Leaving civilization behind to trundle through thick pine forests and rocky ascents is a favorite pastime for many. And what's not to love? There's nothing quite like breathing in the fresh mountain air and feeling the blood course through your veins as you tromp through the undergrowth. There are thousands of fantastic trails at your disposal in America, and no matter where you live, there's sure to be a few just begging for you to try. While these aren't quite daredevil hikes, they are a bit more challenging than your typical 1-mile gravel path, so be prepared for a bit of a workout.
West Coast Hikes
Mt. Tallac Hike, California – This steep climb on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe affords panoramic views virtually every step of the way. If you persist to the summit (over 9,000 feet up), you'll be richly rewarded with an unblemished view of the dazzling lake and surrounding mountains. To the east, you'll see Fallen Leaf Lake and the rocky Freel Peak. Pivot to the west, and you'll drink in the incredible summits of Pyramid Peak and the snow-dusted Crystal Range mountains. If you look carefully on a clear day, you may even be able to make out the whimsical turret of Castle Peak. If you attempt to reach the summit, be sure to pack plenty of snacks, water, and a selfie stick (because you'll want to document your triumphant ascent).
Maroon Bells Trail, Colorado – This hardy trail traverses one of the most iconic sites (and sights) in America: twin giant 14,000-foot mountains named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. You'll trek through 3.2 miles of fresh-smelling alpine forest and rugged slopes, but keep your head up because you may catch a glimpse of the indigenous residents, like red fox and bighorn sheep. Maroon Bells is an exceptionally popular spot, so plan on getting there early (parking for the park opens at 8 am and fills up quickly), or go on a rainy day when it's less crowded. The park is open from June through October but it's at its most resplendent in autumn, when the changing leaves look like an ocean of rustling gems.
East Coast Hikes
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge, Maine – You'll be rewarded with ocean exposure, a perfect picnic area adjacent to a pond (named The Featherbed for unknown reasons), and incredible views of steep drop-offs with this hike. Admire wildflowers speckling the coniferous forest floor as you ascend Cadillac Mountain's 1,500-foot peak (which is is the tallest point on the North Atlantic seaboard). Once you reach the top, you'll be able to see for miles, taking in the glorious tree-topped vistas and far off islands that dot the frigid waters of the Atlantic. This hike is around 3.5 miles, but the hilly terrain should keep you occupied for at least a few hours.
Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey – New Jersey has more to offer than pebbly beaches and saltwater taffy. In fact, it's home to one of the most stunning views on the east coast. Despite its moniker, the Delaware Water Gap is not located in Delaware. It's named for the Delaware River, which cuts through the scenic valley. Atop Mt. Tammany you'll be able to observe its swift currents from hundreds of feet up, along with a breathtaking view of Mt. Minsai. This trek is not for the faint of heart (or those who consider a "hike" to be a gravel path that leads to a barbeque grill), as the Red Dot trail is quite rocky and steep. You can always take the Blue Dot trail, or combine the two, but Red Dot affords the best views. No pain, no gain.
Gorge Overlook Trail, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee – For gorgeous waterfalls and spectacular gorges, Fall Creek Falls State Park has you covered. Multiple spur trails (small offshoots) stem from the main Gorge Overlook Trail, the first of which leads to an overlook with an awe-inspiring view of the thundering Cane Creek Falls—85 feet of sheer aquatic force. The trail itself is a combination of short steep climbs and more moderate terrain, and you'll get to cross a swaying footbridge that spans a rushing river. Wear multiple layers: as you descend past the ancient layer cake of Fall Creek Gorge the temperature drops precipitously.
River Place Trail, Texas – It's true what they say: everything is bigger in Texas. This goes for the trucks, hats, and wide-open spaces too. This particular trail has three distinct treks—when combined they add up to 5.5 miles. Panther Hollow Trail has the most ascents and descents; you'll find yourself huffing up several sets of log "stairs" wedged into the ground if you start at the bottom. But the view from the top is so worth the workout. If you time your hike right you'll be able to see the sun set over the hills, a feast for your eyes that's almost as good as the bbq brisket at Franklin's (an Austin mainstay).
Bay View Trail, Michigan – Lake Michigan has never looked as staggeringly beautiful as it does from the vantage point of the Bay View Trail. It's surrounded by countryside filled with wildflower fields and robust greenery, and you'll be able to catch a whiff of its invigorating breeze whenever the trail leads out into the open meadows. The most popular part of this 8.5 mile trail is the northern half that encompasses the Farms Trail (featuring historic barns), and parts of the Low and High Trails. While this trail gets quite popular with skiers in the winter, it's often sparsely populated during the warmer months, so there's a good possibility you'll have that sweet Lake Michigan breeze all to yourself. This hilly trek is excellent for those looking for a bit of historic architecture along with their outdoor adventure.
No matter where you end up hiking, take a moment to pause, breathe in the fragrant air and admire your surroundings. Part of the fun of being out in nature is the opportunity to take a break from your hectic life and just enjoy being alive.