It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the State and National Parks and all that they offer, so I think it’s high time I share a round-up of my favorite U.S. hikes within these parks. As you may or may not know, the National Park Service is offering ten free admission days this year to celebrate its centennial.
I’ve written about this momentous occasion before, but was reminded of it by Cotopaxi, the socially-conscious, Gear for Good creators that specialize in adventure-wear, like these backpacks, and donate some of their revenue towards making the world better. This inspiring company reminded me of the upcoming free-entry days for the National Parks. The next free days are on April 15 & 16 and on April 22 & 23, so hopefully my favorite U.S. hikes will inspire you to get out and find your own.
- Clingman’s Dome, Smoky Mountains National Park: The top of this steep hike and cement overlook features one of the best views in the Smoky Mountains. We visited Gatlinburg, TN last summer with my family and it was one of my favorite trips. All of the hikes we took through the park were fantastic, but this one stands out in my memory for its view and its crossing of the Appalachian Trail.
- Matthiessen State Park: Any hike at Matthiessen State Park is guaranteed to give you beautiful views and at least one waterfall. This state park is about an hour and half outside of Chicago and gives a much needed dose of natural beauty to us city dwellers. The trails wind through canyons and over bridges suspended over creeks and waterfalls, and sometimes hopping over stepping stones to clear pools of water filled by yet more waterfalls.
- Starved Rock State Park: Starved Rock is very close to Matthiessen State Park and equally as pretty, making it possible to visit both in one day. There are sixteen different trails, but the Lover’s Leap hike and view are my favorite. We tried a good number of the trails and each held their own beauty. There’s also a beautiful lodge on one end of the park that is the perfect spot for a well-earned, mid-hike meal.
- Muir Woods: On a visit to San Francisco, we rented a car and drove to Muir Woods to hike for a day. This beautiful park includes multiple amazing hikes, and we chose the Fern path. The hike was steep and we had to stop to catch our breath more than once, but the view from the top was so worth it. Fun fact: Muir Woods also served as the set of the film Return of the Jedi, so if you hike here, you’re hiking through Endor.
- Kettle Moraine State Park: Every winter, the Wisconsin State Parks host candlelit hikes across the state in which they line the paths with candles in white paper bags. I enjoyed one of these hikes at Kettle Moraine State Park, which is just a little ways north from Lake Geneva. The hike, with the candles and sporadic bonfires along the way, is gorgeous and unique.
- Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park: My family and I visited this area when I was young, driving from San Francisco up to Seattle and stopping at National Parks in between. This rainforest was the most exotic thing I had seen to date and it instantly captured me. I did not love hiking when I was a kid, but this particular hike amazed me.
- Wave Organ to Baker Beach, Golden Gate National Park: One of my favorite memories of San Francisco was walking from the Wave Organ (just pass the Yacht Club on the harbor) to the Golden Gate Bridge and then on to Baker Beach and Presidio. This hike took much longer than we had originally planned, and it started to rain halfway through, but the beauty of the ocean and the bridge and the area surrounding it made it perfect.
- Barataria Preserve, Jean Lafitte National Forest: Located near New Orleans, LA, this mystical boardwalk crosses over the home of alligators, lizards, snakes, egrets, and the biggest spiders you’ve ever seen. We traipsed through the humid swamp, searching through the mossy surroundings for a gator. We eventually spotted one, which made our whole trip. This park is other-worldly and provided a scenery like I’ve never experienced before.
- Chimney Rock State Park: This state park is a little ways outside of Asheville, North Carolina and holds a special place in my heart as my first solo travel hike. The park is famous for its fantastic view from the top of the rock, which shows the canyon below and a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I also hiked the trail that leads to Hickory Nut Falls; the scenic waterfall and it’s cool, clear water were the perfect cure for after the hot, tiring hike up the many, many steps to Chimney Rock.
- Donut Falls, Big Cottonwood Canyon: Utah is chock-full of beautiful parks and scenery, but this hike will forever be my favorite. I visited this particular trail in November, when there was snow on the ground and falls were frozen, which just so happened to be the best time to see it. The trail to Donut Falls was gorgeous in of itself, but the main attraction was breath-taking. We climbed up the frozen waterfall and inside the cave at the top to see the actual “donut”. It was so worth the treacherous trip back down.
What are your favorite U.S. hikes? Which National Park do you love most?