We have been on several RV road trips in the US now and wherever we go, we always look for places to hike. Hiking opens up new areas to explore and really allows us to get into the nooks and crannies (literally!) of the landscape. We have been incredibly lucky to have come across some amazing hiking trails. Some of the most unforgettable hikes we have come upon by chance and others, particularly those in National Parks, are rather more well known. All of them, however, are special and memorable.
What makes for a memorable hike?
This is a very subjective issue of course and different people will have different notions of what makes a hike memorable. For me it is coming across something which I had not expected or a fantastic view I would not have seen otherwise. It can also mean that the hike has had challenges which I had not anticipated or encountered previously.
Our list of unforgettable hikes in the US
This is my list of favourite hikes in the US so far. I reserve the right to add to it! These hikes are all in the western US because that is where we have travelled mostly. If you are looking for memorable hikes in Europe, however, take a look at Tour du Mont Blanc.
Unforgettable Hike #1
White Rock Canyon, Arizona
This really is a hike with a difference! We were staying in our RV in Lake Mead just over the state line in Nevada, but Peter had spotted what appeared to be a trailhead as we had driven towards the Hoover Dam the day before. We did not research the hike beforehand, which is why we were so surprised by what we found.
The trailhead is a little south of the Hoover Dam and is not far from the Highway 93.
We followed the trail in a clockwise direction down through the canyon. It is quite rocky and steep in places but very doable. Then the terrain levels out and narrows, becoming a slot canyon…..with water! The trail actually goes through water and there are sandbags to dam it. When we were there it was too deep to go through in walking boots. Off they came! Peter went first and started jumping around. “Is it cold?” I wanted to know. “No, it’s (expletive) boiling hot!” he yelled back. He wasn’t kidding: we were in a hot spring!
We paddled through, getting used to the heat and as we rounded a bend, we heard voices. Then we came upon half a dozen people wallowing in the pools. So we joined them and wallowed! Incidentally, there is no room for any prudishness at this point!
We stayed for around half an hour and then continued our hike. First though, we had to get out of the hot spring. This involved descending down a 20 foot metal ladder with hot water pouring over us.
The trail then opens out into a wash and leads down to the Colorado River, before heading back up through the canyon. The incline is much gentler in this direction and the trail less challenging.
We loved this hike because it was so unexpected and the landscape along by the Colorado River is beautiful. The multi-coloured rocks make for a really scenic walk. In total, the hike is about a 6 mile loop, but with built-in wallow, it took slightly longer than we might have expected. This really is an unforgettable hike!
Unforgettable Hike #2
Pinnacles National Park, High Peaks Trail
Confession time: I had not heard of Pinnacles National Park until a couple of days before we turned up there having noticed it on the map. It is one of the lesser known parks, but it is now imprinted in my brain as having provided one of the most memorable hikes we have undertaken in the US.
We set out from the Bear Gulch Trailhead and hiked up the Condor Gulch Trail, joining the High Peaks Trail. So far, it was scenic, dramatic even when we were in amongst the pinnacles, but at this point it had not joined the ranks of “unforgettable”.
Then the trail became more challenging with stone footholds built into the rock, almost like a ladder. Fortunately, in this series of narrow, vertical climbs there are also handrails. It was whilst we were scaling one of these ladders that we came upon a condor! It was just sitting there, perched nonchalantly on one of the rocks a short distance away. Awesome!
From there we headed down, eventually joining the Rim Trail, which led us to Bear Gulch Reservoir. This is very beautiful, but the best part was that the way out took us through the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. A torch is essential here, but fortunately and (I have to admit) as usual, Peter had one. Down we went into the caves. The trail through the caves is steep and rocky and amazing, with huge rocks balanced overhead. It was quite an Indiana Jones moment!
Finally, we joined the Moses Trail and headed back to our camper. This was an interesting and challenging hike, with the added attractions of caves and a condor. A very memorable hike! It is about 6 miles in total.
Unforgettable Hike #3
The Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon
Hiking in The Grand Canyon was always going to be special and it did not disappoint. This is a truly fabulous hike for all kinds of reasons. The sheer size of The Grand Canyon is breathtaking. The views and the landscape are magnificent. Hiking down into the canyon is an experience which will always stay with me.
There are warnings at the trailhead not to attempt to hike down to the Colorado River at the base of the canyon in one day, so we had this in mind throughout the hike. The trail is divided into four sections and we thought we would hike the first section and depending how we went, the second section too. Hiking down on the outward journey means that one then has to hike back up! We knew we had to keep something in reserve.
The path is well maintained and easy underfoot. Switchbacks add to the overall length of the trail, but make the gradient much easier. We undertook this hike in early November and it was noticeable how the temperature also changed as we went deeper into the canyon. At the top it was cold and I had several layers and a woolly hat; the deeper we went, the warmer it got and more layers came off. This situation was reversed on the return journey of course!
In the end, we hiked well into the third section of the canyon and had our picnic lunch at “Indian Garden”. This is like an oasis, really green and lush. It was quite warm and sunny as we sat and ate. The first section of the trail was quite busy, the second section less so and we barely saw anyone at all on the third section, just a few people climbing up having been camping overnight at the base. We were tempted to carry on to the bottom but heeded the warnings about this and therefore decided to head back up at this point. We did not know what the upward climb had in store for us, but it was always going to be harder climbing up.
And it was! The rim of the Grand Canyon is well over 8,000 feet at its highest and altitude is definitely a factor when climbing. It becomes progressively more debilitating the higher one climbs. We were actually fine, but one person who overtook us at a lower level, was clearly in difficulties as we passed him further up the trail. Fortunately, he had support.
It took us about 2 hours to hike down to Indian Garden, including stops for snacks and photos, and 2 hours 15 minutes to walk back up. I would love to hike down to the river one day and stay in the campsite at the base of the canyon, but that is for another day!
Unforgettable Hike #4
The Wildcat Trail, Monument Valley
The Wildcat Trail in Monument Valley is absolutely amazing. The trail goes through some of the most iconic scenery in America. The backdrop has featured in countless films, not to mention the Best Of album by the Eagles. With such a fabulous landscape, this is definitely a hike to remember.
In fact, the hike at about 4 miles is quite short, but there is a lot to take in over this stretch. It is relatively easy for the most part, but a little hard-going in places because of the sand and there is a sharp incline at the end. The views are amazing!
Unforgettable hike #5
The Cinder Cone, Lassen Volcanic National Park
The reward for tackling this hike is the opportunity to gaze down into the crater at the top of the cinder cone and walk all the way around the perimeter. It is very different and quite amazing.
However, a fair bit of effort is required to hike the cinder cone in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail is not in the main part of the park and therefore there is a drive of several miles to enter the park through a different entrance. The road up to the trailhead is a dirt road of about 6 miles. When we visited, we had to put in even more effort as our campervan did not like the dirt road at all! In the end, we jumped ship and cycled the rest of the way up to the start of the trail. Had I realized that it was uphill all the way, I may not have agreed to this! Having said that, the experience made the effort well worthwhile.
The first part of the trail up to the actual cinder cone is a gentle incline through open forest; the trail up the cone is steep….very steep. Not only that, it is made of fine, loose cinder so it is like walking through deep, black sand. However, it is a short sharp climb and whilst hard-going, we were at the top before I expected to be. And then WOW! This is an amazing view like no other.
Unforgettable Hike #6
Through the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is one of my absolute favourite National Parks. Gazing into the Canyon from Sunset Point for the first time is breathtaking: row upon row of brightly coloured hoodoos as far as the eye can see. It does not look like anything else on planet Earth.
What I had not realized at this point is that it is also possible to actually hike in amongst the hoodoos. Had to be done!
We started at Sunset Point and hiked the Navajo and Peekaboo trails, tagging on the Queen’s Garden and finishing at Sunset Point – about six miles in total. It is reasonably challenging as there is so much up and down, but the scenery is absolutely spectacular. It was very special to “hike the hoodoos”, yet another fabulous hike!
Unforgettable Hike #7
Zion National Park, Angels Landing
The guidebook says this trail is “not for the fainthearted”: they were not wrong. People have died on this trail over the years. However, it is one of the most memorable (and strenuous) hikes which we have undertaken in the US.
It is a steep climb up for the first couple of miles with lots of switchbacks, but the path is smooth and well maintained. This part is just a hard slog.
The latter section of the trail, however, is a real clamber and requires climbing along narrow ledges with huge drop-offs. Sometimes there is a chain to cling on to, sometimes not.
This is risky enough, but the main hazard on the day we tackled it was the sheer number of people trying to hike the trail. It was impossible for two people to pass in some sections, but folk were unwilling to give way or to wait in some cases. We saw people taking incredible risks. The elevation at the top is 5790 feet so one false move and there are no second chances. I must confess though that one of the reasons this is such a memorable hike for me is this element of danger.
Another reason, of course, is that the views from the top, right across Zion National Park, are spectacular. It is one of the most unforgettable hikes we have tackled in the US.
Top Tip: If these hikes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park have whetted your appetite for hiking in Utah, why not check out Best Hikes in Utah: 21 Epic Hikes to add to your Bucket List
Unforgettable Hike #8
The Rings Loop Trail, Mojave Desert
The Rings Loop Trail is another amazing hike which we just came upon by accident. We were staying at the Hole in the Wall Campsite out in the Mojave Desert and the trailhead for this relatively short (one mile) hike starts near the campsite.
The first part of the trail is an easy desert path with scenic views.
It then goes through rocks and cliffs where erosion has resulted in millions of holes, creating an incredible climbing wall effect.
This leads into a canyon, out of which there is just one route – which actually does not look like a route at all: it is a narrow, vertical channel! And to assist one in climbing this channel, a series of rings have been embedded into the rock!
I must admit, when I saw this I wondered if I would have to re-trace my steps. Was I really dexterous enough to manage this?
Well I did, and I suppose that is one of the reasons The Rings Loop Trail is one of my most memorable hikes!
So many fabulous hikes!
I could easily add to this list of memorable hikes (another post is already being drafted!) and I am certain that anyone reading this will be thinking “But what about…? Or “I can’t believe she hasn’t mentioned….” in a post about unforgettable hikes in the US! If so, please share! We are always on the lookout for new places to explore.
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If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out our hike on the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye.