The Hiker’s Guide to the Most Epic National Park Trails to Hit This Summer
These challenging and beautiful National Park trails should be on any hiker’s bucket list for Western adventures. Here are the ultimate trails to hit this season—and the proper footwear to do them right.
Hikers rejoice: The weather’s warm, there’s vacation time on the calendar, and the West’s beloved national parks beckon to trekkers looking to add another trail to their adventure diary. With one of the wettest winters on record and the parks as verdant as ever, we are truly living in the golden era of great Western hiking. But with so many stunning National Parks from California to Utah offering varied terrain, natural splendor, and epic views (and photo ops to last a lifetime), the choices for bucket-list hikes are truly infinite.
It’s all about this simple mantra: right trail, right shoe. Experienced hikers know the perfect pairing can make the difference between a decent day in the great outdoors and an epic experience to last a lifetime. From the dusty trails of the desert Southwest with their heat and gravel to the pastoral trails off the Pacific Northwest, the rewards are numerous and so are the opportunities for the footwear to perfectly fit the trail. With such varied terrain and trail types, the best shoe for the job can shift depending on what park you’re venturing into this summer. Are you hitting the lava-lined trails of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii or the sometimes slippery tracks of Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier? Do you need ankle support for rocky single track, grippy lugs for slippery terrain, waterproofing for wet conditions?
Fortunately there’s a hiking shoe or boot to match whichever hike you choose. We’re huge fans of La Sportiva, the legendary Italian-based footwear company that outfits everyone from pro climbers to endurance hikers to weekend trail runners. Their Ultra Raptor line is our go-to for its versatility, functionality, and style: Models come in low and mid cuts, leather and mesh construction, and can accommodate narrow and wide feet. In the spirit of right trail, right shoe, we’ve picked our favorite trails in some of the West’s most legendary parks and paired them with the ideal footwear for the Ultra Raptor collection. Each trail hits that sweet spot between fitness and fun we’re always looking for: moderate in difficulty but with a unique payoff true to the park and the place—whether it’s a view of a volcano, an indigenous cultural site, or an immersive experience of a fabled canyon. So pick your hike and find the perfect shoe to match and you’re guaranteed to have a hike to remember this season.
California: Yosemite National Park
The Trail: Mist Trail
The Mist Trail in Yosemite is one of the most well-trekked in all of California and for excellent reason. The seven-mile round trip is the preferred approach to legendary Half Dome and takes you past two of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls: Vernal and Nevada Falls that give the trail its name as they envelop hikers in a cool mist as they ascend the granite stairway of 600 sometimes slippery steps. It’s popular but 100 percent worth it—if you time it right. So get up super early to beat the crowds and go mid-week to check off this truly immersive bucket list experience. That means a 7 a.m. start time if you want to be a pacesetter. But if you want to witness that end-of-day glow, pack a headlamp to help you get out. The bang-for-buck factor is totally dependent on how far you want to go: It could be five hours for the full experience or two if you do a mid-point out-and-back. Parking tip: Competition gets tough closer to the trail head near Happy Isles, so a park shuttle bus is an alternate option.
The Mist Trail can get quite wet and slippery from the mist of the waterfalls, so you’re going to want a waterproof hiker like the Ultra Raptor II Mid GTX, which sports super-solid traction thanks to its MEMlex midsole, and ultra sticky rubber outsole bolstered with heel stabilizing construction and mid-rise ankle support. The wicking AirMesh mesh upper combined with the waterproof Gore-Tex® lining keeps you both dry and cool as you go from sun to spray to mud. And it’s available in wide fit, too, so it opens up the possibilities of who’s well equipped to tackle the trail.
Hawaii: Volcanoes National Park
The Trail: Kīlauea Iki Trail
Hiking a volcano counts as a top goal of any Western hiker and one of the best ways to tick that off your list is the Kīlauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. This four-mile, two-to-three hour loop descends from the rim of Kīlauea Iki crater, through the lush rainforest, and onto the dramatic steaming black lava crater floor. The trail offers views of Kīlauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. It begins at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook, descends 400 feet through the rainforest, crosses the crater floor, ascends to the crater rim, and then heads back to the overlook giving you a true taste of a quintessentially Hawiian hike. Parking is limited at the trailhead, so plan on hiking in from the visitor center which will add at least an hour to your hike.
Given the dampness of the rainforest and the potential for rain (summer is rainy season on the Big Island), the GTX model will excel: It’s got the sturdy but yielding MEMlex midsole along with the ultra sticky rubber outsole to provide maximum and traction. Plus the durable Nubuck leather upper provides protection from the lava crater floor. And since the Big Island is known for its passing rains, you’ve also got the Gore-Tex® lining to keep you cool and dry.
Utah: Arches National Park
The Trail: Delicate Arches Trail
For the ultimate sunset hike with a photo finish view of one of Arches National Park’s stunning sandstone formations, hit the Delicate Arch trail, a three-mile round trip hike that leads to one of Utah’s most recognizable landmarks. Though moderate in difficulty, the trek unveils panoramic views of the iconic arches and you’ll pass the Wolfe Ranch cabin and Ute Indian petroglyphs along the way. The hike offers little shade so hit the trail first thing in the morning, but the evening hike is when you’re going to get the most ‘grammable moment when the warm glow of magic hour bathes the formations in ruddy pinks and oranges. Park at the Wolfe Ranch trailhead or the Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking lot if Wolfe Ranch is full, but keep in mind the latter will add a mile to your approach and return.
The nimble Ultra Raptor II can serve as a trail runner or light hiker which makes the most low profile and lightest of Ultra Raptor family perfect for this hike in the dry, desert environment of Arches. The super grippy sole will excel on the dusty trails and the integrated rock guard will protect against larger rocks on the trail. The non-GTX model should suffice, offering good breathability, traction, and comfort for the moderate, sandy, and rocky trail.
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
The Trail: South Kaibab Trail
Situated on the canyon’s south rim, South Kaibab Trail guarantees all the superlatives you expect from a Grand Canyon hike: epic, breathtaking, panoramic views, stunning vistas, vibrant colors, dramatic rock formations—all in a three-mile out-and-back. Along the trail, hikers will encounter awe-inspiring landmarks such as Ooh-Aah Point for that quintessential sweeping view and the sculptural outcroppings of Skeleton Point. But don’t let that short distance fool you: There’s an 1,100-foot elevation gain, so be fit, be hydrated, and go early and plan twice as much time for your hike up as your descent. You’ll need to shuttle to the trail. Pro tip: Hiker’s Express is an early-morning shuttle bus that goes to the South Kaibab Trailhead from Bright Angel Lodge shuttle bus stop, the Backcountry Information Center, and Grand Canyon Visitor Center daily, year-round. Parking is available at the Backcountry Information Center.
Given the trail’s descent into the Grand Canyon, the mid-rise Ultra Raptor II Mid Leather GTX will provide additional ankle support and control thanks to the Impact Brake System as you navigate down. The sturdy leather construction provides extra support and stability for hikers who’ve wisely added the load of extra water and nutrition for the hike back to the top.
Washington, Mount Rainier National Park
The Trail: Skyline Trail
This is by far the best hike for getting up close and personal with the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier and experiencing the subalpine delights of Paradise Valley. This 5.5-mile loop showcases the park’s most iconic features: those unforgettable views of Mount Rainier towering in the distance and getting closer with each footfall, cascading waterfalls, vibrant wildflower meadows showing off their vivid blooms after our record-breaking rains, the impressive Nisqually glacier, and on a super clear day, the peaks of Mount Hood. With a moderate difficulty rating, this hike rewards travelers with a stunning alpine landscape. You can approach this trail depending on your mood and skill level: Some folks run it, others do it as a loop, or if you’re short on time or don’t want the uphill challenge of 1,400 feet, you can hit the Golden Gate Trail for a shortcut back after one and a half miles out. Park at the Paradise parking lot and hit the trailhead behind the Jackson Vistor’s center.
With a slight incline at the front end and the 1,400 foot gain, the versatile Ultra Raptor II GTX will serve both runners and slow ascenders with its light weight, aggressively grippy sole, and waterproofing offering protection from wet conditions depending on the time of the year.