What makes for not just a good day outing but a GREAT experience? There are many variables and each individual has their own nuisances. My base is a great overall vibe, variety in terrain, exhilaration along the way and pure joy in the challenge. So this list is very subjective & in no particular order, but in my opinion, these trails are downright must dos:
1. Zion NP – The Narrows: prepare for a crazy adventure unlike anything you have done before! It is best to rent waterproof boots & a walking stick in town prior, and the river water is freezing cold year round so be ready! Be prepared to be trouncing through ankle deep water for most of the day and possibly even be swimming to pass through certain crevices. Water levels fluctuate (have a waterproof bag) so get comfortable being uncomfortable & not being able to see where you step. Find your flow and enjoy the journey, as the canyon walls start to squeeze in and go as far as you want (just know you have to backtrack the same distance prior to dusk). Breathtaking area!
2. Grand Canyon NP – South Kaibab trail to Bright Angel trail: this trek is a doozy so make sure you have packed appropriately. It is a tough feat to do in 1 day at 16.5 mi or about 9 hours if you are in decent shape, but you can also snag a spot at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch lodge if you are lucky & plan ahead. Due to severe heat in the canyon, I recommend starting at twilight & bring a minimum of 2 liters of water (there are stations along the way to refill). For 3 glorious hours you will trek down to the canyon floor in some of the most gorgeous landscapes you will ever see. Sunrise from Ooh Aah point is an unforgettable moment. You will cross over 2 suspension bridges & then the hard part begins – 5-6 hours straight up!
3. Badlands NP – The Notch trail: short 1.3 mi out & back but exhilarating around every corner. The beginning winds into a canyon leading to a rustic ladder needed to reach to the cliff tops. Then bending around otherworldly rock formations, it ends at an impressive park overlook. Hit it prior to evening twilight for a soothing breath of nature.
4. Yosemite NP – Mist & John Muir trails to Vernal/Nevada Falls & Half Dome: as one of the most popular trails in the park, it is important to start early and really enjoy the nature along the way. This 15 mi trail can be done in its entirety or portions accordingly to your desire and ability. It gains serious elevation so pack a lunch. Passing both falls are gorgeous and if you are lucky enough to snag permits for the final thrill of the chains leading to the tippy top…..just wow!
5. Sedona – Cathedral Rock: short 1.2 mi but challenging trek up the belly of a crack between 2 rock formations. Make sure to have rugged shoes. The last stretch is straight uphill, but if you can time it for sunset, you won’t be disappointed in this killer ledge.
6. Bryce Canyon NP – full Figure 8 trail: this combines 3 of the most popular trails into one big loop & exposes you to all the hidden delights along the way. 25k steps & 10.5 mi later you will have passed stunning hoodoos and be smiling ear to ear. Finish at sunset point for a spectacular finish!
7. Chiricahua NM – Echo Canyon: this monument isn’t talked about much, but it blew me away. This trail is a fun trek though stunning rock formations and views for days. Enjoyable for all ages. Do the entire loop 8 mi or go half way down & turn around to explore more in depth this crazy world.
8. Arches NP – Devils Garden trail: trust me, start at daybreak and explore the full 7.2 mi loop which passes a stunning 6 arches. One of my fav memories is standing atop a narrow ledge a few miles in & overlooking the expanse below. What a rush!
9. Valley of Fire SP, Nevada – White Domes & Fire Wave: you will be pleasantly surprised with this day trip from Vegas along these 2 short trails. White Domes is at the end of the state park & takes you through a beautiful slot canyon, while Fire Wave exposes you to a one of a kind colorful mesa.
10. Sedona – Hangover trail: located above this cute town is a checkerboard of trails. You will need a 4×4 to navigate the crazy road there or hike in via Mungs Wagon & Cow Pies trails for a total of 8.2 mi. You will find yourself hugging crazy cliff drop offs, scaling rock faces & overlooking spectacular views of the valley.
11. Zion NP – Angels Landing: I would be remiss if this iconic trek wasn’t included. It isn’t for the fainted hearted….. while only 2.5 mi one way, the last .5 mi you must use chains to assist your climb while balancing on very narrow cliff sides. Bring a lunch because you will want to revel in your accomplishment at the top for a while I promise you!
12. El Morro NM – Headland trail: this 2 mi trek is a blast and has it all. Make sure to go counterclockwise around the backside of the towering cliffs that were marked with petroglyphs from early settlers. This will lead you to the cliff tops and a full traverse above it all, while ending with steps going down. This was an unexpected delight and relatively short.
(Pics below are in order by trail described)