Bucket List Hiking Trails

Ridges high in the sky, winding trails through skyscraping forests, misty waterfalls, and summit views that take our breath away—there’s no end to the magic of what we might encounter on the trail. 

There’s an entire lifetime of trails in the US, ranging from long cross-country trails to short hour-long jaunts. Beachside hikes in the sand, lush forests, alpine peaks, and vast desert landscapes provide endless opportunities for exploration on our own two feet, and enjoying these natural treasures with family and friends makes an incredible hike all the more memorable.  

While long epics in the mountains can be rewarding, not all bucket list hikes have to be multi-day trips or long slogs. Breathtaking views along the Napali Coast and striking desert landscapes in Zion National Park are trips you’ll be telling your grandkids about, but some of the best hikes in the US—like Franklin Falls in Washington State—are easily accessible from major metropolitan areas, and suitable for kids of all ages. That’s the beauty of exploring on your own two feet; the possibilities are endless. 

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Top Day Hikes for Your Bucket List

Here are a few of the best hiking trails in the US to add to your bucket list, including mellow family-friendly walks and long adventures in far-off destinations. 

A loop of angles landing hiking trail with hikers on the loop

Angels Landing

4.4 miles, 1,390’ elevation gain (out and back), 3-4 hours

Angels Landing is one of Zion National Park’s most popular spots, and for good reason. The exposed trail offers panoramic views of Zion Canyon’s spires and towering walls. Reaching the summit is not for the faint of heart, but the views are some of the best that any national park has to offer. 

Fern canyon with 2 hikers

Fern Canyon

2 miles, 200’ elevation gain (loop), 1-2 hours

Wandering a narrow pathway through the 30-foot fern-covered walls is a hike in the Redwoods that truly can’t be missed. Fern Canyon is a short sub-two mile loop (including the out and back portion from the parking lot), a striking canyon walled in with an ancient species of ferns as tall as the eyes can see. Add this quick hike onto another adventure, or turn it into a longer loop by hiking from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. 

a waterfall at Franklin Falls hiking trail

Franklin Falls 

2 miles, 400’ elevation gain (out and back), 1-2 hours

A mellow family-friendly hike with striking waterfall views, Franklin Falls is a Pacific Northwest classic. Stroll through Old Growth Forest along the Snoqualmie River, and scramble down to the shoreline of the 70-foot falls, which is an excellent swimming hole on a hot summer day. 

looking up the Kalaula trail

Kalalau Trail 

22 miles, 1,000’ elevation gain (out and back), 2-3 days (or a shorter 3-4 hour day hike)

A gem of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai’s Kalalau Trail is a dreamy walk along the Napali Coast. With picturesque beaches, gigantic waterfalls, steep river valleys, and rugged cliffside hiking, the Kalalau Trail is a popular option for day hikers as well as backpackers. This 22-mile round-trip trail offers plenty to explore along the way. 

bright angel trail

Bright Angel 

16 miles, 4400’ elevation gain (out and back), 6-8 hours

An 8-mile descent that drops 4,400 feet into the vast canyon below, Bright Angel Trail is considered to be one of the Grand Canyon’s premier trails. Descend towards the Colorado River amid jagged walls of red rock, cottonwood trees, and sand dunes while soaking in the jaw-dropping views of one of the most scenic national parks. Be sure to leave yourself twice as much time to get back out, since you start by descending and then have to climb back out at the end. 

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Lily Krass

Lily Krass is a freelance storyteller based in Jackson, Wyoming. Her work has been featured in SKI Magazine, Powder Magazine, The Ski Journal, Freeskier, Teton Gravity Research, and Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal. In addition to an all-consuming addiction to powder skiing, Lily takes snacking seriously, and when she’s not writing or sliding on snow, she’s likely deep into a baking project in her tiny kitchen. She is the co-author of Beyond Skid: A Cookbook For Ski Bums, a collection of dirtbag-friendly recipes inspired by life in a mountain town.