Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

Your boots were made for walking through some of America’s most awe-inspiring scenery

Hiking is great exercise and has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease, boost bone density, and improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, Ph.D., president of the American Hiking Society. “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA and we sometimes forget that.”

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aside from those health benefits, here’s another reason to go hiking—November is National Hiking Month! Celebrate this month and take a hike. We’ve got some great hikes for you to consider.

Know your limits, pace yourself, and pay attention to how you are feeling. Your safety is your responsibility. Your tomorrow depends on the decisions that you make today.

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Pathway, Sedona, Arizona

The Bell Rock Pathway is a 3.6-mile trail. Along this pathway, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and other landmarks. Most of the pathway has a wide, hard surface but there are some steep hills too. Some places around Bell Rock are rocky and rough. There is a popular observation area on the west side of Bell Rock not accessible from the highway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Five federal and state wildlife refuges including Cameron Prairie, Sabine, and Lacassine are an integral part of the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Located in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, the Wetland Walkway is a 1.5-mile handicap-accessible walk over the impounded freshwater marsh. The site includes boardwalks, trails, observation decks, and interpretive signs. This is an excellent site for nature photography. Port-O-lets are available on site along with a handicap-accessible observation tower and five rest shelters along the trail. This is a great place to spot gators and birds of all sorts.

General Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California
The Main Parking and Trailhead are just off Wolverton Road which leaves the General’s Highway just north of the Sherman Tree area. From this parking area, the ½-mile trail descends and includes some stairs. Rest on the benches along the trail; don’t overexert yourself at this elevation (7,000 feet) if you are not accustomed to it. For accessible parking and an accessible trail, use the small parking area along the General’s Highway two miles north of the Giant Forest Museum.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys History Walk, Georgia

The city of St. Marys was officially founded in 1787. Due to its strategic location, St. Marys has played a prominent role in Georgia’s development over the centuries making it a fascinating destination for history buffs. For some insight into the city’s storied past visit the St. Marys History Walk, a 600-foot walking trail where 24 interpretive panels outline the history of the area. The History Walk highlights a wealth of bygone eras ranging from the development of St. Marys’ shipbuilding industry to its role in the War of 1812. The History Walk is located at the corner of Bartlett Street and West St. Marys Street.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The multi-use trails can be used by horseback riders. Abington Trail is recommended. Trailheads are at the States Creek Mooring Area and on Rowlands, Wallsville, and Austin Roads. Most trails near the campground are foot traffic only except North Woods Trail which is open to biking and horseback riding.

Blue Mesa Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Do you want to view a landscape that is out of this world? If your answer is yes then the Blue Mesa Loop Trail is sure to please. This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills. The trail descends 100 feet below the rim and can be a little steep in places.

Related: The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries. Enjoy the serenity of the Gulf Oak Ridge Trail (3.0 miles) as you stroll underneath Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Hike (or bike) the Rosemary Dunes (2.1 miles) and be on the lookout for the elusive Bobcat. If you’re hoping to see an alligator, explore the Gopher Tortoise trail (1.5 miles) along the edge of Lake Shelby. Other trails include Beach Mouse Bypass (1.1-mile boardwalk), Cotton Bayou (1.1 miles), and Campground Trail (2.2 miles). The majority of trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas

Rising above Central Texas, Enchanted Rock has drawn people for thousands of years. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building. Explore 11 miles of trails, including the iconic Summit Trail (0.8 miles). Other trails of note include Loop Trail (4.6 miles), Turkey Pass Tour (0.7 miles), and Base Trail (0.9 miles).

Clingmans Dome Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome boasts the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Dome” refers to the mountaintop, not the man-made observation tower. The Dome actually lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina and is the highest point in Tennessee. On clear days, visitors may see as far as 100 miles.

Related: Hiking Arizona

Clingman Dome Trail Observation Tower © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The half-mile trail to the summit of Clingmans Dome is paved but steep. During the short hike, you will gain 332 feet which makes the climb gradient almost 13 percent. The trail to Clingmans Dome intersects with several other hiking trails including the Appalachian Trail, the Forney Creek Trail, and the Forney Ridge Trail.

Francis Beidler Forest Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, the 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary in the South Carolina Lowcountry is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem untouched for millennia.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Francis Beidler Forest Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater, all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. A new trail system, the Grassland-Woodland Trail, meanders through Longleaf Pine, grassland, and woodland habitats. The new trails give visitors the opportunity to explore a new section of the sanctuary.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Land of the Blue Smoke

It’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited National Park of them all

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in a crossroads of sorts through the American southeast. Winding through the heart of it is one of America’s most famed and prized scenic byways, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rivers in the area draw rafters and kayakers from all over the country to learn, practice, and play in the whitewater. Long distance trekkers cross through 71 miles of mountains in the Great Smokies while journeying the epic Appalachian Trail. The Cherokee Indian reservation on the southeast side of the park tells the story of the area’s Indian heritage. For art, food, and other city-centric activities, Asheville, North Carolina, is just down the road. There are even caves that worm into the karst formations underlying the Smokies’ extreme western portions.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend time roaming from the park’s 870-feet-above-sea-level basement to its 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome and you will, in essence, have negotiated diverse vegetative topography akin to what you would find hiking the Appalachian Trail’s 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine. And above all, this park is very beautiful. It is for all of those good reasons and many others that visitors flock to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Appalachian wonder that straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee state line holds many stories. There are stories in the log cabins, plank churches, and architectural wonders that farmers built for their crops and livestock in Cades Cove and Cataloochee, stories of ridge runners and moonshiners in the mountains, Native American stories, and stories of nature.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is a valley surrounded by a one lane, 11-mile loop road that puts visitors among wildlife, historic buildings, and trails from where you can head off on foot to explore deeper. The driving road is closed Saturday morning until 10 am during the spring and summer, allowing access to cyclists and people to wander without traffic. Visiting during the week in the off-season, we had the road mostly to ourselves! 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Venture into this park draped over the ridgeline of the Appalachian Range and you’ll discover five different forest types; both grassy balds and heath balds near the mountains’ summits and an undergrowth that abounds with rhododendrons, magnolia, ferns, holly, and mountain laurel.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smokies were settled in the 18th century, logged into the 20th century, and have been flourishing almost as wilderness again since 1934 when this landscape was destined to become a national park. Despite the roughly 9 million visitors who traipse through the park each year, it continues to be a wellspring of biological diversity.

Mountain Farm Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could immerse yourself in Native American and early settler history in Cherokee, North Carolina. Stop in at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and visit the park’s excellent Mountain Farm Museum often the site of hands-on Junior Ranger programs and demonstrations and then walk the 1.5 mile Oconaluftee River Trail to view the wayside exhibits detailing local Cherokee and Native American history.

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest peak in any National Park often becomes iconic and Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky is no different. From 6,643 feet, one can see 360-degree views of the National Park and far beyond on a clear day. Or avoid the crowds with a hike to the fire towers atop Mt. Cammer or Mt. Sterling. Both are steep hikes (the 2 miles up to Mt. Sterling are rumored to be the steepest in the park) but the views from the crest of the Smoky Mountains are unparalleled.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s easy to lose an entire day or days exploring by car because there is so much to see just by looking out the window. It is when you head out on foot, though, that you really get a sense of the incredible vastness in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s an odd feeling being a simple human among millions and billions and trillions of trees. Odd and especially awesome when the blue haze that rests upon the tops of those trees is met by a distinct peacefulness that occurs there during the quiet of off-season. 

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird alert! More than 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Every year, synchronous fireflies light up the Smokies for about two weeks during their annual spring mating ritual. They are the only beetles in North America with the ability to flash in sync. 

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson