Trekking the Trails: Best Hiking Destinations for 2021

After the whirlwind of a year 2020 turned out to be, there’s never been a better time to plan a hiking trip on the trails than right now. With all the uncertainty everyone’s had to deal with, finding strength and solace in the steady natural world can prove a boon to both your mental and physical health. Here are some of the top hiking destinations for 2021.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mt. Rainier

Mount Rainier in Washington State rises 14,410 feet above sea level, and its iconic appearance is sure to inspire awe in all those who make the trip. With over 260 miles of maintained trails, the summit of Mount Rainier isn’t the only hiking opportunity in the park.

Ancient forests, river valleys and subalpine meadows are some of the astonishing attractions found in the park. Burroughs Mountain hike provides outstanding views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding alpine scenery.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its towering spires of rock, known as hoodoos. The Peekaboo and Navajo Loops allow hikers to trek among the hoodoos and marvel at these wonders of the natural world.

The Navajo Loop trail is fairly easy and is sure to give you a satisfying and memorable experience. The relatively short round trip totals just under two miles, making it a perfect family-friendly hike and allowing you to get to know the spectacular desert landscape that characterizes this area.

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase

Adjacent to the Bryce Canyon National Park is the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. It is a seemingly impenetrable and isolated region the size of Delaware situated right in the heart of the Utah desert. Amid the windswept rocks, sandstone cliffs, and canyons of Escalante are hidden many trails. This rugged and mysterious land was the last to be mapped in the continental USA and proves a worthy hiking destination for adventurers of all levels.

You’re more likely to avoid larger crowds of people here than on some of the more popular and easily accessible trails. If you’re hiking by yourself, make sure you’re well prepared as the remote location could mean emergency help, should it be needed, and will most likely take longer to arrive.

California’s Big Sur

Big Sur

The Big Sur is perfect for families or hikers who don’t feel the need to head deep into the relative isolation of the backcountry to enjoy the trails. You can even pack multiple trails into a single day of hiking with the right planning.

The Limekiln Trails will lead you on winding paths through the sky-high redwood forest, and the McWay Waterfall Trail will take you less than a mile to reach a cascading waterfall.

Rocky Mountain National Park 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park boasts over 300 miles of hiking, and the Mount Ida Trail is one of the park’s most popular destinations.

The 415 miles of rugged Colorado wilderness includes stunning lakes and spectacular mountain scenery. Expect to find an abundance of wildflowers, wildlife, expansive vistas, and perhaps even a bear or two.  

Devil's Lake State Park

Devil's Lake

Devil's Lake State Park is Wisconsin’s most visited state park and consequently can get quite busy. Avoid the crowds and stay safe with the Uplands Trail, Johnson Moraine, and Sauk Point Trail, which often tend to be less visited than the alternatives.

Here you can hike trails carved out by glaciers many millennia ago with over 29 miles of hiking trails that are part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Be sure to buy your park pass online before arrival. A visit during the fall provides an excellent show of fall colors, but a visit in summer will prove equally as worthwhile.  

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is ranked the number one place to hike in North America, and it’s easy to see why. The park offers more than 700 miles of hiking trails zig-zagging roughly one million acres of the Montana park’s wilderness.

Often called the “jewel of the continent,” you’ll be sure to find trails that suit everyone, including several that are wheelchair accessible. 

John Muir Trail, California

John Muir Trail

Although it remains to be seen whether the whole of this 211-mile trek will be open for 2021, it would be hard not to include this legendary trek here. Crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney further south, you’re sure to be enthralled every leg of the journey through steep passes, lakes, sequoias, and alpine meadows.

You’ll pass the iconic Half Dome and Vernal Falls building up to the highest peak in the continental United States. The John Muir Trail is perhaps the most beautiful part of the Pacific Crest Trail. This can be quite a challenging trail physically, so make sure you are training for hiking during the off-season and before you set out.

Charlies Bunion Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Charlies Bunion Trail

Known for its stunning biodiversity, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park also offers some of the nation's unmissable hiking trails. With over 800 miles of official and backcountry trails through sprawling old-growth forests, the park offers a “Hike the Smokies” challenge for intrepid explorers, rewarding them with souvenir pins for every 100 miles hiked.

Of all the spectacular trails in the park, the Charlies Bunion hike is the most breathtaking, sending hikers along rocky trails bordered by unforgettable views of mountains and forests, with characteristic boulders dotting the trail.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton

The Teton Range provides the backbone of Grand Teton National Park. The park sits on Jackson Hole Valley and can satisfy every level of hiker, with over 200 miles of trails.

Keep your eyes open for grazing bison and the iconic bald eagle high up above as you traverse a landscape framed by jagged snow-covered peaks, such as the 13,770 foot Grand Teton and the Jenny and Jackson lakes, which reflect the mountains. Also, be aware, grizzly and black bears are frequently spotted here, as are moose and antelope.

Final Thoughts

After the uncertainty and upheavals of 2020, some time outdoors in the open away from big crowds can allow you to feel refreshed and reconnected without putting you or anyone else in any danger.

National parks often have the best hiking trails, but you can definitely find hidden gems in lesser-known spots. This will allow you to reap the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors yet avoiding the perils large crowds possess at this current moment.

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