As 2020 draws to a close, most of us are more than ready to start thinking about the new year, planning adventures, and making resolutions. After so much time spent at home this year, we’re predicting that a common New Year’s resolution will be to spend more time outdoors exploring America’s many places to hike!
If you’d like to spend more time on the trails in 2021 but find that you typically struggle to keep your resolutions, turn to that old adage: variety is the spice of life. To keep your interest and motivation up, the best hiking destinations will have plenty of variety—inspiring you to keep coming back for more. To get you started, we picked five places to hike across the U.S., each with a diverse array of trail lengths, difficulties, and scenery.
Here in southern California, miles of trails take you through Joshua Tree National Park’s 800,000 acres of surreal landscapes. A variety of short loops and nature trails dotted with boulders provide family-friendly ways to experience the desert ecosystem and see a variety of plants, birds, and other wildlife (watch your feet—this includes rattlesnakes!).
If you’re already an experienced hiker, there are more than a dozen moderate and difficult trails to choose from, all replete with scenic views including sandy washes, mountain summits, old gold mines, and oases.
Although Cuyahoga Valley National Park is conveniently located near major cities, you’d never know it once you hit the trails there. The park stretches from Akron to Cleveland/Lake Erie and is perfect for everything from shorter loops with kids, to moderate walks with the dog, to spending the full day hiking.
Cuyahoga Valley offers plenty of variety, with more than 125 miles of hiking trails of every difficulty level cutting through forests, fields, and other habitats. Beginners can start with the Towpath Trail, a firm and almost completely flat trail following the former route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Its 19.5-mile path is accessible from 10 different trailheads, so multiple visits to it can feel like hitting a completely new trail. You’ll also want to check out the Brandywine Gorge Trail, a 1.5-mile loop offering spectacular waterfall views.
For those who want a little bit of everything, Ragged Mountain Preserve in central Connecticut has it all—rock scrambles, mountain climbs, scenic views, and endless ways to customize your trail for a hike of the perfect length. For shorter and easier hikes, you can follow a section of the Metacomet Trail (which merges with the preserve’s main trail system for several miles); elevation gains on the main Blue & Red loop trail are mild. Experienced hikers may want to venture onto the steeper, more rugged trails up the ridge, which lead to lookout points above vertical cliff faces, ponds, and reservoirs.
Throughout the 589-acre preserve hikers will find abundant wildlife, vernal pools, a waterfall, rock formations, and breathtaking views which draw visitors throughout all four seasons. The variety of landscapes and trails here have given Ragged Mountain a reputation as a true hiking gem.
Tucked away just 30 miles outside of Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park is a multi-use oasis from city life. A variety of trails, from easy to difficult, means there is something for everyone here—and plenty of reasons to keep coming back to explore.
A beautiful waterfall can be reached via a .5-mile nature trail, while you’ll need to build up the stamina to complete the challenging mountain trails. On hot days, you can choose a short hike through a cool wooded area, or hike along the river to reach a wading area, a refreshing reward for your efforts!
Acadia is one of the most-visited national parks each year—and it’s easy to see why. With awe-inspiring views to be found everywhere within its forests, along its coastlines, and upon its mountain summits, Acadia is truly an all-in-one paradise.
Hikers of all levels can experience the park’s varied habitats while on their choice of 158 miles of hiking trails ranging from level and leisurely to steep ascents up stone steps. And for a truly spectacular scene (plus bragging rights!), spend the pre-dawn hours hiking up Cadillac Mountain to be one of the first people in the U.S. to see the sunrise.