With the arrival of spring, the ground is thawing, flowers are blossoming, and nature is jumping back to life. Take advantage of the natural beauty by heading into the wilderness for a trek on one of the country’s 10 best spring hiking trails. With routes that weave through multiple waterfalls, provide ample bird-watching opportunities, and lead to epic vistas, there’s no better time to explore the country’s varied terrain than the temperate days of spring. —Zachary Laks
Upper Yosemite Falls
WHERE: Yosemite National Park, California
A national treasure, Yosemite National Park’s 1,189 square miles extend through the better part of California’s eastern border. In a park with ten signature waterfalls, prepare for a full-day, strenuous hike as you ascend 2,425 feet to the park’s highest point, the top of Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is divided into three sections, the upper, middle cascade, and lower falls, and while the lower falls are the most popular, the upper falls are the most rewarding with their 360-degree views and challenging terrain. Once at the top, challenge your fears by stepping onto the small platform near the mouth of the falls for the heartbeat-quickening opportunity to look straight down.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Yosemite Guide
Maroon Lake Scenic Trail
WHERE: Aspen, Colorado
As the snow melts, skis are swapped for hiking boots in Aspen, Colorado, as the outdoors set navigate their way through the Rocky Mountains. For the most photogenic hike in Aspen, head to the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail in late spring where a mile-long “out and back” path takes you along the lake and streams to the best view of Colorado’s famous Maroon Bells. When the weather permits, the Maroon Bells reflect off of Maroon Lake, providing a picture-perfect moment. Have your camera ready, as mountain goats and bighorn sheep are often seen grazing along the mountainside.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley Guide
WHERE: Keene, New York
Cascade Mountain’s hike in the Adirondacks of northern New York sets itself apart from the many trails of the Adirondacks for its accessibility to families looking to introduce adventurous kids to mountain hiking. The summit’s 360-degree views attract visitors year-round, though come late spring, the crowds begin to gather. The 4.8-mile hike round trip brings hikers through a fairly moderate terrain that takes an average of two hours to complete. At the 1.8-mile marker, there’s an opportunity to catch your breath and observe a hint of what’s to come via an open ledge overlooking Algonquin, Colden and Marcy Mountains. Mind your footing as you reach the summit where the bare rock provides the perfect stoop to sit on and take in the sweeping sights of seemingly endless mountains.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Adirondacks and Thousand Islands Guide
Angels Landing, Zion National Park
WHERE: Hurricane, Utah
One of Zion National Park’s most famous hikes, Angels Landing, provides the most idyllic outlook of the majestic Zion Canyon, reachable via 2 miles of well-maintained and smooth trail before trail conditions become more challenging. Ascending 1,488 feet, the 5-mile trail welcomes hikers of all skill levels, though it is often categorized as strenuous and not recommended for those with a penchant for vertigo. Steep drop offs and narrow paths lead to a section where chains bolted into the rocks provide stability and support on your way to the apex. Upon reaching the ultimate high perch, the deep canyon appears with great grandeur, giving you a chance to catch your breath and proving the hike worthwhile.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Zion National Park Guide
Smoky Mountains Cove Hardwood Self-guiding Nature Trail
WHERE: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with its remarkable scope of plant and animal life, is America’s most visited national park. The estimated 187,000 acres of mountainous forest have long been a hiker’s paradise with miles of paths built around the area’s wildflowers. Each year the flower season kicks off with the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (April 21-25, 2015), a five-day celebration of the area’s plentiful wildflowers featuring history walks, seminars, and photographic tours through the mountains’ trails. For the most accessible viewing of the spring wildflowers in the park, start with the Cove Hardwood Self-guiding Nature Trail, a ¾ mile loop where the mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azaleas will take your breath away.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Smoky Mountains Guide
Wapsipinicon State Park
WHERE: Anamosa, Iowa
The cornfields of Iowa (covering approximately 90 percent of Iowa’s land) make way for the natural, simple splendor of Wapsipinicon State Park, near Anamosa, Iowa. Known for the National Motorcycle Museum, Anamosa has been home to J&P Cycles, the world’s largest aftermarket motorcycle parts and accessories store, since 1979. Head a few miles south of the town to Wapsipinicon State Park this spring where the 1.4-mile trail provides the perfect touch of nature along the Wapsipinicon River bank. The park’s small caves are open for exploring (notably the bowl-shaped Horse Thief Cave and the Ice Cave), and the streams throughout the trail provide the perfect opportunity for kids of all ages to jump in for a splash. Be on the lookout for the many deer that populate the park along with the native wild turkeys gobbling and busy beavers constructing their dams.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Iowa Guide
The Franconia Ridge Trail
WHERE: Franconia, New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s White Mountains cover about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and feature some of New England’s most beloved natural and manmade treasures. Immerse yourself in the green mountainsides with the well-plotted Franconia Ridge Traverse, an 8.9-mile summit loop trail that brings you to two mountain peaks, Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette, as well as the smaller, Little Haystack. The trail narrows at points providing a challenge best for intermediate hikers with a payoff worth the effort, as the White Mountain’s green panorama is unmatched in the region.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s White Mountains Guide
Blue Mounds State Park
WHERE: Luverne, Minnesota
Whether you’re in need of a break from traveling along Interstate 90 or find yourself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Minnesota’s lesser-known Blue Mounds State Park is an expansive 1,830 acres perfect for a day’s hike. You’ll want to start at the Sioux quartzite cliff, a 100-foot natural formation that geologists have been able to trace its history to over two million years ago. A herd of bison are native to the park and can be seen feeding on the freshly grown spring grass, and while elk, wolves, deer, and prairie chicken have been known to make appearances on paths. The 13-mile trail is good for a day exploring the rich prairie-dominated landscapes of America’s heartland.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Minnesota Guide
Boulder River Hike
WHERE: Arlington, Washington
Springtime’s arrival brings the Boulder River Hike back to life as the rivers and waterfalls rush with the newly melted snow and spring rains. The hike is considered a family trail as its low-grade terrain and wide paths cater well to children. The 8.6-mile round trip along the Boulder River features plenty of picture-perfect waterfall lookouts and a nice spot to take a breather and enjoy lunch along the river. Starting on the path of an old logging railroad track, the trail rambles alongside the bustling waterfalls with signature landmarks along the way including an old-growth tree made for hugging and the striking unnamed double waterfall.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Washington Guide
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
WHERE: Redwood National Park, California
Standing among the tallest trees in the world, there’s a humbling sense of nature’s energy as you enter the thick forests of Redwood National Park. Start with the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, one of the park’s most popular trails, which is a 1.4 mile trail in the upland section of the park and 1,200 feet above sea level. Not far from the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, enjoy an accessible hike free of noisy traffic, starting with the footbridge from the parking lot and looping through the bright and colorful forest. For the complete Redwood experience, be sure to explore one of the lowland trails in the afternoon.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Redwood National Park Guide