Top US National Park Hikes – Volume 1
Yosemite National Park – Panorama Trail to Mist Trail
This hike in California’s Yosemite National Park takes place within the high country of Yosemite National Park. The hike can be started at Glacier Point, a popular lookout spot that can be accessed with the park’s bus system. This outlook provides an incredible starting point for the day’s hike with a great view of Yosemite Valley and the Half Dome on the other side of the valley. Hiker can get on the Panorama Trail from this lookout point and follow it as it circumvents the mountains above Yosemite Valley, providing panoramic views the entire way. Several notable features that can be views along this trail are Half Dome and El Capitan; as well as several waterfalls including the well-known Yosemite falls, Bride Veil, Vernal, and Nevada Falls. Wildlife and flowers are also common along this trail.
The point in the trail where the panorama trail connects with the mist trail is at the top of a large waterfall known as Nevada Falls. This view offers a popular location to rest and enjoy a quick meal while enjoying great views down into Yosemite Valley. The Mist Trail is a popular hiking option that descends from the high country, back down to the Lower Valley within a canyon carved out by two large waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls. A series of stone stairs are carved into the side of the valley wall here to create this trail. The Mist Trail gets its name because the trail is located at the edge of both waterfalls, close enough for the falls to create a perpetual mist along the stone steps, adding to the serenity of the hike but also adding to how hazardous the trail is since the steps are perpetually wet and slippery.
Zion National Park – The Narrows
Zion National Park are in Southeastern Utah and is one of the “Utah Mighty 5”; a collection of 5 national parks along with Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands that are located within proximity of one another along the southern edge of Utah. The narrows are one of the many slot canyons that can be found in this portion of the country. The Virgin Rivers runs through the entire canyon and carve out canyon walls are made up of 2000 tall sheer cliffs of red sandstone. At its narrowest, these cliffs are only separated by a few feet. To traverse the entire canyon, you would need to start outside the boundaries of the park and hike along the Virgin River into the canyon itself. The entire hike takes place inside the river with the water consistently up to your shins but having the water reach your chest is not an uncommon occurrence on this trail. There are even areas where the water is high enough that requires hikers to swim to the next portion of the trail. Although completing this hike as a 2 day overnight is one option, permits for this are limited by the park due to the limited amount of available camping spots within this canyon. A one day out and back option is also an option for visitors to Zion National Park. Hiker beginning inside the park can hike as far into the canyon as they are willing to go before turning around and hiking back along the same path. This route can easily take up a full day and still enables hikers to see many of this trail’s top scenic points.
Grand Canyon – Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail within the iconic Grand Canyon is the most popular trail within this National Park. The trail descends into into the canyon and hikers are greeted with incredible scenery and herds of Big Horn Sheep running up and down the steep canyon walls. Since this trail is among the most popular in the park, there are no shortage of people on the initial portion of the trail. The further along the trail you travel, the less people you encounter. There are several rest stops on this trail that have bathrooms and water fill up stations, luxuries that are not included on too many other trails within the park. Given the high temperatures and no humidity, hydration is crucial on this trail. The entire trail is well marked and is dotted with desert plants and flowers throughout most of the trail. The deeper into the trail you go, the higher the walls descend above you. Once hikers reach the base of the first plateau and continue towards the plateaus edge, the main canyon walls begin fading in the distance behind while the landscape becomes more wide open. What stands out the most at this level of the trail is simply how large this plateau is. Viewed from the top of the canyon’s edge, it is hard to grasp its full scale but there is no denying it once you are standing in the middle and seeing the terrain stretch beyond visibility in all directions. This part of the trail is a relatively easy hike since it is miles of flat ground. Roughly a mile before the Skeleton point, the Bright Angel Trail takes you through a section known as Indian Gardens. This is a lush, vegetated oasis of vibrant color that stands out in stark contrast to the bright red color of the surrounding rocks and offers the only shade to be found on this entire trail. Another mile of hiking brings hikers to Skeleton Point, the edge of this plateau that looks down at the Colorado River 100s of feet below. The Bright Angel trail is an out and back trail so the return to the trailhead is along the same route you had just came.
Glacier National Park – The Highline Trail
The Highline Trail is in Glacier National Park within Northern Montana and consists of a 12-mile loops along the continental divide and offers a combination of mountain valley views and an abundance of wildflowers in the right season. In fact, during their peak seasonal bloom; the wildflowers are so plentiful, it has earned portions of this trail the name: the Garden Wall. The best way to access this trail is to drive over to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road and access the trail from here. The views are serene from the very start of the hike. Shortly past the Logan Pass parking lot, the trail goes through a portion of mountain cliff with the trail carved into its side. A 2-foot-wide path which is not recommended for those with any fear of heights. The view to the left of the trail at this point, overlooks a mountain valley 1000’s of feet below which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Eventually, the path exits the portion that is carved into the cliff and is instead a dirt path with steep mountain sides rising to the right and descending into the valley to the left. This marks the beginning of the Garden Wall. Wildflowers surround the trail past this point and dot the mountain sides. All colors of the rainbow are represented here from orange and red to blue and purple. Wildflowers in the foreground with majestic mountains in the background leads to incredible views. This same view continues for the next 7 miles of trail.
Near the halfway mark of the hike, there is a side-hike option for those with the energy to do so. A 2-mile round trip trail climbs to the top of a mountain and overlooks Grinnell Glacier 1000s of the feet below. Although 2 miles is not too long a length, the trail can pose a substantial challenge due to how steep it is. The views at the top are well worth the effort required to reach the overlook. There are so many incredible sites from the top of this mountain: Grinnell Glacier directly below and Many Glacier Valley stretching to the horizon ahead are the top two attractions. The edge of the overlook features a completely vertical cliff with a shear drop off towards the glacier below. Once again, not a view for anyone who has a phobia of heights. Continuing along the main trail loop will continue to take you past more mountain views and eventually reaches the Going to the Sun Road where hikers can get on a shuttle back to the Logan Pass parking lot to complete their day.
Olympic National Park – Hurricane Hill
Hurricane Hill is one of the most popular parks in Olympic National Park and is in the Thunder Ridge section of the park, which is near the top of the Olympic Mountain chain. This is a quintessential mountain alpine hike and traversing over snow is required depending on what time of year you go. While the trail opens in early spring, the trail itself is still covered in several feet of snow at this time of year. Although this creates an incredible visual spectacle as hikers navigate snow fields and pine forests while gazing across mountain valleys towards snow covered peaks in the distance, this does pose a hazard and the trail should be hiked with caution during this time of year. The snow melts throughout summer and is typically clear by mid or late summer. Due to the high altitude, the snow rarely all melts and there are snow patches along the trail nearly all year. During summer, this is a very popular trail due to the views and relative ease of the trail. As a result, expect to be joined by many other hikers on this trail during summer. The entire trail takes place along a mountain ridge that stretches into the Olympic Mountain Valley, with panoramic views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains prevalent throughout the entire hike. The end of the hike features a lookout point where both Vancouver and Seattle can be seen in the distance. This is another out and back hike, so the return is along the same path.
I hope these hiking selections provided my readers with ideas and inspiration for their own future travel adventures. There are many more travel ideas I look forward to sharing with you. But those are stories for another day…