Being a vast country with an ultra-diverse landscape, you can find pretty much every kind of summer hike you want within the boundaries of the USA. But what kind of hike you want to do is likely dependent on what time of year it is. For instance, going for a long hike in the sizzling desert climates of Southern California or Arizona in the heat of summer is not advised. The same goes for hiking in a state like Maine or Montana in the winter. Here we will focus on some hikes that are best done in the summer months (between June and September) for the most pleasant experience. They are divided into three difficulty levels, although be sure to do some research online before planning your hiking destination, as one person’s easy hike might be difficult for someone else!
The view from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail in Northern California
1. Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Best from mid-summer until mid-September, you will be wowed by the natural beauty and wildlife in this park. You can make this 37-mile trail a multi-day hike or make it a one-day affair by only doing part of it. Along the way, you’ll see the alpine lakes amid the Teton Range, fields full of wildflowers, and bison, moose, deer, and an assortment of other critters. Beware that both black bears and grizzlies roam the park as well.
2. Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
See the tallest waterfall in North America with 2,400 feet of water gushing down from high above. This is a very short hike of a half mile round trip on paved paths, so a good one to do with kids or those with mobility issues.
3. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
See North America’s tallest sand dunes with a backdrop of mountains when you visit this national park about a 4-hour drive southwest from Denver. You can walk on the dunes, which are surrounded by forests, alpine lakes, and grasslands. You can also go camping nearby, so this is a great destination for a family vacation.
4. Iao Valley State Park, Hawaii
This park in central Maui is a great spot for a day hike on its paved pathway. In addition to hiking, you can view waterfalls, plants, flowers, and wildlife, go swimming, and have a picnic. This is a great option for kids!
5. Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
This park has more than 300 miles of hiking trails, and this one is great for beginners or those who want to bring the family along. This is a popular hike of just more than 3 miles, so be sure to come early if you’re going in the summer.
Medium Difficulty Hikes
Hiking through The Narrows in Utah’s Zion National Park
1. Glacier National Park, Montana
There are many hikes to do in this national park, but if you want to see a pristine glacial lake, do the 12-mile hike to Cracker Lake. You can either do it as a long, more difficult day hike or a more chill overnight hike where you can spend more time admiring the pure blue water. If you want something easier, try the Hidden Lake Nature Trail, which has a boardwalk and can be anywhere from 1.5 to 6 miles. This one is good for kids.
2. The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
You will need some waterproof gear for doing this one as it requires wading through water that is at least waist deep for part of the hike. But in the end, you’re in the bottom of a gorgeous slot canyon! There are two options for this hike, a 3.5-mile route, or a 16-mile route.
3. John Muir Trail, Northern California
You can hike for days on this 160-mile-long trail that runs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you have the time, you can also tick three national parks off your list with this hike, as it passes through Yosemite National Park, Sequoia, and King’s Canyon.
4. Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
You can hike for up to 71 miles on the trail in Tennessee. You can drive right up to the trailhead at Fontana Dam and do as little or as much of it as you like. While towns along the trail may not be plentiful, hiking huts for staying overnight are. Even if you’re planning to stay in one of these huts, it’s still a good idea to bring a tent along in case they’re all occupied.
5. Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington
This trail that winds through the temperate rainforest in the park is mostly flat if you opt only for this 6-mile portion. If you keep going to Glacier Meadows, it is about 17 miles altogether with some stream crossing. Toward the end the trail gets steep, but you will have awesome views of Mount Olympus and Blue Glacier.
A view from Bubble Rock in Maine’s Acadia National Park
1. South Bubble Trail and Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine
Depending on what you want to see, you can make this hike an easy one or a difficult one. The easier one goes for about 1 mile round trip from a parking lot to the top of Bubble Rock, a large boulder seemingly balanced on the edge of a cliff overlooking Jordan Pond. If you continue down the cliff on the South Bubble Trail, you will need to do some rock scrambles and somewhat strenuous hiking, and will eventually meet up with the Jordan Pond Trail if you want a full day of hiking.
2. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Yes, this is yet another entry for California and Yosemite. But this granite dome is perhaps one of the most-famous hiking destinations in the USA. You can get to the top in about 16 miles of hiking, although to do the last 400 meters to the summit you need to use cables and get a permit.
3. Mount Katahdin, Maine
This can either be the beginning or the end of a hike on the Appalachian Trail, depending on which way you’re heading. As Maine’s tallest mountain, an arduous climb to the top will reward you with a stunning view.
4. Wheeler Peak, New Mexico
Because of the altitude, you won’t die from the heat during a hike here in the summer. The 8.2-mile roundtrip hike will bring you to the peak, but you will use all your legs’ muscle strength for the steep uphills, and all of your patience for the number of switchbacks going up. If you are up for it, a hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is worth the detour.
5. Dipsea Trail, California
This 7-mile-long stretch of trail in Marin County outside of San Francisco is full of natural beauty. You get forests, ancient redwood trees, and the Pacific Ocean all in one hike. The catch is that there are a lot of up and down climbs, 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and the trail itself is full of obstacles. If the name of the trail sounds familiar it might be because it’s the home to a famously difficult run, the Dipsea Race.