10 Best National Park Day Hikes: Western U.S.

best national park day hikes

The absolute best National Park day hikes are almost all found within the western United States. If you want jaw dropping views and absolutely stunning natural formations, the National Parks are the place to be. Enjoy browsing the list below, and let us know if we’ve missed anything else that is a must see. Enjoy!

1. Grinnell Glacier Trail – Glacier National Park, Montana

You will be gasping for delight throughout this hike. Grinnell Glacier offers 300 acres of natural beauty that few destinations can boast of. The glacier lies in the very heart of Glacier National Park and besides gorgeous hiking trails, also offers picturesque boat rides across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

The first couple of miles of the hike will lead you to Grinnell Falls and Mount Gould. If you want to take a look at the glaciers, you need to head to Upper Grinnell Lake and beyond the picnic area. Besides hiking, the trail is also used for fly fishing and bird watching.

There are basically 3 glaciers you will come across on this hike: Salamander, Grinnell, and Gem. Salamander and Gem are set in the rock face and the main glacier, Grinnell offers spectacular views making it one of the prime lunch spots in the area.

Length: 5.5 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate

2. Exit Glacier – Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Exit Glacier is the main attraction at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska for hikers. Considered to be the most road accessible glacier in the state, it is perhaps one of the few that you can just stroll to. There are a few trail options you can avail.

You can opt to hike the Lower Trail if you want to take spectacular pictures of the glacier or if you are adventurous, take the Harding Icefield Trail for a challenging day hike. It’s a massive ice field which is the source of 38 glaciers including Exit.

The trails are well developed and offer good footing and are interspersed with signs that educate hikers about the history of the icy structures they come across. This includes how much they have melted over the past 120 years.

Length: 8.4 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate to High

3. North Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

If you are looking for a real hiking challenge and are a seasoned hiker, the North Kaibab trail should be on your list. Located in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, it is the most difficult of the three trails that are offered in the area. At its rim, you will be awe stricken by the massive maw of Bright Angel Canyon spread out beneath you through verdant fir trees.

The trail is literally hewn from the rock in half-tunnel sections that provide strong footholds as you gaze at the majestic walls of the canyon through a blend of riparian and other desert vegetation. You can also take a side trip to the gorgeous Roaring Springs or Ribbon Falls especially if you want to cool down. If you really want to make this hike memorable, camp out right beside the Colorado River that lies at the bottom of the canyon.

Length: 14 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate

4. The Narrows – Zion National Park, Utah

While Zion National Park offers a variety of natural wonders, few are as memorable to hikers as The Narrows. With its soaring walls, natural springs, and hanging gardens, novice and veteran hikers are always in for a real treat.

However, you are making a big mistake if you underestimate this trail. You will literally be hiking in the Virgin River during the trip. That’s because you will be spending most of it navigating, wading, and even swimming through the river.

Needless to say, a sturdy footing is necessary if you want to make it out at the end alive and uninjured. Since the route is in the river, there is no maintained trail you can just walk across. The Narrows also boast lush greenery such as enormous cottonwood trees as well as tranquil springs that give it a serene atmosphere.

Length: 16 miles
Difficulty Level: High

Also read: Rock Climbing in Arches National Park, Utah

5. Kalapana Lava Viewing Hike – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Ever wanted to look at an active volcano up close? You can do just that with a Kalapana Lava Viewing Hike at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Get unreal views of the smoldering lava as it flows into the churning ocean or walk right up to the flow if you are lucky enough to see it.

However, this is not a hike that you can mess around with. Besides remaining wary of the piping hot lava flows you should also keep an eye out for hardened crevices that still have molten lava underneath. The main attraction though is the ocean entry, where you can see the lava ooze its way into the waves leaving billowing clouds of steam in its wake.

USGS Lava safety

Length: 4.5 miles one way but can increase depending on the lava flow
Difficulty Level: High

6. Sierra Point – Yosemite National Park, California

Want to see 4 waterfalls at the same time? If you said yes, then Sierra Point should be your next hiking destination. Located in Yosemite National Park in California, it offers jaw-dropping views of Vernal, Nevada, Yosemite, and Illilouette Falls.

The good news is that the route to this viewpoint is pretty straight forward but not for the inexperienced hiker. The trail can get quite steep at some points. The location lies about halfway between the John Muir trail and Grizzly Peak and you may have to step off the main trail to look for an old one that heads straight to it.

However, the view at Sierra Point is worth the effort. There is really nothing like seeing all of the best spots Yosemite has to offer from one spot. If you are lucky enough to have it to yourselves, make the most of it and stay as long as you can for an unforgettable experience.

Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty Level: High since most of the trail is missing

Also read: How Do I Spend a Day In Yosemite?

7. Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park, Utah

Considered to be the most popular hiking trail in Zion National Park, a hike through Angel’s Landing is more about the journey than the destination. Even though it offers amazing views, it’s the final climb along the narrow ridge that attracts seasoned hikers. It includes chain assisted rock climbing sections that really gets the adrenaline going as well as stunning views.

The trail offers a steady uphill climb that ends at Refrigerator Canyon where you can cool off under its massive walls. After that, you have to climb Walter’s Wiggles and then Scout’s Lookout to finally get to the main part of the trail which is about 500 feet to the top. This trail is quite popular so make sure you head to it early enough to avoid crowds.

Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate to High

8. The Wonderland Trail – Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

If you are a seasoned hiker who prefers adventurous trails, then the Wonderland Trail should be your next stop. Located in Mt. Rainer National Park, this trail is not for the faint-hearted but it offers breathtaking beauty across all 93 miles.

The trail actually encircles Mount Rainier and it is perhaps the best way to explore the park completely. At every turn, you will be treated to cascading waterfalls, majestic glaciers, beautiful fields of wildflowers, lush meadows, and verdant trees as well as picturesque lakes, rivers, and canyons. The trail also explores volcanic ridges that fan out from Mount Rainier and there are several well-equipped camping grounds you can pitch your tent on.

As the trail progresses, it passes through swift rivers and leads to commanding views of the mountain cloaked in 25 glaciers that carved it throughout the years.

Length: 93 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate to High

9. The Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier – Olympic National Park, Washington

Hike through a rain forest alongside the Hoh River all the way to the tippy top of the Blue Glacier for a hike of a lifetime. The rain forest is majestic and has trees of all kinds ringed with moss and mushrooms that create a scene that seems straight from the pages of a fairytale.

One thing is for sure. You will be anything but bored as you trek through this trail. The scenery is ever changing and boasts rain forests at river level and a gorgeous alpine valley that ends right at the top of the mountain that overlooks the glacier. The trail is well trodden and well-marked which makes it ideal for novice hikers as well.

Whatever you do, don’t give up and turn back at the last uphill slog through the trail. The last few steps before the crest are a challenge but the view is worth it. Once you overcome it, you will be treated with a full-on view of the Blue Glacier which extends in every direction.

Length: 34.6 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate

10. Iceberg Lake Trail – Glacier National Park, Montana

For insanely rugged views and scenery that will stay with you long after you return from the trail, give the Iceberg Lake trail a try. Located in Glacier National Park, starts near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. It is considered to be one of the most well-designed hiking trails in the park.
Besides being easy to traverse, hikers come across wildlife that makes this trail unforgettable. This includes bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, ground squirrels and the occasional mountain goat.

For most of its length, this trail passes through open terrain as well as verdant forests and it ends at the lake itself which is filled with icebergs. Don’t be surprised if you see those large chunks of ice in August. Nearby snowfields regularly drop large chunks into the lake which can take weeks to melt.

Length: 9.7 miles
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

More epic hikes from around the world:

Top 20 Best Day Hikes in the World

18 Of The Seattle Area’s Most Breathtaking Day Hikes You Must Do (Washington State)

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