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Best Easy American Day Hikes

By Megan Taylor Morrison
7/28/2013 8:15:21 AM

Not every outdoor experience needs to be about bagging the next peak, paddling Class V rapids or spending a week in the woods. Sometimes, you just want to pack a picnic and hit the trails.

For those seeking a fun day trip, we've created a list of easy-to-moderate hikes from around the United States and Canada. They range from jaunts through the forest to more challenging uphill trails and offer amazing rewards-dramatic views, beautiful wildflowers, wildlife, rock formations and other incredible features-for relatively little work. In fact, one of the trails is even accessible by public transportation, meaning you'll have more time to put your feet up before and after the hike.

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Of course, this isn't to say that each one is a cake walk. Although they're easier than that 50-mile backpacking trip you considered, these hikes are not always short and can still require some solid effort. For instance, we'll tell you about a scenic trail twice the length of the Appalachian Trail where you can find a 20-mile hike covering some the wildest, more beautiful areas of the Great North. We'll also share which 2-mile trail boasts 1,000 more steps than the Empire State Building.

These hikes also shatter the stereotype that the easiest rated trails are the most boring. Rather than following flat, monotonous paths, several of these hikes take you on an adventure through rugged terrain. One of our favorites has hikers navigating narrow paths just inches from huge drop-offs on other sides. While it may sound sketchy, the view from the top makes it all worthwhile.

With the help of this list, even your day trips will have enviable stories and photographs. To see the full list of our favorite day hikes, click here.

Credit: Shutterstock

Angel's Landing-Zion National Park, Utah

This 4.4-mile roundtrip climbs 1,500 feet, and takes hikers up one of Zion's trademark sandstone cliffs to a stunning summit on a narrow fin with stomach-turning drop-offs on either side (chain handrails provide some, but not much, extra stability-hikers have actually fallen to their death here). Start at the shuttle stop for the Grotto picnic area in Zion Canyon, and take the West Rim Trail, which starts broad and paved. A series of 21 switchbacks called Walter's Wiggles take hikers up to Refrigerator Canyon. Stop at Scout Lookout for views of Zion Canyon if you're scared of heights-the last half-mile is where it gets hairy.

Difficulty: Moderate

When to go: Year-round, but it's especially refreshing on summer mornings (the heat can become oppressive in the afternoon).

-Amy Reinink

Credit: Shutterstock

Lamar Valley Trail-Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The 5.3-mile Lamar Valley Trail promises views of Yellowstone's most exciting wildlife-bison, elk, wolves, coyotes and bears (black and grizzly) all frequent the Lamar River Valley's grassy meadows. Start at the Soda Butte Trailhead about four miles east of the Lamar Ranger Station. You won't only be peeping wildlife-hikers enjoy views of 9,600-foot Amethyst Mountain above and long stretches of cottonwood clumps and sagebrush all around.

Difficulty: Easy

When to go: Year-round, but check with rangers about seasons for specific wildlife.

-Amy Reinink

Credit: Flickr/satosphere

Tall Trees Grove-Redwoods National Park, California

Traipse through a grove of ancient, towering redwood trees up to 360 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter on this easy, 4-mile trail. Get to the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center early-the National Park Service only issues permits on a first-come, first-served basis to 50 cars per day, locking the gate to the rest of the masses.

Difficulty: Easy

When to go: Year-round

-Amy Reinink

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