If you’ve got a long list of national parks to visit but only a limited amount of time, you may not be able to spend multiple days at each site. If this sounds like you, check out this list of 15 of the best summer hikes at 5 of the most popular US national parks!

Glacier National Park, Montana

Hiker resting at Grinnell Glacier in GNP

While you may not be crossing the border and heading to Banff just yet, Glacier still holds stunning views on its own. Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier is one of the most undeniably scenic places in North America.  Here are three of Glacier’s best hikes at three different difficulty levels to go on!

Trail of the Cedars

A great option for beginner hikers or parents with kids in tow, this loop is just under a mile long. This popular trail includes a nearby river. Plan for it to be heavily trafficked, so going first thing or towards the end of the day will likely be your best option. Reachable from the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, this short, flat trail does feature sections of boardwalk and pavement.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 0.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 49 feet

Avalanche Lake

Coming from the Trail of the Cedars, those looking for a longer hike will be pleased to continue on to Avalanche Lake. This out and back comes in just short of 6 miles and does, as promised in the name, feature a lake to happen upon. A very popular trail, expect parking to be a premium here and starting early to be well worth it.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 5.9 miles

Total Elevation: 757 feet

Ptarmigan Lake Trail

So, you’ve got a full day to spare and have decided you want a challenge? Well, the Ptarmigan Lake Trail hike is just that. While we can’t guarantee you’ll see any ptarmigan (although birdwatchers do populate this trail sometimes), finishers of this hike will see some of Glacier’s most breathtaking views. You’ll want to take your time and come prepared as there can be snow on this out and back, even into the summer months. Prepare adequately ahead of time to figure out exactly what backpacking gear you’ll need to complete this hike!

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 8.6 miles

Total Elevation: 1,896 feet

Joshua Tree National Park, California

group of people hiking in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree will definitely require the most sunscreen of any park on this list. Located in the Southern California desert, the months of June to September see average highs consistently in the 90’s (~32-37 C). Pack lots of water and enjoy these three hikes!

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

For beginners or experienced hikers, Joshua Tree offers this modest, mile-long nature trail to enjoy. This loop trail is lined with wildflowers when in season and is actually accessible year-round due to Joshua Tree’s moderate daytime winter temperatures.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 1 mile

Total Elevation: 114 feet

Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail

If you’re searching for something more challenging, this trail comes in at just under 7 miles long. As the name states, Lost Horse Mine is a loop, so you won’t have to dodge hikers going the other way on this semi-popular pathway.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 6.8 miles

Total Elevation: 882 feet

Eureka Peak

Not an easy trail by any means, but one of the longer day hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. If you’re looking for a workout, this ten-mile out and back is calling your name!

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 9.9 miles

Total Elevation: 1,758 feet

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park Grand Prismatic Spring

Filled with a rainbow of colors and an abundance of geysers, the oldest national park in the US is not one to leave off your summer road trip list. While we always advise early starts for popular spots, Yellowstone is the second-most visited national park annually, so plan accordingly!

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

One of the better-known hot springs at Yellowstone, this 1.6-mile walking trail is incredibly popular. While not a hot spring you can sit in, this out and back is still a great entry-level hike. Generally flat, with a bit of incline at the end, this trail should be approachable for most hikers.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 1.6 miles

Total Elevation: 200 feet

Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful Observation Point Loop

A mouthful of a name, this five-mile loop will start you near the most popular geyser in the park. If you’re short on time, you have the option to take an abridged version of this hike by skipping the observation point section (but we recommend allowing enough time to do the whole loop).

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 4.9 miles

Total Elevation: 357 feet

Seven Mile Hole Trail

While not the most accurate name, considering its ten-mile length, this out and back is for those looking to spend a few hours on the trail. Its deceivingly easy start may make you want to be overconfident, but a steep descent towards the back half of the “out” portion of the trail awaits. Since what goes down must come up (at least on out and back trails!), save enough energy to hike up the steep decline you just went down. For your troubles, you’ll have geysers as a reward, but be aware of bears!

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 9.7 miles

Total Elevation: 2,043 feet

Looking for more hiking spots in Yellowstone? Check out our article on The 10 Best Hiking Trails in Yellowstone National Park!

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park El Cap

Sentinel Dome Trail

If you’re looking to hike a dome at Yosemite, but the famous Half Dome isn’t in the cards, consider this 2-mile out and back! Possibly the most challenging of the “easy” hikes on this list, beginner hikers can still conquer this trail with a little bit of willpower. If you want the best reward for your efforts, consider a sunset hike!

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 2.1 miles

Total Elevation: 456 feet

Vernal Falls Trail

Ignore TLC’s warning and head onto this 4-mile out and back trail to discover one of Yosemite’s waterfalls! Like the Sentinel Dome Trail, this is one of the more difficult “moderate” trails on this list. The views, however, are completely worth it and you can still enjoy the hike even if you have to turn around early. If you got your hiking practice in beforehand, this should absolutely be achievable though!

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 4 miles

Total Elevation: 1,279 feet

Half Dome Trail

It wouldn’t be a summer hiking trail list without Yosemite’s Half Dome! One of the most popular and most challenging day hikes available to summer travelers, Half Dome isn’t for the faint of heart. However, if you’ve got your hiking chops, this is a bucket list challenge to take on! Continuing the theme of Yosemite having the most challenging hikes, this is the longest hike on our list at just over 16 miles. An all-day affair for even the most seasoned hikers, if you’ve always wanted to hike half dome, here’s your sign!

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 16.3 miles

Total Elevation: 5,318 feet

For additional hiking suggestions in Yosemite, check out our list of 10 Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park.

Zion National Park, Utah

Woman walking the Narrows in Zion

Northern Utah holds one of the most popular US national parks as well as some of its most popular hiking trails. That popularity will mean crowds and lack of parking, but if you can get past that, you’ll experience some of the best hikes in the entire country.

The Narrows Riverside Walk

One of the most popular (read: crowded) hiking trails in the country, but with good reason. Only about two miles long, this out and back is one of the most unique hiking experiences around. Feel free to walk next to or in the river, but make sure that you know when the shuttles are taking off because that can eat up your time! If you’re interested in beating the crowds, the only way to do that is to outpace them. As The Narrows continues on, more and more people will turn around and if you’re willing to hike a few more miles, you can have some space to enjoy.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 1.9 miles

Total Elevation: 193 feet

The Watchman Trail

Often suggested as an option for those who aren’t interested in the crowds at The Narrows, this 3 mile out and back is a must-see. While not exactly the same, you will still get your river fix on this hike. If you’re someone who enjoys hiking year-round, this trail is always open.

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 3.1 miles

Total Elevation: 646 feet

Angels Landing Trail

We weren’t exaggerating when we said Zion has some of the most popular hikes in the country. Angels landing, while an incredibly strenuous hike, draws throngs of people every summer to test their might. Just like the Narrows, make sure to time the shuttle correctly and know its schedule. You will want to honestly assess your hiking skills before trying to take on Angels Landing as overestimating yourself can be seriously unsafe here. For the explorers able to withstand the challenge, Angels Landing is a badge of honor. Afternoons may be the best option for those who want to avoid crowds.

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 4.4 miles

Total Elevation: 1,604 feet

Unless you’re a super-athlete, this list may take you a few summers. Luckily, that means you have bucket list items to keep you going! If you’re looking for a great way to travel this summer and make your comfort a priority, consider renting a campervan before you hit the road for your adventures!

About the Author

Bastian Graf

Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.

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