The rigor of a hike rewards us with fresh air, breathtaking views, and a reconnection with nature. But getting to know ourselves a little better might be the biggest payoff of all. As famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” There’s something moving about strapping on your hiking shoes and hitting the trails.
But the benefits of being out in nature don’t stop at a spiritual uplift. One study found that spending time in the forest could help lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Other research shows that walking for 90 minutes in nature leads to lower activity in the part of the brain associated with depression. Clearly, a prescription for ecotherapy might be just what we need to improve our health and wellness.
Feeling inspired? You could strap on your hiking shoes and head to your nearest trail today. But the U.S. is filled with amazing hikes worth a bit of travel time. Here are a few of the country’s best hikes that we know you’ll love.
Dragon’s Tooth Trail
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
Considered an integral portion of the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains are equal parts challenging, breathtaking, and approachable. And with Amtrak’s recently restored passenger train service to Roanoke, Virginia, hikers can easily reach the area.
The Blue Ridge Mountains offer a variety of scenic trails. Try Dragon’s Tooth Trail: a rugged 4-mile hike that features interesting rock formations, including the namesake 35-foot spire jutting from the ground. It looks like something straight out of Game of Thrones.
Hike an ancient valley to see a river, beach, and waterfall, all within a few hours, on the North Shore of Hawaii’s oldest island, Kauai.
The moderate Hanakapiai Trail bursts with ecological diversity—look out for wild ginger, guava and banana trees, and lush tropical plants. You’ll also catch a picture-perfect view of the protective lagoon at Ke’e Beach, a top-notch snorkeling destination.
Blue Basin Overlook
The hills in central Oregon aren’t just appealing for their vibrant blue-green layers of stone, formed by volcanic ash, they’re also filled with fossils.
The moderate 3.5-mile loop trail will give you incredible views of the colorful hills, along with an overlook of the entire John Day River Valley.
Hikers are spoiled when it comes to trails in southern Utah. But Coyote Gulch in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument looks like something straight out of an oil painting. The remote trails in this area can be long and challenging, so many hikers opt to camp overnight.
That said, travel blogger Kristin Addis has written a handy guide on how to hike Coyote Gulch in just a day. “It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream,” she writes. You’ll hike under beautiful, swirling arches of smooth rock in the most striking shades of orange, see hardy wetlands, and test your balance on rock scrambles.
Point Reyes National Seashore
With more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, views of the crashing Pacific ocean, and expansive grasslands, Point Reyes National Seashore is a marvelous place to experience the wild beauty of the West Coast. Trails here range from one to six hours.
Kick off your day at the Tomales Point Trail to Windy Gap, an easy 2-mile walk through one of Point Reyes’ best wildlife viewing areas (expect to see elk, rabbits, birds, and maybe even a bobcat!). You’ll also be treated to some spectacular ocean views. Up for more? You can continue on the trail for another couple of miles, watching it get less and less tame as you approach the point.
Acadia National Park
Love great views? The Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park for you—as long as you’re not afraid of heights. It’s a short but strenuous uphill climb with iron rungs to help you ascend.
Along the two-to-four-hour hike, you’ll get bird’s-eye views of Maine. In fact, some visitors to the park report that Beehive Trail offers the best photo opportunities in all of Acadia National Park.