The 10 Hikes You Need to Do Before You Die
The West is home to some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the world. These are the hikes you just can’t miss.
The wild West. Mountains, rivers, valleys, lakes, lush forests, waterfalls. This is truly one of the most gorgeous landscapes in the world. We have it all out here.
Our home is abundant in beauty, yet we are short on time. When can anyone find the hours in the day to visit or hike in every spot that’s ever been suggested to them? Honestly, you’d be lucky if you could make that happen. You’d probably have to quit your job and live out of a van to hit every single landmark.
For those of us on more of a tight schedule, I narrowed down some of my favorites. Get ready for 10 of the most epic hikes in the West that you must see before you die.
From hanging with the polar bears in Alaska and hiking the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, to climbing the red rocks of Utah, photographing the jagged peaks of Wyoming, and getting drenched by the waterfalls of California, we’ve got it all! There are hikes of all levels, including short 2 milers and much longer, more strenuous 211 milers. Choose the level where you’d like to start and grab whoever is down with that level of difficulty. Bring your kids on the shorter hikes and your avid hiker friends for the big ones.
Regardless of the length of any of these hikes, none of them are lacking in beauty. The distance you travel is not always what matters, it is what you see and what you get to experience that makes these trails so unbelievable.
These are the 10 Western hikes that are worth a trek. And they’re going to change your life.
Na Pali Coast, Hawaii
This hike on the island of Kauai is 22 miles out and back. However, there are options to do a portion of it and still get the same unbelievable experience. The full hike requires overnight permits and backpacking gear. It’s well-worth the effort, though, as this is one of the most amazing hikes in the world.
Do the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail for a more mellow version. This portion is a 9.1 mile out and back trail with 2,664 feet of elevation gain. It is a strenuous hike but with big rewards.
Reservations are now required for all parts this hike, including both the Falls Trail and the entire Na Pali Coast Trail, so make sure to plan ahead!
The first 2 miles of the Falls trail is a moderate hike to one of the beautiful and remote beaches, then the last 2 miles is more strenuous up to the waterfall. Jurassic Park was filmed here so that gives you an indication of how otherworldly the experience is.
If you don’t rent a car when going to Kauai, there is a shuttle service that takes visitors to the parks. If you decide not to take the shuttle, you must purchase parking permits beforehand.
Angels Landing, Utah
It is only a 4.4 mile out and back trail but this Utah bucket list destination gains about 1,600 feet in elevation. You climb up huge red rocks to essentially reach one of the highest points in Zion National Park, allowing you to get a breathtaking view of the entire valley.
You need to enter a lottery in order to get a pass to hike this trail. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but it is also a good thing as Angels Landing has started to get dangerously overcrowded in recent years. You will have a lot more space on the trail now that it is more limited.
This is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park. It’s strenuous and and scary. You will experience drop-offs on either side, but you’re rewarded with the unbelievable views from the top. Whether or not you have a fear of heights, you’ll be pushed to your limits on this trail.
Delta Lake, Wyoming
One of the most popular hikes in Grand Teton National Park, Delta Lake is a must-see. Nestled just under the Grand Teton, the middle and most famous peak, it has some of the best up-close views of the range in the entire park. A 7.2-mile out and back trail with 2,247 feet of elevation gain, Delta Lake is difficult and almost entirely uphill with a steep rock scramble at the very end. It’s an unofficial and unmaintained trail via Lupine Meadows Access Trail, so make sure to download a map before losing service to ensure that you can find your way up to the top.
You can extend your hike to Amphitheater Lakes Trail to reach both Amphitheater Lake and Surprise Lake, that starts at a junction of Lupine Meadows and Amphitheater Lakes Trails. You can also hike from Delta Lake to Taggart and Bradley Lakes; find directions and maps through the AllTrails app.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
This is a short hike, only around 1 mile; we could say it may even be more of a walk, but it is truly a life-changing experience. If you’ve never seen an Arizona slot canyon, you must go to Antelope Canyon.
For this hike, you do have to go with a guide as the canyon is protected by Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation. Book a tour beforehand to ensure a spot. Be prepared that there may be crowds to for this hike, so go during the off-season in the spring or fall to avoid the biggest crowds.
Once you get down into the canyon, you can go at your own pace with your group; the guide is there for safety.
Grinnell Glacier, Montana
This hike is 11.2 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,181 feet. It’s a very popular hike, so expect to see other people on the trail and practice trail etiquette. The best conditions are in July and August, which naturally are the most crowded months in the park. If you go in June, there may be snow and ice that hinder you from completing the whole trail and reaching the final lake, but in July and August you’ll experience heavier foot traffic.
You pass three lakes to get to the final lake and corresponding glacier. There are beautiful views the entire way up and possibility of seeing mountain goats, moose, and bears.
Yosemite Falls, California
The distance to the top of Yosemite Falls is 7.2 miles roundtrip with 2,700 feet of elevation gain. This trail is marked as “strenuous” on the National Parks Service website. To reach the top of the falls, you take one of the park’s oldest historic trails to the main Yosemite Falls Trail.
Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall, at 2,425 feet above the valley floor, and this trail brings you up to the very top.
This trail is open year-round, but I suggest you go in the spring to avoid the huge crowds and enjoy the waterfall is at its peak, and is truly just a magical site to see. You may even get wet from all the mist!
John Muir Trail of the Pacific Crest Trail, California
This is a big one. It is 211 miles, almost entirely overlapping with the Pacific Crest Trail. It runs from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. You’re traveling through the Sierra Nevadas and get to experience some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Canada to Mexico, all along the Pacific states. The John Muir Trail is essentially the Southern California section of the PCT.
The John Muir Trail would take the average traveler about three weeks to complete. This is assuming you’re traveling 10 to 12 miles per day. There is a gradual increase in elevation as you continue south, but it is spread over a large distance. This is no easy feat, so work your way up to completing this hike.
Plan ahead, as you’ll need a wilderness permit for any section of the hike that you choose to do, regardless of if you complete the entire John Muir Trail or decide to take on a portion of it.
Harding Ice Field Trail, Alaska
This trail is located in Kenai Fjords National Park and is 9.2 miles in length, out and back, with 3,641 ft of elevation gain. This is a very popular trail in the park, and AllTrails advises you to go between May and October for the best conditions.
Many people who have done this hike say it may be one of the most difficult they’ve ever done but also the most worth it. The reward is breathtaking views of ice fields, valleys, and the Alaskan wilderness. This is one you can’t miss. But maybe start with some of the other hikes to work your way up to this one. Let this be a grand finale.
This hike begins on the valley floor and winds its way through thousands of cottonwoods and beautiful meadows before reaching above the treeline. Here you’ll find the most amazing expanse of uninterrupted rock and ice. According to the National Park Service, “the top of the trail is a window to past ice ages—a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see”
Broken Top Trail to No Name Lake, Oregon
This 5.5-mile out-and-back trail is just outside Bend, Oregon. It’s known to be a difficult hike but so rewarding when you reach the lake and cirques at the top. This is a popular trail, so you’ll likely see other hikers on your way.
There are two ways to get to the trailhead. Either have a vehicle with four-wheel drive and high clearance or you do a bit of extra hiking to avoid having to drive on the bumpy road to the trailhead. Parking at the Todd Lake trailhead adds an extra 3 to 4 miles to the total distance.
At the trailhead, complete wilderness permits; these just help track the trail usage but if everyone fills one out, it makes a big difference. The Broken Top trailhead is open from July to October, but you can still hike up to No Name Lake through the Todd Ridge Trail if you wanted to. However, I think July to October are the best dates to hike the trail anyways for the best conditions.
Crested Butte to Aspen via West Maroon Pass, Colorado
This hike is one you must see. Crested Butte and Aspen are frequently thought to be 100 miles apart, because in driving distance, they are. However, as the crow flies, Aspen and Crested Butte are only 10.3 miles apart. This hike takes you on foot from one to the other over the high alpine ecosystem of West Maroon pass. This trail is popular for camping and backpacking as well, and there are two ways to do it.
You can travel one direction, spend some time or a few nights in Aspen, and then catch the shuttle back to the trailhead in Crested Butte or go the distance and hike this trail roundtrip. Either way, it’ll be the hike of a lifetime.
Doing the one-way trip will require you to take a shuttle for about four hours back to either trailhead. So in this case, I’d advise spending the night in Aspen before making the long drive back to Crested Butte the next day. On the other hand, doing the roundtrip version of this hike would allow you to skip the drive but require you to hike almost 21 miles. In this case, you could bring camping gear and split up the time or spend some time in Aspen at the other end and then hike back a few days later.
Regardless, plan ahead, as a permit is required for any vehicle visiting the area.