Summer travel season is kicking into high gear, and for many outdoor enthusiasts, this means prime hiking season. With 424 sites within the National Parks Service, covering more than 85 million acres across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, there are no shortage of destinations to head to.
But if that seems overwhelming, Condé Nast Traveler has narrowed down the five most popular national parks for hiking, based on Google data spanning from 2004 through 2023. And with the top picks spread mostly across the country—from California to Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Virginia—most people won’t even have to travel that far to visit one of these coveted locations.
Coming in at the number one spot is Zion National Park in Utah, located at the of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions. Of the park’s 232 square miles, however, the most popular hiking spot is the 16-mile gorge called the Narrows, widely considered one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in the country. Carved into the earth by the Virgin River, the path is only about 2,000 feet deep and only 20 feet across in some places, and involves spending about 60 percent of the hike wading through the cold river.
Second is Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, which has 355 miles of trails that offer something for everyone, from crystal clear lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and glaciers to majestic mountains, rolling meadows, and wooded forests. Within the park, the most-searched hike is to Emerald Lake, a 4.1-mile out-and-back trail of moderate difficulty, that takes visitors by the picturesque Nymph Lake and Dream Like before reaching its destination.
Next up is Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana, along the Canada–United States border. Of the one million acres the park encompasses, visitors will find more than 130 lakes, over 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. But don’t sleep on this destination. Named for the colossal glaciers that carved the park a millennia ago, only 25 are remaining and scientists believe that nearly all of the ice patches will disappear by 2030.
Fourth in popularity is Shenandoah National Park, encompasses part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. In addition to being the most accessible national park for the millions of Americans living on the East Coast, Shenandoah is known for being one of the most scenic segments of the Appalachian Trail with plenty of easy trails that are perfect for beginners. Come fall, it’s also considered one of the best leaf peeping spots in the country.
Finally, there is California’s Yosemite National Park, which paved the way for The National Park Service when President Lincoln signed a bill in 1864 declaring it to be federally preserved land. Set in a vast 1,200-square-mile patch of the Sierra Nevada, the park is filled with natural wonders, from the towering ancient sequoia redwoods to sweeping meadows, deep valleys and breathtaking glaciers. In addition to hiking, it’s also a fantastic trail running spot, with options ranging from short and easy to steep and difficult, for every fitness level.
See the full list below and learn more about the hiking opportunities at each over on Condé Nast Traveler:
- Zion National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Yosemite National Park