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Head Outdoors for Iconic Hikes

Gorgeous views, fresh air, exercise — there’s nothing like a hike in the great outdoors. Across the United States, popular hiking trails give travelers glimpses of landscapes and flora and fauna that distinguish their destinations.

Here are 10 iconic hikes you and your group are sure to love. 

Door Trail 

Badlands National Park, South Dakota 

Located in Badlands National Park, Door Trail is a unique adventure that leads individuals through an erosion wall on the north side of the valley dubbed Badlands Wall. During the excursion, hikers follow a boardwalk that runs through the natural doorway to a viewing platform. From there, they make their way along a path to an overlook replete with eye-catching canyons and gullies. While only one mile out and back, the trail provides up-close views of the prairie grass and eroded clay-rich soil that make up the Badlands’ stunning terrain. The colors alone, from the blue sky and green grass to the orange and brown clay, are exquisite.

Reflections Lake Trail

Mat-Su Valley, Alaska

Found along Glenn Highway in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley is Reflections Lake, a hidden gem that offers both activity and serenity. Individuals can walk a short 1.1-mile gravel path that circles the lake, all while enjoying views of the Chugach Mountains. Plus, the trail includes an elevated viewing stand and several benches, should visitors want to relax and take in the scenery.

In addition to being a great place to hike, the lake is also perfect for bird-watching, fishing, ice skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, depending on the time of year. And from about mid-June through August, the area is blanketed with Alaskan wildflowers.

Cataract Falls

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee 

Other than a small set of stairs, a short, flat path makes up the trail that leads to the beautiful Cataract Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While the destination — crystal clear water cascading down a portion of the mountain — is a sight to behold, the hike itself provides beautiful views of Fighting Creek, greenery and a multitude of trees. The roughly 1.1-mile out-and-back trip begins behind Sugarlands Visitor Center, where benches and picnic tables are available for resting. While the trail is enjoyable throughout the year, autumn’s changing leaves offer a picturesque scene that is hard to beat.

Wayfarers Loop Trail 

Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park, Montana 

An easy 1.8-mile loop with breathtaking views awaits at Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. Here, the park’s one and only trail runs along the shore and cliffs of beautiful Flathead Lake, which has a surface area of approximately 200 square miles. During the hike, visitors can often spot waterfowl, songbirds, deer and other small animals. Benches are available in the park for individuals to relax and enjoy the view. 

If the weather is nice, the park also allows for a slew of water activities, from fishing and boating to kayaking and canoeing. Plus, it is known for being a great spot to camp or enjoy a picnic.

Adams Falls

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

While just under one mile roundtrip, the trail to Adams Falls allows individuals to feel one with nature. Beginning on the East Inlet Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, hikers travel along a path lined with pine and aspen trees before turning off on another trail that leads to an overlook of the falls. Like a scene from a nature film, shimmering water cascades roughly 55 feet into a narrow gorge below. From here, visitors can also climb to the top of the falls for a slightly different view. Grand Lake can be seen in the distance from this spot as well. If visitors hike past the falls, they’ll soon come to a pretty valley where wildflowers and moose are occasionally seen.

Empire Bluff Trail

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

A highlight of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is Empire Bluff Trail, a semi-hilly course that runs through a beautiful forest full of beach maples. Along the way, hikers pass a series of numbered posts that correspond with descriptions of each area. The path ends at a bluff overlooking gorgeous Lake Michigan and its shoreline. Here, visitors can relax and enjoy the view from boardwalks and an observation deck. Many have found that this is the perfect place to watch the setting sun, not to mention gaze at the stars. Out and back, the trail runs 1.5 miles.

Anna Ruby Falls Trail

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia

Nestled in the heart of Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is Anna Ruby Falls, a pair of twin waterfalls whose simultaneous cascades make for a spectacular view. To come upon this beautiful natural attraction, hikers travel along Anna Ruby Falls Trail, a wide, paved path framed by trees and shrubbery that follows along a stream. The trail, which begins at the recreation area’s visitor center, sees elevation gain in the beginning, but the hike itself is just under a mile. Plus, once hikers near the falls, they can relax and take in the pretty scene from two wooden viewing platforms. The falls are formed by two streams, Curtis Creek and York Creek, which merge to create Smith Creek.

Big Spring Branch Trail 

Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri 

The exquisite Big Spring, which is said to be one of America’s largest, is Big Spring Branch Trail’s main attraction. Eyes are immediately drawn to the gorgeous, clear water, especially when the sun’s rays kiss its surface. 

The trail itself is at the base of the cliff where the spring emerges. It loops around the spring and then follows a stream that feeds into Current River. Just one mile roundtrip, this woodsy, sometimes rocky path is scenic year-round. Spring wildflowers and autumn’s burnt orange and deep red leaves are sights to see. In addition to nature, the trail also allows hikers to see the Historic Dining Lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which  Congress formed to help create jobs during the Great Depression. 

Chickies Rock Overlook Trail

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Once the trolley line that tourists traveled to get to Chickies Rock, this now-dirt trail in Lancaster County leads hikers to a cliff where they are met with a picture-perfect view — the Susquehanna River surrounded by rural landscape and the Marietta, Columbia and Wrightsville communities. Along the path, individuals can enjoy the beautiful Pennsylvania foliage. A hike during the winter when the leaves have fallen allows for clearer views of the countryside once individuals reach the top. The trail is a short jaunt, just one mile out and back.

McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

This short, rocky path found in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the perfect way to enjoy all that the Chihuahuan Desert has to offer. Before climbing up a southwest slope, hikers pass an intermittent seep, or a pool of water that seeps from the ground. Once at the top, they are rewarded with a view of the mouth of McKittrick Canyon before traveling down the northeast slope, which is said to be the lusher of the two sides. Hikers are surrounded by beautiful century plants and prickly pear cactuses, not to mention the open sky above, which offers shades of blue that catch and hold the eye.