Are you a backpacker, hiker, photographer, and/or road tripper looking for an awesome place to adventure? Check out our Great List of U.S. Road Trip Ideas & Hiking Destinations. We have linked all of our articles in this post to share with you what we did while there, what we liked and didn’t, and where you can find more information. For more details, visit our hiking destinations page here.
If you have never explored the Buffalo National River, I suggest you beeline there for your next outdoor getaway. This place is special. In our article, we outline 5 Great Hikes in Northwest Arkansas.
The hiking trails here are short and lovely, especially if you like wooded hikes. Hot Springs National Park is a haven for those who enjoy tourist shops and restaurants. The historic Bathhouse Row showcases unique architecture and is worth visiting.
The Chaco Culture National Historical Park leaves me with an appreciation for the rich history of the ancient southwest. It’s beautiful deserts, windy mesas, and intriguing archeological sites make this park a wonderful destination to expand your worldview and perspective.
North America’s crown jewel, the Grand Canyon deserves all the hype. Its immensity is unreal. Hiking the canyon, you will feel minuscule and larger than life all at once.
We find ourselves at Artist’s Point as the sun drops behind the monoliths, transforming the sky into a fuzzy, soft twilight. There is no doubt that the landscape here is fantastic and inspiring if you are able to blot out the crowds and touristy atmosphere.
Organ Pipe is a great place to enjoy outdoor pleasures such as hiking, biking, horse-back riding, and camping. What makes this park interesting is its unique biodiversity.
Petrified wood cascades down like a frozen waterfall from the sandy purple and blue hills that border this hike. You are hiking in a land of prehistoric sand art and strewn everywhere are the stumps of Triassic trees. Imagine the lush forest that used to cover this now arid Arizona desert. It is strange and alien in this rocky, barren place, but its beauty is undeniable.
I will say that the night we spent on Tanque Verde Ridge in early January was one long night. The ranger was quite right it was really cold and neither of us slept much despite our fancy gear. We pack up and hike back down the mountain. It is just before noon when we load our packs into the car and drive away. The consensus is that, if you like great views of Tucson, the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail is your bag. And that, yes, it is really cold at night in early January.
Coyotes sing as the sun drops low on the horizon. It is one of those moments in life that will stay with you forever. Perhaps Arizona’s Saguaro National Park has America’s best sunset.
It is late afternoon, but we still have time for the 4.5 mile Brown Mountain Trail at Tucson Mountain Park. The trailhead is next to the Gilbert Ray Campground. This hike climbs Brown Mountain, making a loop, and the views are great. We accidentally timed this hike just right, and we were rewarded with an amazing view of some storm clouds breaking in the distance. The light created an incredible spectacle perfect for photography, and we went crazy with pictures.
Death Valley National Park is reminiscent of a space movie. You have landed on another planet and are exploring a desolate and alien world. This part of the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert has unparalleled panoramas, so be sure to put your camera in panoramic mode.
Joshua Tree National Park is an alluring place for photography, rock climbing, biking, hiking, horseback riding, camping, and scenic driving. This is truly a park for the people. Although it still feels wild, you are able to interact with this landscape more than with other parks
It is chilly this morning. The meadow is still shadowed as we hike down, down into Kings Canyon National Park. Waterfalls crash down the sheer, rock walls that encapsulate us. The snow is melting and its last remnants cling to the cliffs far above. We can see where the avalanches came down earlier in the season. Trees have been obliterated in huge swathes, broken in half, splintered and ugly.
The next day is full of MUDS (mindless ups and downs). We are exhausted and beyond hungry. We dig down deep for the will to move our legs forward. This day tested us. We forded rivers, climbed mountains, crossed blowdowns, and fought off mosquitoes. Yosemite is amazing and difficult. I love being here. It is one of the greatest challenges we have faced together.
When I dreamed of hiking the PCT, I pictured beautiful alpine lakes. Upper Twin Lake is that place I had set aside in my imagination. With little hesitation, I strip off my clothes and begin a painful submergence that makes me feel alive. The water is a deep blue, and I can see the bottom. A fine, comfortable gravel swallows my feet. Although it is cold, there is something about swimming here that makes this whole experience fuller.
It is hard to describe what it is like hiking up to a living thing this large. There is a sacred aspect to it like you are visiting a holy place. Rarely do we see things that cause us to be awestruck, but the General Sherman tree is truly awesome.
The trees. They are something out of a fairytale book. Climbing up and up into the sky, tapering off into the grey, rainy clouds far above, the redwoods are one of the most precious sights in the world. Oddly enough though, it may not be the macrocosm that catches your eye in the redwood forest. It may be the microcosm. This dark, dank place grows all sorts of small, odd plants and fungi.
This site was home to over 2,500 Ancestral Pueblo People in the late 1200s. Hovenweep is a fascinating place. This settlement, while not so dramatic as Mesa Verde, contains intriguing ruins.
The Petroglyph Point Trail is about 2.4 miles and is for practiced hikers. This trail runs the cliffside and is narrow with challenging footing and stairways. It is an adventure for sure, offering views of the canyon and cliffsides.
Northern Georgia has numerous state parks. We visited four state parks while there and each one has a lot to offer. There are also spots of interest and scenic and recreation areas here. You could spend quite a bit of time exploring. This region is beautiful in the fall especially. The trees display amazing fall colors. Let me tell you that if you have never been to northern Georgia, especially in the mid to late fall, it is beautiful. Put it on your list!
The Cumberland Gap is referred to as the gateway to the west. It provides a natural path through the Appalachian Mountains to the land west. This park is rich in history as the Gap has been used by Native Americans, early settlers, civil-war armies, and migrating bison.
This 170,000-acre park between Tennessee and Kentucky offers dispersed camping for only $7 per individual for 3 nights. You can also camp for up to 14 days in one place. This park is crowded. It’s affordable, and there’s a variety of outdoor activities and historical sites to visit.
Mammoth Cave National Park doesn’t feel like a wilderness area. There are towns within close proximity. There are tour buses coming and going. Like many parks, this one is crowded. The cave tours have 50 to 100 people in a group. I don’t mean to dissuade you from coming here, but it is good to go in knowing what to expect. I highly recommend that you make reservations for the cave tours beforehand.
The Natural Bridge is a sandstone arch standing 65-feet tall and 78-feet long. This area has long been a tourist destination because of its natural beauty.
We work using hand-over-hand grabs to hoist ourselves up sheer rocks and slick roots. The trail becomes a giant pile of broken, enormous rubble. White blazes lead to rocks that appear impossible to scramble, but somehow we make it over. The stone is wet with dew, and wind buffets our cheeks and knocks us off balance as we emerge from the tree line.
What I do not realize is that I am about to get a real taste of the Whites complete with incredibly steep boulder climbs. The kind where you look up and say “seriously”? We labor for hours to climb the South and North Kinsman. The views are rewarding, and we stop at the south summit to enjoy various backpacker favorites: Nutella, peanut butter and fluff, sour patch kids, and snickers.
Double Spring Gap Shelter is a special marker for us because it was here 2 years ago that Rambo and I met our first thru-hikers. We saw some dirty, smelly hikers here who told us about the Appalachian Trail and their adventures thus far. One thru-hiker had spent a morning hiding in a fire tower from a stalker black bear. The other advised me to cut off all my hair if I did a thru-hike so that the mice in the shelter wouldn’t nest in it. While any sane person would have thought that thru-hiking sounded crazy, we couldn’t wait to join this adventurous culture.
This is a misnomer. Settlers mistakenly thought that the site was built by the people of the Aztec Empire of central Mexico. In fact, these ruins predated the Aztec Empire and were built over the period from 1,000 to 1,200 CE. Now it is known that the Ancestral Puebloans were the engineers and builders of these ruins.
Carlsbad Caverns was designated as a national monument in 1923, but to fully understand this park you need to travel back way farther. 250 million years ago it was flooded and was known as part of the Capitan Reef. As part of the Permian Basin, you are really hiking all over an ancient coral reef.
New Mexico Con’t
Bandelier National Monument is situated in the Frijoles Canyon on the Pajarito Plateau in the Jemez Mountains. A million years ago a volcano erupted nearby. The ash piled high and cooled to form rocks called tuff. Over time erosion formed holes in this tuff, and the Ancestral Pueblo People used tools to enlarge these into dwellings referred to as cavates. These cavates were just a portion of the extended settlement that grew to include circular villages containing 40-room structures.
We climb the hillside and weave through the, at times quite narrow, slot canyon. It is early morning and the crowds have not yet arrived. The sunshine has not reached inside the canyon yet, and it is cold. As we proceed, cone-shaped rocks tower above us. Striations of orange and white mark the volcanic rock.
Wading out into the powdery flats of White SandsNational Monument takes courage. As you lose sight of the trailhead, a measure of panic may course through your system because everything here looks identical. You are surrounded by miles of sand, a shifting sea of gypsum that sparkles starkly against a cloudless dome ceiling. Will I find my way in this forever changing yet always remaining the same hike? The only thing really keeping you found is the occasional trail marker poking up from the sand. This lets you know you are still on the alkali flats hike.
This historic area is home to the Towpath Trail, which follows the Ohio & Erie Canal. It is largely paved multi-use and nearly 20 miles. There is also a scenic train ride!
Nestled in Southeastern Ohio, this park has 6 hiking regions and 30 miles of trails to explore. We visited Whispering, Old Man’s, and Ash Caves. It was an absolute joy to hike on these well-maintained paths among the gorgeous rock formations.
Congaree National Park is 11,000 acres of protected floodplain old-growth forest. Most old-growth forest in the United States has been lost to settlement and logging. This park is a rare gem. It is has something that most people of this age will never see – really old trees. The ecology here is unique and supports much biodiversity.
It would be easy to dismiss the Texas Plains as flat and featureless. From the road, you see windswept farmland as far as the eye can see. And in the Panhandle, you can see a long way. Take a second look though. Did you know that the Texas Panhandle is home to the second-largest canyon in the United States? Did you know that you can spot golden eagles, bison, prairie dogs and other incredible wildlife species there? If you’re looking for a very worthwhile spot to do some scenic road-tripping and hiking, check out these must-see parks in the Texas Panhandle: Caprock Canyons.
The layers of rock here tell a story beginning 250 million years ago. There are 4 layers of rock, topped with what is referred to in this region as the Caprock. This hardy layer of calcium carbonate often erodes more slowly than others. These different rates of erosion lead to the formation of hoodoos. Hoodoos are beautiful and sometimes strange-looking rock shapes that often look like objects to the human eye and are named accordingly. The Lighthouse, for example, is the most famous of these in the canyon.
Hoodoos are eroded pillars of mostly limestone that sometimes stand as tall as a 10-story building. They are showcased in a natural amphitheater (not a true canyon) far below the Rim Trail and are formed through water erosion processes. Over many years, the drama unfolding here has left trees fighting to maintain their foothold in the rocky soil of the amphitheater. You can see the roots of these trees splaying all over the rocks like octopus tentacles, trying to hang onto life. You have never seen trees like this. They are captivating.
Canyonland’s White Rim Road is a 100-mile off-road adventure that you will never forget. It begins with dramatic views of plunging chocolate canyons and delicate, perilous arches. Even strong stomachs get a tickle of vertigo close to the powdery rim of the Island in the Sky. The vistas are so spectacular they appear unreal. It is as if they have been painted onto some distant backdrop.
The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is a proverbial candy shop for hikers. It is full of exciting wonders. Trekking here is like walking through Willy Wonka’s factory. Colorful spires of sandstone made of orange and white layers that look like twisty lollipops abound.
We are hiking down the narrow and rough Capitol Gorge trail. As we walk along, pre-Columbian inscriptions are revealed along its looming walls. Modern settlers etched their names here too. Consequently, this area of graffiti is referred to as the pioneer register. Some autographs have dates as early as the late eighteen hundreds.
Look at that view. You can see the most amazing things when you get out of your comfort zone. The climb is difficult, but it is the payoff that motivates. And Zion’s Valley is a great payoff.
We find ourselves on a great precipice. The view is incredible. Far below, is a deep meander of the San Juan River. It glints in the sunlight. We sit and enjoy the amazing sight, which is millions of years in the making.
Utah’s first monument has three natural bridges. They are named Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo (the Hopi word for “rock mound”). They are something to behold, immense and imposing. The rock itself is sandstone. Over eons, running water shaped these bridges.
Next, we climb Mt. Rogers. Near the summit, we begin to see signs of pony activity. There’s a great change in the landscape. The forest gives way to open grassland interspersed with piles of rocky outcrops. In the distance, we catch a glimpse of the ponies. As we pass our 500-mile marker, we see our first pony up close. Lying in the grass, a white pony barely lifts his head as we pet and scratch him all over his bulbous belly.
The weather is odd. It’s too humid to use the sleeping quilt, but it’s cool enough that if you don’t, you’re chilled. The quilt sticks to your skin in the most uncomfortable way. My legs are covered in bites. I slather the hydrocortisone cream on, which doesn’t help with the overall stickiness. A Whip-poor-will calls loudly all night. This is my idea of fun, really!?
The Ozette Loop hike is unlike any other experience on this epic trip. It is largely boardwalk through a coastal forest. From the trail, you can look into dense vegetation without sinking into the watery mud. The trail then emerges on a beach that really does feel wild. Vast amounts of timber have collected on the coast over the years.
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