Outdoor enthusiasts love to explore. It’s in our blood. Often times, though, our finances, school, or professional obligations keep us from experiencing some of this country’s most beautiful trails, which is unfortunate. While I’m optimistic, I’m also realistic in accepting that hiking each and every trail that snakes its way through the United States is nearly impossible, I do believe there are several that every outdoorsman should visit before they die, and I’ve highlighted a few of them (in no particular order) for you today.

Half Dome – Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park’s iconic day hike varies in distance depending on which trail branch you take (ranges from 7-23 miles, roughly 10-14 hours), but each offers amazing views of Yosemite Valley from the top of Half Dome. You’ll need a permit to tackle the nearly 9,000-foot Half Dome summit, and the cable ascent will take everything you have left, but the panoramic view at the top is well worth the trek.

Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs, CO

With 15 miles of trails—some of which are paved to combat the erosion from visitors—the Garden of the Gods remains a popular destination for hiking, technical rock climbing, biking, and horseback riding, due to its scenic views, safe one-way recently paved roads, and healthy clean air. Perhaps the park’s most popular attractions are the rock formations it possesses, which attract rock climbers.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Michigan

Pictured Rocks grants visitors the chance to explore miles of beautiful beaches, sand dunes, and sandstone cliffs, hike over 100 miles of trails and 40 miles of shoreline, view waterfalls, and immerse themselves in the majesty of the northern hardwood forest. Like many of Michigan’s destinations, outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy Pictured Rocks’ hiking, camping, and sightseeing year-round.

Muir Woods – Mill Valley, CA

Home to an old-growth stand of coastal redwood trees—the tallest living things on the planet—Muir Woods offers six miles hiking trails of varying length and difficulty. Due to its popularity, the Muir Woods can get a little crowded, especially at peak times of the year, but taking the shuttle and contacting the park’s rangers to plan your visit will help you avoid too much chaos and enjoy the majestic forest at your leisure.

The Narrows of Zion National Park – Springdale, UT

More rigorous and potentially dangerous than other trails on the list, the Narrows is not for beginners. The 15-mile route involves a lot of wading and boulder hopping as it follows the Virgin River through the spectacular Narrows of Zion Canyon, where fluted walls rise for a thousand feet and channel the waters into a narrow river. Experienced hikers can make the trip in a single day by getting an early start, but caution—as well as a dry change of clothes—is still advised.

There are, of course, dozens and dozens of popular trails throughout the United States, but the journeys outlined above are some of the most visited in the country, and with good reason. They offer great views, opportunities to experience some of the country’s most breathtaking natural attractions, and a great physical challenge to be met by determined hikers. If you’ve been looking for a truly great hike to cap your list, any one of the ones listed above would be a great place to start. 

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