Every hiker has a dream hike. Some dream of twirling around in a field of wildflowers in the Alps of Switzerland. Others yearn for the most remote sand dunes in the Sahara. A few aspire to conquer the world’s highest peaks with an ice axe in hand. While the world’s most popular hiking destinations span far and wide, the United States has a vast array of ecological diversity that rivals the world’s most popular hiking destinations. These five hiking trails display the United States’ most unique climates and most impressive network of trails, and will make any US-based hiker reconsider the trails in their own backyard.
1. Mesquite Dunes — Death Valley National Park, California
Images of Death Valley National Park usually conjure cracked salt flats stretching on for miles, but the Mesquite Sand Dunes in California’s Death Valley National Park are more reminiscent of the windswept sands of the Sahara. Even the Sierra Nevada range you can see in the distance could be mistaken for North Africa’s Atlas Mountains. Although sand dunes only make up one percent of the park, in an unmarked and roughly two-mile hike, you can experience the rippling sand and undulating peaks of this unique desert environment.
2. Hoh River Trail — Olympic National Park, Washington
The Pacific Northwest may be famed for its moody rain-soaked cities, but all of that rain contributes to one of the few temperate rainforests in the continental United States. Olympic National Park may be best known for the massive mountains it encompasses, but the surrounding lushness of the Hoh Rainforest makes for an otherworldly hike. Walking through the wet forest surrounding by trees utterly covered in bright green moss is an experience you’re unlikely to have anywhere else. Take an overnight trip on the 17.3 mile Hoh River Trail or the shorter and more heavily trafficked 0.8 mile.
3. Wonderland Trail — Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps is the world’s most famous trek for a reason — glaciated peaks, fields of wildflowers, and a thin line of trail circumnavigating big views. Closer to home, the Wonderland Trail is 93 miles of 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Washington state’s most iconic snow-capped volcano. The trail, which runs through Mount Rainier National Park, winds its way through climates as diverse as lowland forest to subalpine meadows. This ecological diversity translates to days of hiking through lush forests and fields of wildflowers, all in the shadow of 14,400-foot Mount Rainier. Be prepared to get a permit early though, as this trail is a popular choice for all the right reasons.
4. Florida Trail — Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
The tropical blooms and botanical bliss of Big Cypress National Preserve may be reminiscent of African prairies, but the sometimes submerged hiking trails are actually closer to Florida’s Disney World than to the African continent. The Florida Trail runs 1,300 miles through the state of Florida, but the 38.3-mile section through Big Cypress National Preserve is a section of hiking trail unlike any other in the United States or the world. Wade among the bonsai-like cypress trees and keep an eye out for the endangered Florida panther among the trees.
5. Hut-to-hut hiking — White Mountains, New Hampshire
New Zealand’s Te Araroa may be the world’s most famous hut-to-hut hike. You don’t have to cross the Pacific, though, to experience beautiful views and rocky trails, all with a cozy bed and warm meals prepared for you at night. You can experience windswept summits and views for days on New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse. This legendary hike is nearly 23 miles long with 9,000 feet of elevation gain. Just because the hike is deep in the backcountry doesn’t mean the accommodations have to be remote. The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains eight huts along the way, providing cozy beds, warm meals, and some stellar views.