U.S. National Parks are famous for their incredible scenery. Some of the most iconic views, like Tunnel View can be seen from a parking lot. However, you’d be missing out if you didn’t lace up your hiking boots and leave the pavement and boardwalks to see these gorgeous vistas!
POTATO HARBOR - CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK (SANTA CRUZ ISLAND)
Channel Islands National Park is only accessible by boat or plane, but we can assure you that the 60-minute cruise to get to Santa Cruz Island is worth the time and money. Once we left the boat and hiked away from Scorpion Anchorage, we were on our own for most of the day. If you like to hike and are looking for an amazing day trip adventure while visiting the coast of California, pack a lunch, board an Island Packers cruise, and take a hike to Potato Harbor. We also wrote about our amazing time in Channel Islands National Park, which you can review on our site as well.
DELICATE ARCH - ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Delicate Arch is a stone icon and people from around the world flock to Arches National Park to get a look. However, don’t let the idea of crowds dissuade you-it IS impressive. No matter the time of year, you’ll want to set out early in the morning to do this popular hike (and get a parking spot). Getting there requires a moderate to difficult 3-mile roundtrip hike with no shade, so make sure to bring plenty of water.
TAGGART LAKE- GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
There are so many stunning hikes and viewpoints in Grand Teton National Park that it can be hard to choose where to spend your time. The Taggart Lake trail is one of the park’s easier hikes, yet it offers incredible views of the Teton Mountain range the entire way out to the lake. We recommend combining it with the Beaver Creek trail to climb the glacial moraine and loop back to your car along the Beaver Creek. Or, if you feel a bit more ambitious, try the Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake loop which adds a little distance but provides a nice variety of scenery for your return trip. You can read about Taggart Lake Hike in our detailed blog, Taggart Lake (with the Beaver Creek Loop).
UNCLE TOM'S TRAIL - YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone National Park is full of geologic wonders that can be viewed from boardwalks, but if you are in shape and aren’t afraid of climbing back up 328 steps, we think Uncle Tom’s trail is a must-do. There’s no better way to get up close and personal with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and feel the power of the Lower Falls. When we visited in June of 2017, the parking lot to Tom’s Trail was closed for construction and we had to hike down from the trail starting at Artist Point. This is a great way to extend the otherwise short hike and enjoy views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone away from the crowds at Artist Point.
Our son Andrew went over his experience on Uncle Tom's Trail as well-check it out.
CAPROCK COULEE TRAIL - THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
Most people that visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park never make the ~1 hour drive up to the North Unit. There are so many beautiful overlooks in this park, but we think hiking in the uncrowded North Unit is a must! The Caprock Coulee trail is a hidden gem with spectacular scenery and fascinating geology. We only ran into a handful of hikers on this trail on a June morning. Perhaps the sign warning visitors about the presence of bison, poison ivy, and rattlesnakes scared everyone else away???
Our blog post dedicated entirely to our experience at the Caprock-Coulee trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also worth reading if you want more information. We also cover Theodore Roosevelt National Park extensively in our blog on the Five Reasons You'll Fall in Love with Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
SENTINEL DOME - YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
If you want to experience panoramic views away from the crowds at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, the hike to Sentinel Dome is worth a little effort. It is relatively easy, aside from the short steep climb up to the top of the dome. We left the parking lot early in the morning and were lucky to share the dome with only a couple other families. Looking to the north, you can see El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. To the east are views of Half Dome, Nevada Falls and Clouds Rest. To the west, you can look down into Yosemite Valley. Of note, the high altitude may bother some and it is best hiked in the summer when the trail is dry. The Glacier Point Road, which you need to take to access the trailhead, is closed to cars in the winter.
SUN NOTCH TRAIL - CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
This hike is a quick loop just off Rim Road and is a great way to see Crater Lake National Park for the first time if driving in from the south of the park. We were shocked that the parking lot for this trailhead was nearly empty since this hike offers a big payoff for very little effort. The Sun Notch Trail is a great hike, even for little kids. We enjoyed watching as our three (ages 6, 8 and 10 at the time) reached the edge of the rim and gazed in wonder at the striking blue water of the lake below. Two different lookouts offer fantastic views of Phantom Ship and Wizard Island. We also spotted our first yellow-bellied marmot on the return trip to the car. If you want your first view of the lake to be away from the crowds of tourists at the visitor center, make this your first stop!
HICKMAN BRIDGE TRAIL - CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s lesser known National Parks. Many drive through this park without stopping. However, just off the main road (Highway 24) and right near the visitor center is the Hickman Bridge Trail. This relatively short hike offers a variety of scenery, including passing alongside the Fremont River, views of the fruit orchard and amazing monoliths (such as the Navajo Dome and Pectol’s Pyramid). The trail ends at the 125 foot long natural bridge, which stands 133 feet above the ground. Nearby the bridge is a good amount of shade, offering much needed cover before heading back downhill to the parking lot. There really is no excuse for not taking a little more than an hour and experiencing this amazing trail! We also wrote about our experiences on the Hickman Bridge Trail in our blog, which you can review on our site as well.
NOTCH TRAIL - BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Located near the famous Wall Drug in South Dakota, Badlands National Park is known for its rugged scenery. You come here expecting to see vast areas of nothingness, and you may not expect to find grand vistas, or wonderful trails. The Notch Trail will definitely surprise you! It is one of the top-rated trails in the park, and terrific for families. After a flat walk, the only real uphill part of the hike is up a giant log ladder with over 40 steps! After climbing the ladder, the trail heads along a cliffside before a brief climb rewards hikers with a terrific view of the surrounding prairie. Make sure you start on this trail early! The line at the ladder can be long, and if it is the popular summertime months, the trail can be quite hot! We wrote about this great family hike in our blog on The Notch Trail.
If you are thinking of visiting the Badlands, you’ll also want to read our blog on Badlands National Park!
BEEHIVE TRAIL - ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Maine is out of the way for most people in the United States, and Acadia National Park is in a remote part of Maine. Still, this park is wonderful to visit, especially in the summer months. One of the best hikes for able-bodied families is the Beehive Loop Trail. This hike features multiple ladders on the side of a mountain and ends with a spectacular view of Sand Beach and Frenchman Bay. This hike is perfect for kids and families who like big adventure in a short hike! After you reach the summit, make sure you continue to the pond on the “The Bowl” trail, where you can relax on a shaded beach and take a dip to cool off!
We covered the Beehive Loop Trail in depth in our blog-check it out for more detailed information!
LOST MINE TRAIL - BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
If Acadia National Park in Maine is out of the way, then Big Bend National Park qualifies as being one of the most remote parks in the continental U.S. This park is about two hours from anything, and 4.5 hours from the nearest large city, El Paso. Still, it is worth the journey and full of surprises! Our first hike in the park, the Lost Mine Trail, left us struck with awe as we climbed out of the Chisos Basin to the peak that overlooked Juniper Canyon. What we loved in particular about this hike was the 0.2-mile long, flat mountain peak. There were plenty of places to sit and relax and take in the view.
This hike is uphill most of the way, but it is steady and not too steep, making it a great one for little hikers. We covered this hike in detail in our blog on the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.
QUEENS GARDEN AND NAVAJO LOOP TRAIL - BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
The views in Bryce Canyon National Park are easy to access, but to really experience the park, take this 2.9-mile trail down into the hoodoos. You will be amazed at the colors, especially if you hike in the early morning or about 1.5 hours before sunset. After descending about 400 feet, you’ll find yourself immersed in the hoodoos. Around every corner are amazing views, and you may even spy deer among the ponderosa pines!
This hike isn’t overly difficult, but what goes down must come up when it comes to hiking. Head into the canyon ready for a steep climb on the way out, but it is totally worth it and doable for families. We did this hike when our kids were 11, 9 and 7 and they did just fine (especially since the heat subsided in the evening).
Read about our experience on this hike in detail in our blog on the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.
RYAN MOUNTAIN TRAIL - JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Most of the hikes in Joshua Tree National Park are amazing. We are always shocked at how beautiful the desert can truly be. However, the top-rated Ryan Mountain Trail definitely is tops when it comes to the best views in the park. After steadily climbing for about 1.5 miles, you’ll find yourself on top of Ryan Mountain with incredible views.
This hike can be brutal in the summer heat, but if you go in the winter or early spring, the cool temperatures and wind at the peak will be refreshing after your one-hour climb.
We covered this hike in detail in our blog on hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park.
ICEBERG LAKE TRAIL - JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
We typically wouldn’t refer to a hike that is nearly 10 miles as a hike for families. However, the Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier National Park has such a gradual climb and wonderful scenery that it makes the miles fly by.
This hike features river crossings, a waterfall and ends with an emerald-green lake with icebergs! You’ll love the scenery along the way, which includes views of Mount Henkel, Mount Wilbur and Iceberg Peak.
Make sure you bring bear and bug spray with you on this trail, as they both can be present (though we didn’t see any bears along the way, thankfully)!
We covered this hike in detail in our blog on hiking the Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier National Park.
NATIONAL PARK ITINERARIES
We offer downloadable National Park itineraries with great hints and tips for over 30 National Parks. Check out our downloadable itineraries here.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
Just Go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Hiking the Caprock-Coulee Trail in the North Unit
- Just Go to Channel Islands National Park - A Day Trip to Santa Cruz Island
- Just Go to Acadia National Park - Hiking the Beehive Trail
- Ask Andrew - Yellowstone National Park
- Ask Andrew - Death Valley National Park