So often when one catches the travel bug, we get so focused on checking off countries visited on an ever-growing list, forgetting to explore what our own country has to offer, and for us in the United States, that is a lot! The entire western U.S. has some of the most majestic and easily accessible hikes in the world.
Our National Parks alone encompass over 80 million acres, and the total amount of federally owned landed, meaning open and owned by the public, is over 25% of the entire U.S. land base! That’s a lot of space to explore.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to check out all of these beautiful spots, I have been to my fair share, mainly in the great wide-open West. The western United Stated is home to some of the most famous parks and monuments: Yellowstone N.P., Yosemite, the Grand Canyon… But my favorites are some of the lesser traveled. Here, in no particular order, are my top 5 favorite hiking areas in the American West:
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is home to some of the most majestic wilderness in the west, the most famous being the hike to Angel’s Landing. This stunning 5.2-mile- round trip trail brings you to an intense, heart-wrenching climb on a very narrow strip of rock to reach the top of the massive 1,500-foot peak, giving you a perfect 360° view of the heart of the park.
If the crowds are too much for you, or if your fear of heights is keeping you down, Zion is filled with other opportunities to get lost in the wild. Quite literally, in fact. Many people do get lost in the backcountry of this park, so be sure to carry a map, and have a plan.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Okay, so normally I don’t try to play favorites, but I have to admit, Bryce Canyon is one of my absolute favorite places to hike. Maybe it’s because of the out-of- this-world landscape that makes you feel like you’re walking on the surface of the love-child of the Moon and Mars, or the fact that all of the funky ‘hoodoo” rock structures are the color of an orange creamsicle, but this park is beautiful! Hike the Fairyland Loop trail, taking you 8 miles through some of the most impressive “hoodoo” landscapes, often with the least amount of people.
Wire Pass into Buckskin Gulch, Utah
What to do when you miss out on the lottery to visit the infamous Wave? Head to the slot canyons in Buckskin Gulch. It’s like a natural jungle gym for adults. You could spend days exploring the winding routes through these canyons, and maybe even end of going in circles without even realizing it, but I promise you, it’ll be a good time. Just be sure to check the weather ahead of time and go when there is ZERO chance of rain to avoid getting stuck in a flash flood. That never ends well.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Okay, so this one is probably about as well known as the likes of Yosemite and Yellowstone, but after living in northern Colorado, with this park actually being my backyard, I can’t leave it out. It’s just wonderful, for any level of hiking, or even just for a really, really, really beautiful drive. Trail Ridge road crests at just over 12,000 feet, and definitely worth adding to the itinerary of your next road trip, especially in early fall, right as the aspen trees begin to pop into a sea of gold, cascading over the mountains. Don’t forget to watch out for elk!
As for hiking, take your pick. There is everything from multi-day wilderness treks, hiking the infamous Longs Peak fourteener, or filling your days with stunning, lower altitude mini-hikes. The last time I was in the park, my sister had her awesome little trooper of a kid with, and at only 5 months old, we found plenty of jaw-dropping hikes to do that didn’t wear the parents out, and didn’t get the little guy into too much high-altitude.
Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado
Alright, so I might really be into desert hiking, according to this list. Dinosaur National Monument, in the Northwest corner of Colorado, spilling into Utah, is a desert paradise. The Green and the Yampa Rivers flow through the park, making it surprisingly lush in areas.
Here, you can camp for cheap, and spend your days hiking on no-name trails for miles, exploring sandstone caves, hidden waterfalls, and relaxing on your own private river beach, and then float the river back to camp. It’s a vagrant gypsy’s paradise if I’ve ever seen one.
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