you got seasick on the ferry out. The largest island in Lake Superior is a hiker’s and stargazer’s dream. I could go on and on about the Isle Royale Experience (I did HERE) but this hike is not to be missed. I did 20 miles of it as it wraps around the outer edges of the lake and winds inward and up to the highest points of the island. You can turn this into a multi-day backpacking trip as well and camp at designated slots along the way. The country’s least visited lower 48 US National Park is my 2nd favorite park behind the Grand Canyon.
10. Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California.
Death Valley is truly special and more unique to me than just about any other park in the NPS system. From Badwater Basin to 10,000 foot high peaks to slot canyons to the infamous “Race Track” to the Ubehebe Crater to the Devil’s Golf Course there are a plethora of ways to adventure. But a sunset or sunrise hike up and down and up and down the easily accessible Mesquite Sand Dunes makes you feel something that is hard to describe. This is not a normal hike. Death Valley is not a normal place. There are no trails on these sand dunes. Just an idea that the farther you go the more you see and the more you should remember what direction the parking lot is! Go as far as the eye can see or take a short one or two mile trek into the dunes. You won’t regret all the sand in your shoes!
Do you have any questions on these hikes? Or others that are located in the same National Parks? I would love to answer the best that I can and support you in finding one to go on when you can!
May we get to hike more because after all, Happy People Hike!
Outdoor Adventure Writer. Mind Body Soul Instructor. Hashtag 59 Co-Founder.
Newest Book: Mud, Mountains, & Sweat.