Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
― John Muir
Celebrate National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4, by heading for the hills. Or dirt paths. Or forest. Just step outside and get your fill of nature.
If you’re looking for a shorter trip, you’ve come to the right place. There are thousands of trails in the U.S. that are perfect for a day or half-day trip. Many are flat and family friendly, too. Double-check before bringing a dog, though, as many parks don’t allow them on the trails. Here are some of the best hikes in the United States under ten miles. (Note: all distances are round trip.)
1. Appalachian Trail, NY: Anthony’s Nose, 2.6 miles
The total length of the AT is 2,200 miles. But there are countless options for short hikes in each of the 14 states it passes through. The lowest point of the trail is in the Hudson Valley, about an hour and half outside of NYC. An initial 0.6-mile steep climb leads to a sprawling summit, and the whole thing only takes a few hours to hike.
2. Shenandoah National Park, VA: Hawksbill Loop, 2.9 miles
Only 2 hours from Washington, D.C. This moderate hike leads to the highest peak of Shenandoah National Park at 4,049 feet. Start at the Hawksbill Gap parking area. As you switchback up to the summit, watch for deer and peregrine falcons. Bring a picnic and stop at the Byrd’s Nest Shelter near the summit. Then return along Lower Hawksbill Trail.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ: Rim Trail, Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest, 6.4 miles.
You can’t go wrong with any part of the Rim Trail. But the dirt path from Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest has some of the most jaw-dropping views of the canyons. Head out before sunrise or late in the day to watch sunset transform the canyon. As with all hiking in the Grand Canyon, go slowly, rest often, and stay cool — especially in the summer.
4. Columbia River Gorge, OR: Latourell Falls Loop, 2.4 miles
Just 45 minutes outside of Portland. This dense forest trail leads to a major, two-tiered waterfall. You’ll reach the base of the waterfalls after a short hike. Wind your way through a woody area and cross several bridges before reaching the upper falls. Be careful along steep cliffs near the lower falls. There’s a picnic area north of the Historic Columbia River Highway.
5. Glacier National Park, MT: Avalanche Lake Trail, 4.5 miles
Glacier has over 730 miles of marked trails, making it a playground for hikers of all abilities. The trailhead to Avalanche Lake starts along the wheelchair-accessible Trail of the Cedars. The trail passes through a forest of hemlock and cedar trees, some of which are over 500 years old. At the Avalanche Lake basin, take in the magnificent scenery, including several waterfalls.
6. Arches National Park, UT: Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch: 2 miles
Arches has the greatest collection of natural sandstone arches on earth. One of the most awe-inspiring is Landscape Arch. This giant red rainbow is the longest arch in the world: as long as a football field! The Devil’s Garden trail is easy to hike for the first part until you reach Landscape. You’ll pass by two other arches, Tunnel and Pine Tree. After Landscape, you’ll have the option to continue for a 5-mile round trip. Start early, go slowly, and stay cool.
7. John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park, CA: North Grove Trail, 1.4 miles
If you’re into big trees, you’ll love this hike. The John Muir Trail is 211 miles long, but you can experience a stunning portion in an afternoon on this hike. It’s clearly marked and good for all skill levels. You’ll wind your way through giant sequoias, ponderosa pines, and sugar pines. You can combine this trail with the Dead Giant Loop for a 3.25-mile hike.
8. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY: Wild Cave Tour, 5 miles
If too much sunshine is unbearable, you might prefer a cave. Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world. It has over 400 miles of chambers and labyrinths to explore. The Wild Cave Tour is strenuous and not for everyone. You’ll experience six hours of crouching, climbing, and even crawling through the limestone ridges. Is a less arduous — and more upright — trek more your style? There are also 4-mile and quarter-mile options available.
9. Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI: Empire Bluff Trail, 1.5 miles
This moderate hike is short but spectacular. Jaw-dropping views of Lake Michigan reward you at the edge of Empire Bluff. On a clear day, you can see South Manitou Island. Grab a brochure from the trailhead. With six guiding posts along the trail, you’ll learn about the natural history of the area. Though the trek is short, be aware it’s a steady uphill climb to the top.
10. Haleakalā National Park, HI: Sliding Sands Trail, 5 miles
If your dream hike is on the moon, consider visiting Maui, instead. This dormant volcano with towering cinder cones is a wonder to behold. The entire Sliding Sands trail is strenuous. But you don’t need to hike the whole thing to enjoy the otherworldly experience. Instead, go 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone before returning. This trail is for experienced hikers only. Be sure to pack water and snacks.
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What are your favorite day trips or easy hikes? Share in the comments!