Camping and Outdoors

Epic Hikes in the American West!

I love hiking. The more exciting and adventurous the trail, the more I love it. Since I’ve spent the entirety of my life up to this point living in the American West, I’ve of course explored a lot of trails and researched even more that I would like to do at some point. If you’re going to be in the American West and love hiking, you might want to check out some of these epic hikes.

Reflection Canyon Hike

Reflection Canyon is an epic hike in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. This 20-mile round trip hike is an extremely remote area that I hear you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get to the “trailhead”. There is no trail exactly, so the length of the trail can vary depending on the route you take. The terrain is extremely rugged and will take you through slot canyons and send you climbing over shifty sandstone. You’ll need to bring plenty of water as well as a GPS navigator to help you find your way. Be careful on this one! That being said, what awaits you at the end of the hike is an incredible view of Reflection Canyon. Camping for the night is highly recommended since the hike is pretty long. And besides, you don’t want to just look at it and then turn back around, do you?

Half Dome in Yosemite

Half Dome is one of those iconic hikes that many reasonably fit travelers living in the American West ends up doing at some point in their lives. Being a California native, almost everybody I know has done Half Dome at one point or another, but don’t let it’s popularity fool you…it’s challenging! This epic trek up Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome involves some pretty steep elevation gain and a bit of rock climbing (don’t worry…you won’t need equipment as they have cables installed for you to grab on to) as you ascend to the summit. This hike passes by beautiful waterfalls along the way and once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Yosemite Valley. You’ll need a permit for this one, and can find out more information about obtaining one here.

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney, which is located at the edge of Sequoia National Park in California, carries the dubious honor of being the tallest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421.124 meters). You should be in good shape to attempt this hike, but that being said, those I know who have done it have said that if you do it in the summertime months you won’t need any special equipment (you’ll need ice picks and other equipment if you attempt it in the more challenging Winter months). As far as major mountain summits go, this one is easier than some of the other great mountains of the world. I may never summit Everest, but I can reasonably hope to Summit Mt. Whitney at least!

You’ll need to apply for a permit in order to hike Mount Whitney, so don’t think you can just show up and do it…you’ll need to plan ahead. Find out more about this hike here.

Hermit Trail

Everybody knows the Grand Canyon is an awesome place to visit, and many people around the world have a visit to this awesome place on their bucket list. The thing is, however, that I’ve heard a lot of people say they were disappointed when they visited. Turns out they just drove up to the viewpoint and took a look. The thing about the Grand Canyon is that it’s an amazing thing to see, even from the viewpoint, but if that’s all you’re doing, your trip might end up feeling a little thin. You have to really spend some time with the Grand Canyon and get to know it to fully appreciate how amazing it is. That’s why I recommend hiking down into the canyon to anybody who is physically fit enough to take on the challenge. You don’t have to hike the entire canyon to get a good sense for it. I’ve done day trips to the canyon where we hiked down for a couple hours and then hiked back out. (Note: it takes twice as long to hike out as it does to hike in, so plan for that and bring a lot of water).

The Hermit Trail is a great trail into the canyon, but it’s definitely challenging. Those who want to hike the trail should be in good physical condition.

Note: I also really like the Bright Angel Trail, which is located right next to the Bright Angel Lodge, so it’s a conveniently located trail where you can hike down as far as you like and then come back out.

Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch, located in Zion National Park, is the longest and deepest slot canyons in the American Southwest, so it’s definitely worth checking out. Distant storms can cause flash flooding to rush through this canyon, so it is considered to be one of the most dangerous hikes in America. You’ll need a permit to do this hike as well, so make sure to plan ahead before you go.

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is one of the most epic trails in the U.S.! This 211 mile trail meanders through some of the most amazing pieces of wilderness in the United States: Yosemite, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. You definitely won’t be able to do the whole trail in a day hike, so this one is for you hardcore thru-hikers out there.

The Kalalau Trail


That’s me on the Kalalau Trail

I’ve actually written about this trail before, so check out those posts for lots of details on what to expect and my experiences on the trail. However, I’ll just say here that the Kalalau Trail is Kauai’s premier trail and it’s absolutely stunning. It’s a pretty long hike, but there are several turnaround points that you can choose depending on your level of fitness and your level of dedication. I chose Hanakapiai Falls, which is about an 8 mile round trip, but there’s also a turnaround point at the beach which is only a 4 mile round trip. Those who want to really go for it can also do the whole trail, which is about 22 miles round trip.

Angels Landing at Zion National Park

Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is a great hike to do if you’re in good physical condition. It’s a tough hike, but the views at the top will be incredibly rewarding. It’s only 5 miles round trip, but it’s incredibly steep with some exposure to long drop offs along the way. If you’re in decent physical shape, you’ll be able to tackle this trail, but you should know that it can be a pretty scary one if you have a fear of heights.

Learn more about the trail here.

The Wave

The Wave is a pretty famous sight in the Southwest, and for good reason! Located in Arizona, this unusual rock formation has the appearance of a wave. This one is definitely on my list to hike someday, but you should know that you can’t just show up and hike the Wave. There is a strict limit on the number of people who can do this hike per day, and permits must be obtained in order to do the hike ahead of time, so make sure to plan accordingly. Bearfoot Theory has done an excellent job of explaining all you need to know if you’re interested in doing the hike yourself.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of the awesome hikes available in the American West. Do you have a favorite trail I neglected to mention? Tell us about it so we can all go check it out! Happy trails!


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