There is no better way to see the natural beauty of America than to visit her National Parks. I have chosen three challenging hikes in some of the most inspiring National Parks, but no matter the path you take to view them it will be a jaw-dropping journey.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
One of the first National Parks in the United States, Yosemite National Park is 1,200 square miles of deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient California Redwoods, a vast wilderness area, and breathtaking waterfalls. While the park is home to a plethora of hiking trails, there is only one some may consider the ultimate day hike. Half Dome is a hike you can not die without doing, but a hike that you are most likely to die while doing. Let’s just put it this way.. it gets dangerous. Why face the intensity of Half Dome? For the spine-chilling cable ascent that will test your courage, and to witness the bigger-than-life panoramic views. With a 1,600 meter gain in elevation and a round trip of 22.7 km, this hike takes some serious strength, and only at the end does it become the most challenging. Even though this hike is a difficult one, it does not keep the crowds away, so park services allocates permits for the cable route. The best time to visit is between June and October, and my recommendation is to wake up at dawn as the hike can take 12 to 14 hours.
2. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes are the creators of the Hawai’i Island chain, and today this National Park displays the results of at least 70 million years of volcanism. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes, both of which are still adding to the island of Hawai’i. Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on Earth, with its current summit standing 17,000 meters above the sea floor (8,230 meters higher than Mount Everest!). What better to do than hike the crater rim around some of the most active, and largest, volcanoes in the world?
The amazing journey through Crater Rim Trail is a 17.7 km loop encircling Kilauea’s summit caldera. Trek past cliffs, earthcracks, and steam vents with unstable and slippery edges, or hike over cracks and thin lava crust. Marvel in the awe inspiring views of the desert terrain and lush rain forest of Halema’uma’u and Keanakako’i Craters, and Mauna Loa. Breathing concentrated sulfur fumes only makes it more apparent that you are hiking an active volcano. At an elevation of 1,219 meters this hike can take up to 7 hours.
3. Grand Canyon, Arizona
One of the most powerful National Park landscapes is the Grand Canyon, stretching 446 km long, 29 km wide, and 1.6 km deep. The unique combination of colors and erosional forms attracts nearly five million visitors a year. Most view the Canyon from the easily accessible South Rim, fewer are able to view the Canyon from the North Rim, which lies 16 km across. With an increase in elevation of 305 meters, the North Rim gets heavy snows that close the road from late October to mid May of each year. There are two ways to access the North Rim from the South Rim; drive by car 354 km, or hike by foot across the Canyon via the 34 km South Kaibab Trails . An overnight trek in the dry Arizona heat sounds good to me!
This hike is certainly no walk in the park, and if your scared of heights, well I’d suggest not looking down. Begin with a vertical descent, before crossing the Colorado River on a narrow foot bridge 21 meters above the water, and finally followed by a 1.6 km climb, to get from Rim to Rim. For experienced hikers this hike can be done in a day or two, but the key to really enjoying the Canyon views is to take a few days to finish. Go off the beaten path and marvel in the spectacular Ribbon Falls or the sunset at Plateau Point. This hike is extremely challenging regardless of the path you take, or the amount of time you take to finish. If you lack overnight hiking experience, a guided river cruise is the next best bet!