If you are planning an adventure trip and hiking in North America or South America is on your bucket list, you are in the right place.
Some of the most off-the-beaten-path hikes in the world can be found while traveling in North America and South America.
There are incredible options to go hiking in nature and offer the opportunity to explore less-visited trails that will surely surprise you.
I am constantly on a search to explore new opportunities to find hidden gem activities while traveling, discovering about some of these hiking destinations is so inspiring.
To be able to put a list of these 14 amazing hiking destinations, I have asked a group of travel experts on their favorite hidden gem hikes in North America and South America, and these are their top picks to inspire and help you to plan your epic hiking.
The adventure is about to start. Have fun and safe travels!
Best Hikes in North America & South America – Safety Tips for Hiking
Safety First! Before we review these amazing off the beaten path hiking opportunities, let’s remember to travel safe:
- Always search for travel advice from the local authorities, for the location you are planning to travel to. Check the weather conditions, the best time to visit, safety regulations, and of course, always follow the guidelines for Responsible travel and help to preserve the environment
- Make sure you have appropriate hiking gear, especially shoes. A good pair of hiking shoes can make or break your hike. Don’t forget to pack some of those incredible gifts for outdoor adventures.
- Always carry with you enough water and keep hydrated
- For any longer and challenging hiking, make sure to do some fitness preparation prior to your trip and respect your limits
- Have travel insurance. There are many options right there, but my personal preference is World Nomads, since their process is easy and simple, from getting a quote to making a claim.
Best Hikes in North America & South America – Off the beaten path
1) Stairway to Heaven – Oahu, Hawaii
Also known as the Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii, the Stairway to Heaven is arguably the most epic attraction on the entire island of Oahu. Stairway to Heaven is hidden in the center of the island, you will find 3,922 stairs leading up the imposing mountain ridge, often at a vertical incline, with only a hand-rail to catch you. There are many sections that truly do seem like a ladder although with common sense and in fair weather conditions it isn’t as dangerous as it sounds.
The hike takes around a 3-hours return trip, with a 4,000 ft long hike, but you can expect to spend an hour or so at the summit taking in the incredible views of the ridges and vast coastline from the top viewpoint.
A very interesting story about this place is that the stairs were originally constructed in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a top-secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships that were sailing throughout the Pacific Ocean. The stairs were then opened to the public for hiking until 1987 when they were unfortunately deemed unsafe because of disrepair. This is probably the most famous of all the hikes on Oahu and has been covered by most newspaper outlets.
2) Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, USA
Location: Roseland, Virginia
Distance: 24 km / 15 miles
Duration: 1-2 days
Hike Expert: Erin from Go Hike Virginia
The 15.0-mile loop hike across Three Ridges Wilderness in Virginia wows with cascading streams, mountain vistas, overnight shelters, and steps along the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. Tackle this hike in one day or break it up into two days with a camp-out at the Harpers Creek Shelter.
The Three Ridges hike begins just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, at the Reeds Gap parking area. Pick up the southbound Appalachian Trail that meanders through the George Washington National Forest. From the start, you are climbing. The total elevation gain for this hike nears 4,000 feet.
On this hike, you are rewarded with west-facing views before the 1.0-mile mark, but the real treat comes at the 3.7-mile mark when you arrive at spectacular mountain views at Three Ridges. Get ready for more scenery when you reach Chimney Rock at the 6.2-mile mark.
Pause for a water break or overnight at the Harpers Creek Shelter to rest up for the next day’s climb on the Mau-Har Trail. In this section, there are some cascades, but it’s mostly a steep climb. You will reach the Maupin Field Shelter at the 13.0-mile mark. From here, it’s less than 2.0 miles to the parking area.
Plan Your Hike: Bring at least three to four liters of water, as well as a water filter and purifier to re-fill at Harpers Creek. If you opt for two days, there are lots of campsites with fire rings all around the Harpers Creek Shelter.
3) Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, USA
Bright Angel Trail is the main trail leading from the south rim of the Grand Canyon all the way down to the Colorado River at the bottom. There is no better way to appreciate the enormity and grandeur of the Grand Canyon than to see the sides towering high above you on both sides from the canyon floor. The entire trail is 11 miles each way and is too intense to be done down and back in one day. To experience the full trail, therefore, you will need to stay in one of the few campgrounds in the canyon or make a reservation at Phantom Ranch. The “ranch” is a collection of rustic cabins and dorm buildings set among groves of trees, not far from the river. Reservations are hard to get, but even if you aren’t successful, it is still definitely worth it to hike at least part of the Bright Angel Trail.
The trail starts from near Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village and after passing through a tunnel cut into the rock, starts down a series of switchbacks traversing the steep sides of the canyon. Half way down is Indian Garden, which is the last turning back point for day hikers. The trail continues down and eventually crosses the river over a narrow suspension bridge and finishes at Phantom Ranch. There is a huge elevation change, so take your time and enjoy being below the rim (and take plenty of water!) Grand Canyon is most easily reached from Flagstaff, where there is an airport, car rentals and shuttle buses to the canyon.
4) Ice Hiking the Ricketts Glenn Falls – Pennsylvania, USA
In the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, Ricketts Glen State Park is one of the best places to hike. The state park, between the Poconos and Philadelphia, offers 26 miles of hiking trails, ranging in degree of difficulty. The 7.2 mile Falls Trail is the most challenging hike, and the one that offers the greatest reward. For an even more incredible experience, try ice hiking the Ricketts Glen Falls Trail.
The Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park winds past 21 waterfalls that range in height from 11 to 94 feet. These majestic displays inspire hundreds of thousands to visit each year. The rocky terrain can be slippery and has several steep descents. Because the trail offers so many varied challenges, it’s a great day hike for adventurers who want a challenge. The views make the effort worthwhile.
While the hike is beautiful year-round, ice hiking in winter is the best way to experience the falls at Ricketts Glen State Park. The falls trail is closed to the public during winter because of the danger risk to those without proper gear so a guided hike is the only way to access the falls trail in winter. Tour companies provide ice picks and crampons to those who need them. They’ll send a list of other recommended gear with reservation confirmations.
Ice hiking the Ricketts Glen Falls Trail is such a unique experience. Waterfalls are always beautiful, but when the trail is draped in icicles, it becomes even more spectacular. At the base of the 94′ Ganoga Falls, look up all around. The world is draped in ice.
There’s good news for this hike. The upward climb back to base is actually easier than the downward hike in winter. Climbing ice is easier than descending it. Whether hiking in winter or summer, the Ricketts Glen Falls Trail rewards adventurers with beautiful scenery year round.
Submitted by Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget where she writes about family travel, adventure experiences and historic destinations.
5) Joshua Tree National Park – California, USA
Joshua Tree National Park may not be among the biggest and best-known parks in America, but it is certainly one of the most unique national parks I’ve ever visited, anywhere. It’s one of my favorite examples of incredible nature in the world, and believe it or not, it is located roughly two hours outside of one of the biggest cities in the United States; Los Angeles.
Joshua Trees are actually oddly shaped yucca plants, and they range from small to towering, dotting many areas in the 800,000-acre park (hence the name). Joshua Tree National Park spans both the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and covers multiple altitudes and ecosystems throughout the park. With the strange plant-life and bulbous rock formations, it’s easy to see why so many movies and television shows were filmed here.
As a frequent desert hiker of the American Southwest, what I appreciate most about this park is how distinctly alien it feels. It is truly a desert escape and hosts a multitude of hikes for many levels, ranging from under a mile to a whopping 35-mile trek.
My most memorable hiking moment in the park was on the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail, which is a moderate in-and-out 3 mile hike over rocky peaks filled with green barrel cacti. All of a sudden, when you reach what truly is a natural desert oasis, green palm trees rise unexpectedly out of the reddish brown earth, and if you’ve made it that far, you may as well climb all the way down to the small pool of water and shade.
This hike is truly spectacular and anyone who enjoys the desert should experience Joshua Tree National Park at least once in their life.
6) Big Bend National Park – Texas, USA
The most unique hiking experience I’ve ever had was the epic South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park. This small national park is hard to get to in the stark West Texas desert, but the drive and stunning hiking trails are worth every minute of the many hours spend in the car to reach it.
This is the only national park in the United States that houses an entire mountain range within its borders and some of the best hikes in Big Bend are here in the Chisos Mountains. The South Rim is one of these mountain trails. It’s a strenuous trail 12-mile loop trail that culminates with an epic view of the southern rim overlooking Mexico below.
Sitting on the edge of the cliffs with our picnic lunch watching three separate thunderstorms pour down over Mexico’s Chihuahua Desert below us was an experience I’ll never forget.
If you enjoy camping, pack your gear to take advantage of this trails many backcountry campsites and sleep under the milky way. If the trail is too strenuous, hike a portion of it like the shorter Pinnacles or Laguna Meadows trails. There’s truly something for everyone here!
7) Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park, USA
The Best Hiking in America can be found in Zion National Park. Hiking in Zion is a special experience. There are so many stunning hikes in Zion to choose from but the most popular is Angel’s Landing.
Angel’s Landing is a difficult hike that includes using chains to pull yourself up to the top but the views are worth it. All of the most popular hikes in Zion are rated as difficult but there are easy hikes in Zion as well such as Canyon Overlook and Timber Canyon Overlook.
No matter which hike you go on in Zion you will enjoy the beauty and nature that can be found at Zion. Zion has definitely increased in popularity recently and is very busy. The best time to visit Zion is between October and March. In the peak summer months you can wait up to 90 minutes for a shuttle and the trails are full as well.