Top 10 Day Hiking Trails in National Forests

This was a difficult Top 10 list to pick since there are so many great hiking options in America’s 155 National Forests.  We realized some of our favorite trails were already included in our Top 10 National Forests for Backpacking, although Gila National Forest made it on both lists for different trails.  We also discovered we could make an entire list of Top 10 Summit Trails in National Forests, so expect that soon.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Devil’s Head National Recreation Trail

Pike National Forest (Colorado)

At the end of this trail, an amazing fire lookout tower awaits surrounded by giant boulders (similar to The Crags, a 2.5-mile one-way trail near Cripple Creek)

9. Methuselah Grove Loop

Inyo National Forest (California)

High up in the remote White Mountains, a 4.5-mile loop passes Great Basin bristlecone pine trees that are thousands of years old and offers awesome views of the Owens Valley and Mt. Whitney

8. Rattlesnake Creek Trail

Dixie National Forest (Utah)

Skirts the edge of spectacular Cedar Breaks National Monument, a red rock badlands full of hoodoos where Great Basin bristlecone pine trees cling to the eroding edge

7. The Catwalk National Recreation Trail

Gila National Forest (New Mexico)

The first mile is partially elevated above raging Whitewater Creek on wide, steel grates complete with handrails and interpretive signs

6. Seneca Rocks Trail

Monongahela National Forest (West Virginia)

Seneca Rocks is very popular with rock climbers, but hikers can access the narrow rock ledge via a steep 1.3-mile one-way trail

5. Abineau Canyon Trail

Coconino National Forest (Arizona)

Sedona is full of scenic trails, but our favorite trail is north of Flagstaff in the San Francisco Peaks (especially when the quaking aspen leaves turn in October)

4. Crag Crest National Recreation Trail

Grand Mesa National Forest (Colorado)

It can be hiked as a 10.3-mile loop from two trailheads, but the crest portion of the hike is the highlight as it follows a narrow ridge of volcanic rock that offers spectacular views

3. Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail

Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina)

The tulip-poplars and other giant trees protected in this old-growth cove hardwood forest are spectacular

2. Trail of 100 Giants

Sequoia National Forest (California)

A short, paved trail past giant sequoias in the Longwood Meadow Grove (nearby, we highly recommend the 4.7-mile hike that climbs 698-feet to Buck Rock Lookout, arguably the nation’s most stunning location for a fire lookout tower)

…and finally our #1 day hiking trail in a National Forest:

1. Maple Pass Loop

Okanogan National Forest (Washington)

An 8.5-mile loop that switchbacks up more than 2,000 feet past Lake Ann to spectacular Maple Pass (the counter-clockwise route is less steep)


Honorable Mentions

Rock Bridge Trail

Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)

All of the trails in Red River Gorge Geological Area are great, with sandstone arches and overlooks as destinations

Wind Cave Trail

Cache National Forest (Utah)

There are canyon views the entire way as this 3.6-mile out-and-back trail gains more than 900 feet in elevation to the limestone arches of Wind Cave

Lake Ann Trail

Mt. Baker National Forest (Washington)

Often snow-packed well into July, this 4.2-mile one-way trail to Lake Ann offers unsurpassed views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan on clear days

Peralta Trail

Tonto National Forest (Arizona)

Due to its proximity to Phoenix, Peralta Trail is often packed with hikers (as is Siphon Draw Trail, another favorite hike that gains 2,781 feet of elevation to the Flatiron)

We have included our favorite hiking trail for each of the 155 National Forests in our guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

One thought on “Top 10 Day Hiking Trails in National Forests”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s