The United States lends itself to a hiking vacation in the most diverse ways – rugged cliffs, exuberant flora and fauna in vast natural forests, impressive coasts, barren desert landscapes or boundless expanses in the prairies.
The United States offers hiking destinations for every preference – besides the varied landscape, the historically based diversity in culture and population also plays an essential role in the United States.
In this comprehensive hiking guide to the USA, we not only provide valuable tips on recommended routes and regions for a hiking trip.
We also highlight the USA’s history and culture, which honors its name as the “Land of Limitless Opportunities” for its unique hiking destinations.
Besides the people and the culture, the United States is interesting for hiking trips mainly because of its diversity of landscapes and natural beauty.
Thanks to the different climatic zones and geographical conditions, both flora and fauna in the USA are very diverse. You can see whales and numerous seabirds during hiking trips on the east and west coasts, marvel at gigantic redwood trees while hiking in the national parks in the west of the USA, meet alligators on a trip to the Everglades or observe wolves, bison and bears in remote forests.
The wildlife that can be experienced while hiking in the U.S. also includes polar bears, seals and reindeer in Alaska, cougars in California and plenty of reptiles and snakes in the deserts of the Southwest.
Moose, beaver and deer also roam the forests, especially in the Northeast. If you are fortunate, you may even see the increasingly rare wild horses and antelope on a hiking trip to the western United States.
Just like the animals, the plant species also change depending on the climate zone in the USA. In the Northeast, coniferous and mixed forests dominate. In the east center, somewhat deciduous trees, further south, the vegetation becomes more and more subtropical – up to swampy mangrove forests in states like Florida and South Carolina.
The heart of the U.S. heartland is characterized by prairie vegetation, i.e., grassland, which also has its charms for hiking. Further west, the prairies are joined by dry steppes and semi-deserts with their typical sparse vegetation.
In California, finally, there are significantly more trees to be seen – and to be enjoyed in some of the country’s most impressive national parks during extended hiking trips.
In general, any part of the United States is suitable as a destination for a hiking trip. However, since hiking preferences in terms of landscape and climatic conditions are very individual, hiking tourists should know the peculiarities of each region before they start planning for hiking in the USA.
The northeast and the east coast of the USA offer a temperate continental climate, one of the most famous and spectacular destination are the Niagara Falls on the northeastern border with Canada, where it is very nice to hike.
The region’s coniferous and mixed forests are very extensive, inviting extended hiking trips. The mountains in New England offer some strenuous climbs – but reward you with great views when hiking in the mountains with ocean views in Acadia National Park in Maine.
What can be experienced here incomparably as in no other region when hiking in the U.S. is the famous Indian Summer: The deciduous trees shine in late summer and autumn in the most beautiful colors and make a hiking trip in the region an unforgettable experience.
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For those who like it more subtropical, the southeastern and southern states of the U.S. might be on your shortlist for hiking. Florida alone offers more than 5,000 miles of hiking trails for hiking enthusiasts.
This shows that hiking is not only a tourist attraction here, but hiking and hiking trips are playing an increasingly important role as a form of local recreation for locals as well.
With their unique flora and fauna, the southeastern states of the U.S. certainly provide a welcome break from everyday life: lush greenery lines the trail in many places in this region, and warm, humid climates in mangrove forests attract corresponding animal species, making the scenery here seem particularly exotic.
Numerous rivers and lakes also provide variety for hiking – and a great diversity of species. In addition, the area is known for extensive, light-flooded pine forests, through which it is almost carefree to hike and walk.
These routes are especially recommended for untrained hikers. However, mosquito repellent should always be in your luggage for all excursions in this region.
For fans of sweeping prairie landscapes, there is arguably nothing more breathtaking than the middle states of the USA. Especially the Great Plains, with its vast grasslands, offer delightful environments for relaxed hiking trips.
Besides, the region is recommended as a trekking destination for ambitious mountain hikes. After all, the famous Rocky Mountains run through a large part of this area. Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or Utah invite with varied scenery and plenty of space for extended hiking trips.
But also in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma or Nebraska, hiking in the USA can be really fun.
For those who are not afraid of the heat, the Southwest of the USA also offers unique landscapes. Texas or Arizona: The landscape, vegetation and wildlife are quite unusual. Huge cacti, lizards on the roadside and rugged canyons are not to be admired every day while hiking.
However, you should like heat, sun and vastness if you move your hiking trip to this region. The steppe and desert landscapes of the area offer plenty of all that.
And if you’ve always wanted to get on a horse in cowboy fashion, you’ll have the opportunity to do so in many places in Texas, for example. In addition, the Southwest is worth considering for travelers who are looking for spectacular canyons while hiking in the U.S. because there are also a large number of them here.
Especially important when hiking in this part of the United States: always carry sunscreen, sunscreen and plenty of fluids. And for all those who prefer to camp out in the open after hiking, pack warm, functional gear because the nights can get very cold in desert regions.
Scenically varied, temperate-warm and often somewhat windy are the outdoor conditions for hiking on the west coast of the USA. The region’s Mediterranean climate should also be ideal for less hardy trekking fans to enjoy enduring and relaxing hikes.
Those who are particularly persistent and enthusiastic about long distances can even tackle the famous long-distance Pacific Crest Trail. In order to complete this trail, however, a very long hiking trip is necessary. Alternatively, however, you can pick out individual stages.
Hiking in the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California can also be combined with adventure and exploration – for example, on a hiking trip headed for the former gold mining town of Calico Ghost Town in San Bernardino County, California.
The Ghost Town in the Mojave Desert brings old legends from gold mining times to life – and creates variety in a rather barren landscape.
Not only the landscape and climate in the USA are delightfully diverse for hiking – but the country’s culture is also multifaceted. By its very nature, the USA is a society shaped by the immigration of a wide variety of peoples and cultures.
From the Puritan settlers in the 17th century to Europeans from all over the world in the centuries that followed, to the increased influx of people of Asian descent at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, all those who voluntarily emigrated to the United States contributed to the development of the unique cultural mix found in the United States.
Even the Africans who were involuntarily taken to the “New World” as slaves brought their cultural roots with them to their new forced home. And, of course, there are also numerous echoes of the culture of the indigenous peoples, i.e., the various Native American peoples, in U.S. society.
On a hiking trip, all the diverse cultural influences can be experienced particularly intensively and up close.
A true paradise for hiking in the USA is the numerous national parks. They can be found throughout the country and extend over particularly charming natural resorts.
In the national parks, pristine nature can be experienced up close and hiking trips into real, barely touched wilderness are possible. When thinking of national parks, most USA fans think of Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.
But besides these two most famous and most visited parks, the United States has numerous other protected national parks that are worth discovering through hiking.
Americans are very proud of their national parks. To find protected, naturally preserved areas in all regions and landscapes of the United States is, after all, not only important for active vacationers who want to hike and climb.
The national parks also make an indispensable contribution to the local recreation of the inhabitants and to the preservation of the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the USA. Actually, all of the national parks found throughout America are suitable for hiking.
There are well over 50 of them in total, but they vary in their scenery, attractions, climate and area. We take a closer look at some of the most beautiful protected reserves – especially from the point of view of hiking.
Mountain hiking with a sea view – no other national park offers hikers such a comprehensive panoramic view of the surrounding sea as Acadia National Park in the northeastern United States.
Characteristic for this park are rugged coastal cliffs and a rather rough landscape with many mountains. Picturesque lakes provide variety on hiking trips, and the vegetation is characterized mainly by coniferous forests.
Many wealthy people, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., who, at least temporarily, preferred a simpler life, so-called rusticators, bought the land and built their vacation residences there.
In doing so, they had the certainly justified fear that the beautiful landscape of the island region could be destroyed. Therefore they founded a trust to which they donated their land rights.
Acadia National Park is the only national park in the USA that has been donated.
Acadia National Park, established in 1916, started with 6,000 acres and now covers 40,000 acres. Nearly half of the main island, Mt. Desert Island, is protected. However, a large portion of the island is privately owned.
Acadia National Park offers approximately 125 miles of hiking trails. These range from comfortable paved trails with no inclines to rock climbing secured with iron steps.
Even if the absolute heights of the “mountains” are not particularly impressive (Cadillac Mountain is the highest elevation, just 466 m), you can still put together quite challenging “mountain tours” in the park.
If you spend your vacation in Acadia National Park, you should climb Cadillac Mountain, but not by car like many other tourists. It is much nicer to do this on the Soutrigdge Trail hike that we have presented.
The most beautiful hikes in Acadia National Park:
In the National Park, there are two state campgrounds and a larger number of private campgrounds and hotels/motels where up to 2 million annual visitors can find a place to sleep.
The Mammoth Cave National Park attraction is located in central Kentucky and includes parts of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world, the Green River Valley and the hill country of South Central Kentucky.
Its official name is Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System for the ridge under which the caves were formed. As a national park, the area was established to protect and preserve the cave system.
At 21,380 acres, most of the park is in Edmonson County, Kentucky, with the remainder in Hart County and Barren County. The Green River and Nolin River flow through the park and there are many activities to enjoy.
The cave is called Mammoth Cave not because fossils of the mammoth were once found here, it has nothing to do with the extinct mammals.
“Mammoth” refers to the length and width of the passageway connected to the rotunda behind the entrance.
There are Easy Hikes through the cave system that are suitable for families. A 2 hour tour is about 1.5 km of walking in 1 hour. Recommended are the Domes and Dripstones Tour and the Cleaveland Avenue Tour for families with small children.
Swampy mangrove forests are the hallmark of the Everglades in southern Florida. The tropical marshland is even protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to numerous animal and plant species.
However, this national park is only suitable for hiking to a limited extent, as you often have to contend with wet feet on foot in the extensive wetlands – and the waters of the Everglades are full of alligators and leeches.
That’s why it’s a good idea to explore the area by boat and take a trekking break during your hiking trip.
For a leisurely tour of the national park, we recommend the Anhinga Trail. The Anhinga Trail is a 2.4 kilometer loop trail near Homestead, Florida that is heavily visited.
It passes beautiful overlooks and there are beautiful wildflowers and often wildlife to see. Because of the incline and distance, the trail is suitable for all ability levels.
There are several activity options and the route is accessible year round.
Nowhere else in the U.S. is wild mountain nature as accessible as in Colorado’s most famous national park.
The defining element of Rocky Mountain National Park is, of course, the mountain range that gives it its name. One can enjoy unique views of the “Rockies” as well as an extensive network of hiking trails.
Fall is an excellent time to visit Rocky Mountain, National Park. The air is cool, the aspens glow like iridescent gold, and the deer rut is in full swing.
The natural spectacle attracts many visitors to the highest national park in the United States.
When hiking in this region, special points of interest include Bear Lake, Emerald Lake and Trail Ridge Road. The Colorado River, which runs through the park, also provides a great backdrop for a hiking trip.
The Hike to Emerald Lake is one of the most famous Mountain Tours in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The trail starts at Bear Lake. Although the parking lot is huge, you have to start early to get a spot, especially during vacations or weekends. But you can also take a free shuttle bus to Bear Lake. The first hikers start long before sunrise to have Emerald Lake to themselves later.
The mountain lake lies imposingly between high peaks and is an absolute dream motive.
The fourth-largest national park in the U.S. advertises mountain lakes, lonely peaks, mountain goats, eagles and bears. However, of the 2.3 million visitors, most only drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and occasionally stretch their legs along the way.
Yet, there would be so much more to discover.
The Glacier National Park provides an excellent backdrop for hiking along the striking mountain range and even offers some glaciers as attractions.
It is home to the so-called Apex of North America, where the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds meet. As a so-called climate barrier, the main ridge of the Rocky Mountains runs directly through the national park – and ensures that the maritime climate prevails in the west. – In contrast, the continental climate dominates in the east.
The Glacier National Park is primarily characterized by its high number of glaciers and boasts, not without reason, as the stone crown of the Northwest.
Beautiful mountain lakes like Lake McDonald or St. Mary Lake, green forests, glaciers and rugged peaks define the image of this natural paradise, whose true face is only revealed to hikers.
The Iceberg Lake trail is about 15 km long, then you reach Iceberg Lake, which lies beautifully in a deep rock basin.
In spring, the last messengers of winter are still floating on the water surface in the form of ice floes.
The history of national parks began in the 19th century in the United States of America. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was founded as the world’s first national park to preserve the outstanding beauty of this natural landscape for all people.
This first American national park was soon followed by others that gained international fame and became a center of attraction for people worldwide. From the United States, the idea of national parks quickly spread to other parts of the world.
In the 19th century, impressive natural landscapes were also protected as national parks for the first time in Australia (1879), Canada (1885) and New Zealand (1887).
In the three states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the world-famous Yellowstone National Park sits directly above an underground volcano.
Yellowstone is known for its impressive geysers. You can admire the water shooting wildly out of the ground in several places here. The most famous geyser bears the respected name “Old Faithful” and reaches up to 55 meters in height during regular eruptions.
The Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the world, has lost none of its magic since it was founded in 1872.
Millions of visitors are drawn every year to the park, which covers an area of almost 9,000 square kilometers and shows the wonder of the earth like no other.
In an area, the size of Corsica or Puerto Rico, around 300 active geysers and waterfalls are lined up next to each other. It steams, hisses and bubbles at every corner.
Up to 3,000 minor earthquakes shake the park every year, acrid sulfurous smell burns into the nose, and the park seems to have no end.
The incredible vastness of this landscape will remain in your memory forever. And what seems to be so hostile to life is the habitat for countless species of birds, bears, elk and bison.
By the way, those who want to experience wolves and bears safely up close can do so in Yellowstone at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
The center is located in the western part of the national park and offers the animal inhabitants an amazingly natural living environment.
One of the unique attractions in Yellowstone National Park is the Yellowstone River. If you need a break for your tired feet while hiking in the USA, you can enjoy a rafting excursion here.
Yellowstone National Park, USA in 4K
Spread over Yellowstone National Park are about 2000 kilometers of marked hiking trails. Most of the hiking tours lead past the well-known sights.
However, many also give plenty of opportunities to enjoy the untouched nature of the national park in solitude. Here you can find a selection of recommended hiking trails.
The climate in Yellowstone National Park is primarily influenced by its location in the Rocky Mountains. The weather is often unpredictable, and you must always expect sudden changes in weather and temperature, rain or snow in the area.
Therefore, you should always plan on bringing a warm jacket, rain gear and several layers of clothing when visiting the park.
Nights are cool even in summer, and in the mountains, temperatures can drop below freezing at night.
Within Yellowstone National Park, there are nine hotels and lodges with over 2,000 hotel rooms or cabins.
The towns in the park are connected by roads in the shape of a big eight. However, depending on the season and snow conditions, roads and towns may be temporarily closed.
There are a total of eleven campgrounds in the park and one RV-only site at Fishing Bridge.
Seven of the campgrounds with 450+ sites are operated by the NPS, and the remaining five are operated under concession and have 1,700+ sites. In addition, there are 301 tent sites in the park’s backcountry.
Whether a hiking trip primarily offers relaxation or stress depends on one factor in particular: the equipment. Therefore, it is important to prepare the optimal equipment for hiking. The type of hiking trip is crucial here:
Will you be hiking from stage to stage or are day trips planned from a fixed stationary point? And: Will overnight luggage be transported or will it have to be carried along while hiking?
By far the heaviest loads are carried by hiking vacationers who travel with tents and undertake a hiking trip designed in stages. Not only do they have to carry all their belongings on their backs all the time while hiking, but they also have to carry food and drinks for several days. This can quickly lead to heavy weights – and that’s why you should pay attention to every gram when packing.
Hikers who either pitch their tent at a permanent campsite and set off from there each day can take a more relaxed approach.
Or you can choose to spend the night in permanent accommodation and therefore don’t need any camping equipment at all.
You should select the clothing for hiking primarily under functional aspects. On a hiking trip, trekking pants with drawstrings at the legends are recommended because this protects against unwanted insect visits.
Also recommended are pants with a zip-off function, as these become shorts quickly in warm temperatures.
Essential are appropriate hiking socks – preferably functional socks with reinforced pads on the heel and ball of the foot to avoid blisters on the feet even on more extended tours. An extra pair of dry socks have saved many a hiking trip after rain or marshland has unexpectedly caused wet feet.
For your feet, of course, you absolutely need comfortable and robust hiking boots. Since you will probably pack only one pair of shoes for weight reasons, you should cover all eventualities with this pair.
The best and safest for hiking in all landscapes and weather conditions are waterproof, mid-height hiking boots with a rough tread. The shoe should fit tightly on the foot when wearing thick hiking socks. That’s why experts recommend that hiking boots are usually a half to one size up from the shoe size you wear in sandals or athletic shoes.
It is advisable to go for a model that brings a sturdy wireframe and fits the back with a breathable mesh.
These models provide excellent ventilation. In general, a hiking backpack should have an integrated rain cover to keep all equipment dry in case of emergency.
The backpack should have padded shoulder straps, a pelvic strap and a chest strap for optimal load distribution, and various pockets for storing the equipment.
The essential equipment must also include a variety of materials for first aid on a hiking trip. After all, this type of travel often takes a long time in remote areas.
So it would help if you were well prepared for any emergencies. Therefore, the first-aid kit for hiking includes obligatory blister plasters, sunscreen, insect repellent and waterproof plasters for minor cuts.
The first aid kit for a more extended hiking trip also includes: tape, tick tongs, a rescue blanket, disinfectant, wound dressings, compresses, tweezers, burn and wound ointment and painkillers.
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