If you are searching for the top bucket list hikes in the USA, you are in the right place! The United States is a dream destination for hikers, and it offers some of the most-epic hiking destinations in the world, from hiking from rim to rim on the largest Canyon in the world – the Grand Canyon, to hiking one of the most challenging and long hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail. Get ready to see the top hand-picked hiking in the USA to add to your bucket list in 2023!
Here you can find some of the best hikes in the world. Among them are some of the most scenic and fun, but also, some of the hardest hikes. With so many options and variety to choose from, no one can deny that here you can find some of the most breathtaking and best hiking trails in the world.
With so many incredible National Parks to choose from, fascinating wildlife, breathtaking views, and well-maintained hiking trails, the US is certainly the most desirable hiking destination in the world! There are even some short hiking trails in the USA if you’re looking for a less taxing experience.
Here you can find the top 11 breathtaking bucket list hikes in the USA, and all the helpful tips and information on permits required to go hiking the best trails in the country. The adventure is about to start!
- 10 Essentials Tips Before You go on Your Bucket List Hikes in the USA
- Top 11 Bucket List Hikes in the USA
- Bucket List Hikes in the USA | Essential Packing Gear
- Bucket List Hikes in the USA Conclusion
10 Essentials Tips Before You go on Your Bucket List Hikes in the USA
Before we get started on this amazing list of the top 11 bucket list hikes in the USA, let’s remember to always travel safe:
- No Cell Phone Service: Cell phones do not work in most places in the backcountry and GPS is sometimes unreliable – Consider carrying a Satellite Phone with Maps and GPS Navigation
- Do not hike at night: If you are camping, plan to get to your campsite before dark.
- Make sure you have your hiking Permit: For many of the hiking in the US you will need a permit. Some of them you need to request in advance, some use a lottery system, and some you can get upon arrival. For each hiking listed here, you will also find information for permits.
- Difficult Hiking Trails: “Difficult Hiking Trails” are characterized by steep elevations, increasingly difficult terrain, and longer distances. Only experienced hikers should attempt these trails
- Be physically prepared: Many of these hikes are easy and can be done by anyone. A couple of the hikes are epic and I recommend following a 9-Steps to train for a hike prior to attempting any long or challenging hike.
- Consider the high altitude: Many of the places listed here, are at a high altitude. Make sure you acclimate before you start your hiking, train for a high altitude hike, and pack an Altitude Sickness Relief.
- Bring plenty of water: Remember you will be outdoors in the sun you will need to drink a lot of water. My LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle has been my lifesaver for all my trips. I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
- Pack Your Food: Make sure you pack healthy high energy food for your hike, because as fun as it is, hiking is also a draining activity.
- Check the Weather: Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
- Leave no Trace: Be a responsible traveler, it is all about enjoying nature and ensuring you help to preserve the environment.
Top 11 Bucket List Hikes in the USA
1. DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Let’s start this list of the bucket list hikes in the USA with one of the most extraordinary places to go hike in the country. Also, it is the largest National Park in the United States – Denali National Park. It is a very popular destination for any Alaska itinerary, and it deserves to have at least 2-days reserved just to explore the hiking trails.
Located about halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Preserve can be reached via the Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3), air services into McKinley National Park Airport, or the Denali Star Train.
Denali National Park is known for its wild nature, wildlife encounters, and fascinating views of the tallest mountain in North America, Mount Denali. Expect to see caribou, moose, bears, and wolves still roam the park and smaller animals like foxes, coyotes, and resident birds.
The park offers a large variety of hikes for all tastes and adventure levels. If you are short on time, you can hike the Denali National Park near the park entrance. One of the best hikes is the Horseshoe Lake Trail, a moderate loop hike around Horseshoe Lake, with great views and a chance of spotting wildlife.
If you plan to spend more time in the park, you can hike the Denali backcountry, and you will need to take the bus to enter the park. Savage Alpine Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes, with 4-miles considered strenuous with an elevation gain of 1,500 ft. but offering vistas of the boreal forest and tundra.
Plan Your Hike: The entrance fee to the park is $10 per person, and it is valid for 7 days. If you are planning to camp you need to reserve a campsite and purchase a bus ticket. Private vehicles are just allowed along the first 15 miles of the paved road. Advanced reservations are recommended for riding a bus or camping, check more details here.
2. PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
If you are really serious about a hiking bucket list in the USA, this is for you! The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is an epic long-distance trail that stretches for over 2650 miles (4265 km) in the western United States. The path begins at the Mexican border and hugs the spine of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges until finally crossing into Canada at Manning Park.
One of the few hikes designated as a National Scenic Trail in the USA, the PCT spans three different states. Highlights of the trail include the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains in California, Crater Lake National Park in California, and the spectacular Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington.
There are many ways to experience the beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail. Some hikers explore small sections of trail on a series of day hikes. Other hikers choose to tackle longer segments on wilderness backpacking trips. Still, others go for the entire trail all at once in a single season.
Those who attempt the entire trail in one summer are called thru-hikers. This is a challenging undertaking and usually takes 5-6 months to complete. There is a narrow window of time each year when the trail is not covered in snow, so thru-hikers must pay careful attention to the seasons and weather when attempting this feat.
Plan Your Hike: Some sections of the PCT require permits and others do not. Day hikers and section hikers should contact the local land management agency for more information. Thru-hikers should apply for a long-distance permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association. The PCT permits are free however, a full thru-hike costs around $5,000 in food, supplies, and stopovers.
3. THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
This is another hike on the USA bucket list if you are looking for a long-distance hike! Located in the eastern United States, the Appalachian Trail is widely considered one of the world’s most epic and challenging hiking trails. It requires extreme physical and mental stamina and quite a bit of dogged determination.
Stretching more than 2,000 miles from Springer Mountain in North Georgia to Baxter State Park in Millinocket, Maine, the trail includes roughly 515,000 feet of elevation over the total length of the trail. So the 6 to 8-month journey required to tackle the entire length is like hiking up Mount Everest from sea level and back 16 times.
Still, around 3 million people hike at least some portion of the Appalachian Trail every year, though only 3,000 people or so attempt a thru-hike (and only 25% of them actually complete the entire trail).
It’s far more common for people to day-hike smaller sections of the trail, which offers a more accessible way to explore the majestic mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and far-reaching scenic vistas this vast wilderness is known for.
The Appalachian Trail in Georgia and North Carolina are especially beautiful, with warmer weather and more spectacular scenery than some of the trail’s northern sections. From Blood Mountain and Springer Mountain in Georgia to Clingmans Dome and Max Patch. Also, while you are in the area make sure to check the best things to do in Bryson NC.
Day-hiking the southernmost stretch of the AT offers excellent opportunities to see the highest mountains in the eastern US without making a 6+ month commitment!
Plan Your Hike: The Appalachian Trail crosses through 14 states and extends 2,193 miles from Georgia to Maine. You don’t need permits, however, note that certain national and state parks along the route require permits or camping fees. You can check here for permits, fees, and regulations.
4. THREE RIDGES WILDERNESS
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. You can download the map here with all the details you need to go on this hike
5. BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL
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 of the canyon floor.
This is definitely a hiking bucket list in the USA for any adventure seeker or hiker lover!
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. 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 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.
Halfway 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.
Plan Your Hike: If you are making the full trial, you will need to spend the night, so you will need to 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. For the permit, you can apply here. If hiking during the summer months, avoid hiking between 10 am – 4 pm when temperatures in the shade exceed 100F.
6. JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
This is another top hiking bucket list in the 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 the 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.
Plan Your Hike: A permit is not required for day hiking in the backcountry. To backcountry camp, you must park and register at a backcountry registration board. There is no fee. Your registration is your permit.
7. BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
This hiking bucket list in the USA wouldn’t be complete without adding the 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 and 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 these trails and 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!
Plan Your Hike: A backcountry permit is required for ALL backcountry camping in Big Bend National Park. This includes backpacking and primitive roadside campsites. Backcountry permits are also required for river trips and stock use. Check here for all you need to know before you go hike the Big Ben National Park.
8. ANGEL’S LANDING
The best hiking bucket list in the USA 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.
Plan Your Hike: You must have a permit to hike any portion of Angels Landing. Permits are available by two lottery processes. The seasonal lottery application periods occur quarterly. Additional permits are issued in day-before lotteries. You should check here to require your hiking permit.
9. THE WAVE
The wave is one of the best hikes in Arizona, and also, a bucket list hikes in the USA for many. Hiking among the beautiful red and orange wave-like sandstone formations. It’s absolutely amazing.
But hiking here is not that easy. You must be the lucky winner of the permit lottery to be able to hike to this epic spot. Each day, 64 people are allotted permits to hike there – 48 through the online lottery, and 16 through the walk-up lottery.
This hiking is hands down the premier photographic destination in the US Southwest, offering such unique and spectacular rock formations. The Wave is best photographed from mid-morning to early afternoon so as to minimize the extensive shadows; the other areas listed above are best photographed mid-late afternoon.
A six-mile round trip hike is required to get to The Wave. Since there is no trail to The Wave you should be able to use a map and compass or GPS to help with navigation. If you are not sure about your navigation skills I strongly suggest you hike in with a guide or a friend with these skills.
Plan Your Hike: This permit is required to visit the Coyote Buttes North permit area, which features “The Wave” and you check more information here to acquire your permit. I highly recommend hiring a local guide (like Dreamland Safaris) to do the hike with if you aren’t super skilled with route-finding. The best place to stay while hiking the Wave is at Page – Check Hotel Deals on Page
10. BIRTHING CAVE
All hikes in Sedona are amazing! Sedona is one of the most unique and scenic areas of Arizona, and one of the best destinations for hikers looking to spend time outdoors exploring the red rocks and scenic canyons.
In addition to the incredible views, other highlights include a natural bridge, rivers and streams, wildlife, and even energy vortexes. One of the best hikes in Sedona is hands down the Birthing Cave – besides being an easy and short hike, this is a hiking bucket list in the USA for many hiker lovers.
The trailhead is only 15 minutes from Sedona and you reach it via Long Canyon Trailhead. This is pretty easy as you start at Long Canyon Trailhead and go straight for about .6 miles until there is a fork in the road, and then you go left.
Once you make it inside the cave, take some time to turn around and soak in a classic Sedona vista. The green valley with red towers jutting up in the distance! It is absolutely stunning, and this is the reason it makes to the bucket list hikes in USA!
Plan Your Hike: It is recommended to wear proper hiking shoes, you will need the extra traction while you are climbing up into the cave and on the cave ledges. Note that a Red Rock Pass is not required for this hike in Sedona. If you are planning to visit Sedona, one of the best accommodations is Sedona Real Inn a family-owned and pet-friendly with outstanding views.
11. DELTA LAKE
This is the last but not least bucket list hikes in the USA! The Delta Lake Hike is a partially unmaintained trail that leads past lakes, towering pine trees, and epic mountain views to a jaw-dropping alpine lake with robin’s egg blue waters. To reach this gorgeous sight, you’ll start from the Lupine Meadows trailhead and make your way along a deceptively easy trail through a tranquil forest.
Before you know it, you’ll start heading up several steep switchbacks, with sweeping views of the azure waters of Bradley Lake, wildflowers, and beyond, the Jackson Hole valley. After trudging up six switchbacks, you’ll notice a dirt path that leads downhill from the main trail- this is the official start of the trail to Delta Lake!
Over the next mile, you’ll need to follow cairns, scramble your way up and over several boulder fields, and climb up (potentially even on your hands and knees!) an extremely steep gulch. This portion of the trail is not maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, so you may find downed trees or other obstacles to navigate around and you won’t find the trail on the park’s official maps.
All of these challenges will be worth it, though, when you reach the vibrantly-colored Delta Lake and beyond, a dramatically jagged mountain peak.
Plan Your Hike: Because of Jackson Hole’s high elevation, the trail is buried in snow for much of the year and is best accessed from July through mid-October. Jackson Hole is known for its brutal winters, so if you’re visiting during the fall, be sure to check the weather reports to make sure you’ll have a pleasant (and safe!) experience exploring Delta Lake.
Bucket List Hikes in the USA | Essential Packing Gear
- Backpack: If you are planning to carry a backpack during your hiking, I have compiled a very detailed review of the Best Backpacks for Travel in the market today –
- Portable water bottle: Remember to bring and drink a lot of water and if you need to refill, have a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle is the best option.
- First-aid kit: Always remember to pack a first-aid kit for your hikes.
- Day-Backpack: I love my day-backpack and it is very handy for any hiking.
- Headlamps: Carry a flashlight or headlamp even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.
- Wear sturdy shoes for hiking: The most important thing is to protect your feet and avoid twisting your ankle and getting injured. I recommend investing in a good hiking boots brand such as Teva, Salomon, or even Keens.
- Moisture-wicking clothing: These clothes help to pull the sweat away from your body and stay cool and dry during your hiking such as light hiking pants & long sleeves shirts.
- Warm-Layers: Early morning or late night can get cold so it is important to bring layers, a lightweight puffy jacket is a must!
- Hiking Leggings: Another great item for your hikes is to invest in a good pair of leggings for hiking
- Packing for winter hiking: During winter make sure to have a good quality hiking jacket and pack a warm pair of pants for your hike.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses: It is always important to protect yourself against the sun. Bring a hat with a good face cover like this one and don’t forget to pack a pair of polarized sunglasses
- Bring along some food or snacks: It’s a good idea to pack trail mix or cereal bars to munch on during your hikes.
- Bring your Camera: You will see some incredible views during your hiking, so don’t forget your camera, or check some great value options here
Bucket List Hikes in the USA Conclusion
And with these 11 incredible bucket list hikes in the USA, we conclude this amazing list! The United States offers some of the best hikes opportunities in the world. From incredible National Parks, and multi-day hiking to also easy day hikes that offer incredible and unique views and experiences. Here you can find a hiking trail for everyone to explore.
Choose the hiking trail that better fits your needs and adventure level. And the most important thing, keep active and safe travels, everyone!
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