Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment from hiking to the top of mountains. Here are some of the best:
1. Mount Whitney, Sequoia National Park, California
Elevation: 14,505 feet
As the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney is not for the faint of heart and certainly not beginners. It’s one of the most popular hikes in California, offering fabulous views of the gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountains. It can be done as a day hike or as a 2-3 day backpacking trip. It’s very difficult, so make sure you’re prepared.
2. Hallett Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Elevation: 12,713 feet
Hallett Peak is known as “banah ah netaieux,” or Thunder Peak, among the Arapaho Indians for the storms that often occur around the mountain (and have troubled many a hiker). Just the hike to reach the peak traverses glaciers, boulders and other equally imposing mountains. The 3,240-foot elevation gain on the hike is not for beginners, but the stunning view is for everyone who can reach it.
3. Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine
Elevation: 5,269 feet
The highest mountain in Maine, its name means “The Greatest Mountain” in the language of the Penobscot Indians. Some of the trails to the top are sheer and extremely exposed, but if you’re planning to hike a mountain, that should probably be seen as an asset. The Knife Edge Trail, popular for anyone with a GoPro camera, is particularly daring.
4. Wildrose Peak, Death Valley National Park, California
Elevation: 9,064 feet
No list of mountain hikes would be complete without at least one in Death Valley. Just the name inspires a challenge. As the northern end of the Paramint Mountain Range, however, this hike is more about enjoying the unique, monochromatic beauty of the desert than a hard trip up a steep trail.
5. Mount Constitution, Orcas Island, Washington
Elevation: 2,399 feet
This mountain doesn’t even make the list of North America’s 200 tallest peaks. What it does have is a hike through a dense, fairy-tale forest and a view of the San Juan Islands, which hug the border of Washington and British Columbia. The lookout tower from the top was built by out-of-work New Jersey boys as part of the New Deal in the 1930s. They never forgot their experience there, and neither will you.
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6. Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah Valley National Park, Virginia
Elevation: 4,011 feet
The Appalachian Mountains may not offer the dizzying heights of the Rockies, but a panoramic view of the sweeping Shenandoah Valley will make it clear why this place has captivated the Western imagination for centuries. Once atop the rocky peak, look out for the 200-foot cliffs and the boulder formations that make for great rock-hopping or great photos.
7. Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Elevation: 8,751 feet
Texas may take pride in doing everything big, but there’s a noticeable shortage of mountains in this mostly flat state. Guadalupe Peak is a notable exception. It’s the highest point in the state (and just barely in the state, as it reaches in the sky just a few dozens miles south of New Mexico). It’s one of the few mountains on this list that can be hiked just about any time of the year. A spire surrounded by desert, you can see for miles and miles.
8. El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California
Elevation: 7,573 feet
There’s just no way to leave out either El Capitan or its neighbor, Half Dome. Arguably the most iconic mountains in North America, many people will recognize El Capitan as one of the most photographed destinations in the world, most notably by renowned photographer Ansel Adams, who cemented its reputation as a rock with vaguely spiritual significance by framing it under a looming moon. The hike to the top winds past Yosemite Falls. What’s not to like?
9. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Elevation: 8,839 feet
As the literal face of the North Face logo, Half Dome occupies a special place in the mountaineer’s imagination. Like The Grand Canyon, it can seem like merely a check off the bucket list until the view from the bottom leaves hikers in awe of its naturally graceful granite curves. Rising 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, it can be hiked in a day. And again like The Grand Canyon, it’s more challenging than many realize, requiring hundreds of rescues every year by hopefuls who bit off more than they could hike.
10. Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Elevation: 14,259 feet
This is likely the most difficult climb on the list. The summit can technically be reached through the popular Keyhole Trail, but it does require some basic skill with ice climbing equipment, such as crampons for the feet and ice axes for the hands. Sheer cliffs, frequent lightning strikes and the length of the hike (17 miles) make it for serious hikers and mountaineers only. The views are astonishing and the bragging rights are real — but so are the risks. About 60 people have died attempting this iconic climb.
11. Nevado de Toluca, Outside Mexico City, Mexico
Elevation: 15,350 ft
This is the fourth highest peak in Mexico, but also one of the most popular hikes in the country because of a variety of hikes up the mountain that can accommodate various skill levels. Once at the top, the view of the two lakes at the bottom of this volcano is truly spectacular.
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12. Desolation Peak, North Cascades National Park, Washington
Elevation: 6,102 feet
A great name for this one, though it would be more fitting for Death Valley than the grassy meadows and evergreen forests that roll out in all directions. More than a few hikers come here inspired by Jack Kerouac, who spent time on the mountain’s trail before returning to his beat generation poems and novels. The mountain is well-named for the difficulty of its hiking, however, so bring plenty of water and try to avoid overdoing it in this remote park.
13. Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
Elevation: 1,488 feet
Feel like having the living bejeezus scared out of you? Try Angels Landing, a rock formation with a girly name and scary reputation. The only reason its narrow (understatement) trail exists is because it was cut into the rocky blade in 1926. In today’s safety-centered world, a trail this dangerous would never be created in the first place. Chains assist those scaling to the top, but many have still fallen to their deaths. Regardless, those who make it to Angels Landing describe it as an unforgettable adventure.
14. Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Elevation: 10,568 feet
Though it offers one of the best views of this gorgeous national park and nature preserve, it’s also short and relatively easy. Guided hikes with a naturalist are a plus, as they include a mountain of information (pun intended) about the diverse wildlife that make their home in one of the country’s most potent and well-preserved landscapes.
15. Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Elevation: 10,457 feet
Who doesn’t want to climb an active volcano? It’s not particularly novel if you’re hiking in Hawaii, but here in the mainland U.S., Lassen Peak is one of the better volcanoes to hike. It’s doable in half a day and offers the chance to linger at the top and contemplate the volcano’s eruption in 1914. Given the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide near the summit, you won’t be able to forget that this puppy could still blow.
16. Mount Scott, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Elevation: 8,929 feet
Another easy hike for relatively big mountain, this is a popular hike for families and includes a manned lookout from the summit. The view of Crater Lake and the Cascade Mountains stretching away into the distance will stay with you for the rest of your life.
17. Mount Fairview, Banff National Park, Canada
Elevation: 9,003 feet
As the largest park in North America, there are more than a few fabulous mountain hikes in this sprawling Canadian wilderness, but Mt. Fairview massive bulk belies a pretty easy hike for even casual hikers, yet offers some of the best views anywhere in the Rocky Mountains.
18. Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine
Elevation: 1,528 feet
The four-mile hike to the top of this modestly sized mountain offers the chance to see the sunrise before anyone else in the U.S. It should be mandatory for anyone visiting Acadia National Park, and with several different trails up the mountain (all of them beautiful) you’ll want to stick around for a while.