Reader Participation Day: What's Your Favorite National Park Trail?

What's your favorite hike in the National Park System?

What's your favorite trail in the National Park System? That can be a tough question. Some believe hiking the "Narrows" in Zion National Park is as good as it gets. Others might say a multi-day outing on the John Muir Trail through Yosemite National Park down to Devil's Postpile National Monument and on to Sequoia National Park and Mount Whitney is the best there is.

And then, of course, there's the Appalachian Trail, which you can take for more than 2,000 miles while passing through sections of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And there are water trails, as well.

So, what's the answer? What's your favorite trail in the National Park System? Is it a day hike, a long-weekend, or a multi-week trek?


Panorama Trail in Yosemite NP

I've never hiked Panorama Trail, Bill. And I should do that the first chance i get because.....?

I like the Subway in Zion. It requires a bit of map reading and compass work to get to the start of the trail. You then descend into a narrow slot canyon. In part of it, there are two fault lines that run parallel down the middle of the canyon. With the rounded walls carved by eons of water, the place looks like a subway tunnel. It requires a bit of rope work to descend from pool to pool. We found ropes already in place but replaced several that looked too worn for our tastes. This is a day hike with a steep uphill climb to the place where you, of course, have strategically parked your second car so that you can retrieve the first one where you started. Be aware: the water in the pools is cold since they hardly get any sun due to the canyon walls.

I also like the wiilderness beach hike in Olympic. It's the only hike that I've done that the end of the day doesn't trigger your decision to camp. It is the tides since at high tide, it is impossible to hike up and over the headlands. We camped in late afternoon one day and spend the rest of the day beach combing. It's a great hike.

Rick Smith

A nice slow wander through the Grove of the Patriarchs on Mt Rainier. Majestic.

The Queets River Trail in Olympic. Pristine temperate rainforest with truly giant western hemlock, douglas-fir, and sitka spruce trees. The trail is usually deserted and if you do run into someone, you know it's a relatively hardcore outdoor enthusiast because the first 100 yards of the trail is a perilous river crossing....especially on a hot summer day when the glaciers are melting like crazy and the river is over waist-high on your return while it was knee-high on the way in. Not that that ever happened to me and almost killed me or anything... :-)

Aren't we stretching the definition quite a bit by calling the beautiful Zion slot canyons 'trails'? Man made trails have engineered features ranging from tread to large bridges. NPS management consistently confuses upgrading the engineering level with trail maintenance. I'd even include extreme examples of trail engineering like Half Dome and Angel's Landing, but I'm curious where others see the transition to 'non-trail'. Personally, I'd draw the line short of rappeling and swimming icy pools.

Some frontcountry 'Nature Trails' and marine routes with buoys are starting to include electronic components. Are a bunch of GPS coordinates a 'trail'?

Each season on Mt. Rainier, thousands of climbers on the guided 'dog' routes tramp a path in the snow across the glaciers to the summit. In recent years, the guide services have installed aluminum ladders across the worst crevasses. Is the resulting cattle path formed by this conga line a trail?

I'd agree with Rick about the Olympic coast, though. This was considered cross-country by Park management until the early 90's, when many of the headland trails were improved with ladders and fixed ropes. This wild and rugged shoreline remains one of the most beautiful and unique hikes in our National Parks, especially done end to end.

For a short hike, it is hard to beat the Kilauea Iki in Hawaii's Volcano NP. Where else can you descend a volcanic crater rim through a rainforest, cross a crater floor on hard but still steaming (in places) lava and then back up to the top of the crater through more rainforest? There sure aren't any hikes like that available in the continental US.

My all-time favorite hike is hiking up the Zion Narrows to Wall Street. Can't beat that hike on a hot day. Hiking through the crowds, upsteam into a cool, quiet slot canyon with walls so steep you can't see the sun. Wait, I shouldn't advertise this--this is my personal place! Destroy this memo after reading!

Highline Trail in Glacier National Park to Granite Park Chalet. Continue up to Swiftcurrent Pass and down to Many Glaciers.

Not sure if I have a favorite, but our rafting guide told us about the Cattail Falls trail at Big Bend, which is not advertized or marked on the maps. You have to take a turn down an unmarked road on the RM Scenic Drive, and even then this "road" consists of giant rocks. But you eventually end up in a parking lot with an alternate Window Trail and the Cattail Falls Trail. Imagine a somewhat strenuous hike through a rocky desert area only to emerge in a lush green oasis with a nice tall waterfall as the centerpiece. It was pretty cool and was one of the highlights of the trip.

My kids are two so we can't do long hikes just yet but here are a few of my favorite short hikes as of late: Fern Canyon in the Redwoods. Its is so lush and green that it makes me feel like I am in Jurassic times. Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon: to be able to walk among the hoodoos with my little ones is something I won't soon forget. Hidden Falls and INspiration Point in Grand Teton: Can we say view? Having my kids sit on a boulder and look down at Jenny Lake and the vast wilderness below and actually squeal with excitement was one of my most proud moments as a parent.

On of my favorites is the relatively short hike up to the top of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National will get your heart pounding pretty good and on a clear day (without forest fire smoke) the vistas are just amazing.

If you all don't mind, I would like to nominate another trail as special. This is the old Teddy Roosevelt trail into Rainbow Bridge. Roosevelt went there before visiting a park for a president was a photo op; he just wanted to see the Bridge. Finding the trail head is tricky. It is on the Navajo reservation. It is best to seek guidance before starting out trying to find it. There is a large carin at the trail head. We left our car there. I did it quite a few years ago and I seem to remember that it was an overnight in and an overnight out. Of course, the payoff is seeing Rainbow Bridge from the dry side, not having arrived in a boat. Take plenty of water as it was a desert trail that didn't provide a lot of water stops. The scenery in and out was gorgeous.

Rick Smith

How about the Glacier Gorge trail system in Rocky Mountain National Park? It's one of my favorites. Beautiful lakes, stunning peaks, wildflowers and usually plenty of wildlife.

The Congress Trail at Sequoia. Wonderland exists!

Mountain biking on the Collier Ridge Loop in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area!

Trail Description from the park's website:

Beginning from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center the trail starts and finishes on the West Bandy Creek Road.
1.1 miles after leaving the Visitor Center the single track begins, turning left off West Bandy Creek Road. Look for and follow the marker posts.
The single track section features creek crossings, jumps, sandstone climbs and drops, short slalom sections through trees and fast downhill runs.
1.8 miles after leaving West Bandy Creek Road the trail splits offering riders the choice of a novice or advanced section.
If you are not an advanced rider continue straight to Hwy 297, turn right and ride single file near the white line. Look for the marker to turn right back onto the single track.
The advanced ride turns right coming immediately to a sandstone ledge with a steep drop. Beyond this the trail features numerous steep climbs and drops with some sharp turns and log crossings.
Once the two sections rejoin either continue west along Hwy 297 and take the West Bandy Trail (see below) or remain on the Collier Ridge Trail for another 2.3 miles back to the West Bandy Creek Road. Turn right and return to the Visitor Center.

Total novice ride is 8.0 miles with 3.6 miles of gravel/paved road and 4.4 miles of single track.

Total advanced ride is 7.7 miles with 2.2 miles of gravel road and 5.5 miles of single track.

The Mist Trail in Yosemite. It's short, strenuous, and packed. It also features what may be the most perfect waterfall in the Western US in Vernal Fall. I think it also looks better when at moderate water levels - more like a flat curtain of water than a raging waterfall.

Other than that - maybe the Sky Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.

I'd go so far as to classify the Half Dome cables, the Virgin River Narrows, and the route up Angels Landing as cross country.

If your ever in Maui, Hawaii try this one. I love the 12 mile Sliding sands trail to Halemalu cabin and up the switchbacks. If you do it you need to leave early in the day. I don't recommend an out and back on sliding sands as its too hard to go back up. Bring lunch, layered clothing, lots of water and suncreen for your neck/face unless you want to be a redneck. hiking at 8,500 feet can be a challenge so make sure you are up for the challenge. What you can do is park at the visitor center. When you finish the trail walk thru the parking lot cross the street and walk down the short trail to hiker pick up. Most times it shouldn't talk long to hitch a ride as it is a posted spot for pick ups and hitchhiking is legal here in Hawaii. Any questions feel free to let meknow as I used to lead this hike as a tour guide I did it 25 times or so. Enjoy!!

I'll go with the Garden Wall in Glacier National Park.