The 15 Best Hikes for Beginners (2023)

Not all hikes need to be intimidating adventures to the top of Mt. Everest. In fact, before you do try longer, more difficult hiking trails, it’s best to try out lots of short, not-too-difficult trips until you’re able to build your fitness, skill and confidence. After all, your first hikes should be fun, not frightening.

From California to Wyoming, we rounded up the best beginner hikes in America. Give one of these U.S. hikes for beginners a try that feature minimal elevation gain, are short in distance and offer stunning views of the great outdoors. Are you ready to start hiking?

These are the top 15 bucket list hikes for beginners.

1. Lassen Peak Trail Hike

Where: Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Best for: Beginners looking to climb to the top of a volcano.

This still-active volcano is a short hike that’s easily accessible and doable even during hotter summer temperatures. Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcanic peak in the Cascades and is one of the best options for beginners looking to tackle the summit of a true U.S. giant. The 2.5-mile climb to the top covers 2,200 vertical feet, but the other 2.5 miles are all downhill! Learn more.

The 15 Best Hikes for Beginners (1)

2. North Vista Trail Hike

Where: Black Canyon, Colorado
Distance: 3 miles round trip
Best for: Hikers looking for awesome vertical views of the canyons below.

Not far from the visitor center, the views down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison are some of the deepest in the world. After a short 1.5-mile hike you’ll get to witness natural beauty such as the 2,250-foot cliff of the Painted Wall created by the beautiful Gunnison River down below. Learn more.

3. Glacier Point Hike

Where: Yosemite Valley, California
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Best for: Hikers looking for an easier alternative to Half Dome.

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Just because the Half Dome hike might be too difficult for your first time out doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the other hikes in Yosemite. At just one mile and mostly flat, Glacier Point might feature more beauty per footstep than any other hiking trail in the U.S. Once you’re at the vantage point, you’ll get epic 270-degree panoramas of some of the area’s more difficult hikes, like Cloud Rest, Mist Trail and the peaks in the Sierra range. Learn more.

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4. Coastal Trail Hike

Where: Cutler, Maine
Distance: 2.8 miles round trip
Best for: Majestic ocean views and craggy cliffs.

While there are other more difficult trails on the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, this hiking trail is by far the easiest and most accessible for beginners. The 2.8-mile hike will take you about two hours at a leisurely pace, and you’ll get plenty of rewards for your efforts along the way. Cedar swamps, maritime spruce-fir forests and spectacular ocean views from atop rock cliffs are just a few perks of this unique hike along the Maine Coast. For more difficult options, try the Black Point Brook Loop or the Fairy Head Loop. Learn more.

5. Frozen Niagara Cave Hike

Where: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Distance: 0.25 miles round trip
Best for: Families looking or a cave tour that’s not too difficult for small children.

Tight spaces and stair climbing often make cave tours too difficult for children. The Frozen Niagara Tour in Kentucky is the exception, and is doable in one hour or less. The rock formations around the cave provide plenty of entertainment too, with the Rainbow Dome, Drapery Room and Crystal Lake just a few of the must-see attractions. Learn more.

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6. Templeton Trail Hike

Where: Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Distance: 7 miles round trip
Best for: Classic views of Sedona’s red rock.

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Winding around the base of the famous Cathedral Rock, this not-too-steep hike is one of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. In addition to the towering red rock formation, you’ll also see incredible open landscapes that surround the area and mysterious vortexes that the area is known for. If you’d like to veer off and do more exploring, the trail links up to Bell Rock and the H.T. trail for views of more historic landmarks. Learn more.

7. Ewoldsen Trail Hike

Where: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Best for: Anyone who hasn’t been to Big Sur.

With incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, redwood groves, grassy valleys and epic mountain top scenery, this 5-mile loop in Big Sur has it all. Though there will be some climbing involved, it’s manageable and easy to extend if you’re feeling up for the effort. Be sure to check out the quarter-mile Canyon Trail that links to this one and follows McWay Creek to a 60-foot waterfall. Learn more.

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8. Wildcat Den Trail Hike

Where: Wildcat Den State Park, Iowa
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Best for: A fall family hike with kiddos above seven.

Park of an intricate network of hiking trails, this one is best to take in during fall months when the leaves change. Beautiful rock formations, 75-foot cliffs, wild flowers and beautiful bluffs are some of the attractions you’ll find on this easy hike that’s doable in one to two hours. Steamboat Rock and Devil’s Punchbowl are a few other spots you won’t want to miss in Wildcat Den State Park. Learn more.

9. Rubicon Trail Hike

Where: South Lake Tahoe, California
Distance: 8 miles round trip
Best for: Cooling off in the lake during the warm summer months.

Located on the southwest shore of Tahoe, this hiking trail will give you the best views of the D.L Bliss and Emerald Bay state parks. The eight-mile trail is also easy to navigate, well-marked, and ideal for skipping down to the shore or picnic along one of the many beaches that are accessible along the way. Learn more.

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10. Hoh River Trail Hike

Where: Olympic National Park, Washington
Distance: 6 miles round trip
Best for: Forest hikers who want to avoid steep inclines.

With incredible views inside this rainforest, the Hoh River Trail is perfect for beginners because there’s very little elevation gain and the hike can be extended easily depending on your fitness. In addition to subalpine meadows and montane forests, if you’re feeling adventurous you can continue along another 11 miles to Glacier Meadows which offer stunning mountain top views. Learn more.

11. Canyon Overlook Trail Hike

Where: Zion National Park, Utah
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Best for: A short, fun hike without a ton of climbing.

If you’re looking for stunning views of Zion Canyon, this scenic hike isn’t too difficult and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The path is mostly sandstone and dirt, and it climbs above the Mt. Carmel tunnel along Pine Creek Canyon where you’ll be privileged to amazing cliff views of the most famous landmarks in Zion National Park. Learn more.

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12. Fairy Falls Trail Hike

Where: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Best for: An alternative to the more difficult trails in Yellowstone.

A few miles north of Old Faithful, this hiking trail features an incredible waterfall, geysers and a hot spring. And though the trail is at elevation, there’s minimal climbing and lots of stop and look points that are safe, making it easy to capture spectacular views of all the sights and sounds of Yellowstone National Park. Learn more.

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13. The Highline Trail Hike

Where: Glacier National Park, Montana
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip
Best for: Anyone looking to get away from large crowds.

This high country trail is on a well-groomed path that is mostly flat, which is unusual considering the nearby spectacular views of the many rugged peaks, glacial meadows and glistening blue lake below. It’s also your best chance to follow the legendary Continental Divide and see a few bighorn sheep along the way. Just make sure to check conditions beforehand, as the Highline Trail commonly closes due to weather. Learn more.

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14. Base Loop Trail Hike

Where: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Distance: 1.3 miles round trip
Best for: American history buffs and families.

Established in 1906, this sacred spot of Native Americans is the first national monument in the U.S. The easy 1.3-mile loop around Devils Tower will provide fascinating views of the solidified magma volcano, which looks similar-to granite and stands 867 feet above the red rock that surrounds the area beneath it. Learn more.

15. Billy Goat Trail Hike

Where: Potomac, Maryland
Distance: 7.8 miles round trip
Best for: Adventurers who don’t mind a little rock hopping.

The Potomac River and its surrounding forested terrain are the main attractions on this popular Maryland trek. Split into three sections, if you complete all three you’ll cover about 7.8 miles total. The easiest and most relaxing of the three is section C, though none of your options are extremely difficult, as long as you don’t mind some rock climbing and hopping from stone to stone. Learn more.

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Which would be an easier hike for a beginner? ›

As a beginner, I recommend looking for a trail that is under 5 miles with minimal elevation gain. Think about it like you're on a treadmill: a 1-mile hike with 500 ft of elevation gain has an average grade of 10%. Look for beginner hikes with less than 250 feet of elevation gain per mile.

What is the biggest mistake that novice hikers make on the AT? ›

Carrying too Much Weight

The most common mistake thru hikers make is to carry too much weight when they start the trail.

How many miles can a beginner hike in a day? ›

Most reputable outdoor agencies suggest that beginner hikers should plan to hike no more than 8-10 miles per day. Of course, if you're super fit and want to put in some really full days on the trail, there's nothing to say you can't hike further, but these recommendations are designed to maximize safety and enjoyment.

What should a beginner hike goals? ›

When you are first starting out, we recommend you stick to 2-mile hikes with little elevation gain; no more than 500 feet. You can work your way up as you get more and more comfortable. A few more helpful hike planning tips: We highly recommend you stick to maintained trails.

How many miles can a beginner hike? ›

Somewhere in the 5-Mile Range Is a Good Starting Point

There's no one single rule for beginning hiker distance. Still, it's easier to work your way up progressively if you go in increments of five miles, which means a good rule of thumb is to start with hikes of 5 miles or less.

How long should a hike be for beginners? ›

Pick A Hike for Beginners

If you're just starting out, pick a hike under 5 miles with minimal climbing. If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance. Do an extra mile or two each week and build up to your target distance. Don't forget to look at the total climbing on your hike.

What is the average age of at hikers? ›

Hiking is popular amongst all ages and typically hikers range from 13-70 years old.

What is the bad effect of hiking? ›

Some of the impacts include trampling of native vegetation, causing erosion of soils, contaminating water, attracting wildlife with food and displacing wildlife from preferred habitats.

What percentage of hikers get lost? ›

The most common way that hikers got lost was by wandering off the trail (41 per cent).
How Hikers Get Lost.
Reason for getting lost% that got lost this way
Loss or failure of equipment5%
4 more rows
Mar 13, 2019

Will hiking help me lose belly fat? ›

Yes, hiking can help you lose belly fat. While you can't spot-reduce fat, you can engage in physical activity that burns fat all over your body, including your belly. Hiking is a type of exercise that can include aerobic exercise (cardio, to strengthen heart and lungs) and anaerobic (to build muscle mass).

Can a beginner do a 10 mile hike? ›

The answer is a resounding yes; it's definitely possible to hike 10 miles a day, depending on your fitness level, experience level, the terrain you are hiking, and how much of the day you are willing to spend on the trails.

What is the #1 etiquette rule while hiking? ›

The best thing you can do when hiking is to remember the “golden rule”: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Here are some main points of hiking etiquette. Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you're descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.

What are the 3 basic skills in hiking? ›

We've put together a list of what we believe to be some of the most important basic hiking skills to remember before your next big adventure.
  • Plan your Trip. ...
  • Be Equipped. ...
  • Check the Conditions. ...
  • Pick your Shoes and Socks Wisely. ...
  • Pace Yourself. ...
  • Leave No Trace.

What are the 7 tips for hiking? ›

  • Tip #1 – Get the gear. Reduce the risk of injury by having good gear and being properly prepared for the hike. ...
  • Tip #2 – Map it out. ...
  • Tip #3 – Hydrate. ...
  • Tip #4 – Extra layers. ...
  • Tip #5 – The buddy system. ...
  • Tip #6 – Don't light fires on any mountain. ...
  • Tip #7 – Never underestimate.
Feb 9, 2021

Is a 5 mile hike a lot? ›

A 5 mile hike is considered moderately strenuous. Depending on location and elevation gain, it may be challenging for a first time hiker. So, a good starting point for the average person might be 2 miles instead of 5. But with a little physical preparation, you can work your way up to 5 miles quickly.

How hard is a 3 mile hike? ›

Hikes 3+ miles should be considered moderate, even if they are flat or otherwise easy. Hiking poles might be recommended, depending on footing conditions. Hard hikes are more difficult.

How often should you rest when hiking? ›

To be optimally efficient, combine rest breaks into any of the mandatory breaks you will already be taking to avoid accidentally taking two breaks in a row. As resting goes, you should generally aim for 5-10 minute breaks with the exception of turning one mandatory break into an extended, midday rest.

What is the best outfit to wear when hiking? ›

Wear light layers against your body (shorts, pants, and a short-sleeve top in the summer, and baselayers in cold conditions). Unless you're hiking somewhere that nighttime temperatures are consistently above 70, always wear or carry a midlayer, such as a fleece or wool hoodie.

How long a walk is considered a hike? ›

Distance. There is no exact cutoff distance to differentiate walking from hiking. However, most outdoor adventurers agree that a trail should be at least two miles long to hike. If it is less than this distance, the activity is only walking.

Is 50 too old to start hiking? ›

If you're worried about being “too old” to hike, don't. Many people enjoy hiking well into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. You don't have to take the steepest, most challenging path. A simple stroll around your neighborhood can be a great way to enjoy a hike.

Are hikers healthier? ›

Building stronger muscles and bones. Improving your sense of balance. Improving your heart health. Decreasing the risk of certain respiratory problems.

Is hiking hard on your body? ›

First, even a moderate one-hour hike is a great way to get a dose of cardio in, all while strengthening your core and lower body. And as the elevation goes up, so do the benefits of hiking. "The more challenging the hike, the more calories — and stress — you'll melt away," notes Chun.

Is hiking hard on the heart? ›

Like brisk walking, hiking is a good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, particularly if your route includes some hills, which will force your heart to work harder.

What happens to your body if you hike everyday? ›

Going up and down hills gets the heart pumping, creating a great cardio workout. Like most cardio exercises, hiking helps reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even some cancers. Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, which builds muscle mass and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Why is hiking better than walking? ›

In general, hiking burns more calories than walking because it utilizes steeper paths. Yet, per half an hour, hiking burns fewer calories than running. This form of outdoor exercise offers several benefits, including improvements in weight loss, mental health, and lower body strength.

What is a risk for hikers? ›

Fatigue, hypothermia, dehydration and heat exhaustion. Injuries from slips and falls on the trail. Injuries caused by animals, snakes and insects on the trail. Hikers getting trapped or injured by forces of nature such as flooding, veld fires and lightning.

How many miles a day do at hikers do? ›

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, most hikers take between five and seven months to complete the AT end to end. According to our data, that translates to an average pace of 14 to 20 miles per day for most hikers.

Where do most hikers live? ›

City Rankings
Overall Rank (1=Best)CityOverall Score
1Portland, OR68.37
2Tucson, AZ67.6
3Phoenix, AZ67.25
4Colorado Springs, CO67.01
54 more rows
Sep 16, 2022

How do I get in shape for hiking in 2 weeks? ›

Two weeks before your trip: Change your cardio days to long day hikes (60+ minutes each) with a pack that weighs about 80% of the weight you'll be carrying on your trip. Also add a fourth day-hike training session to one of your strength-training days. One or two days prior to your trip: Ease up on all training.

Can hiking shape your body? ›

To recap, these two studies showed us that hiking activities are associated with an increase in lean muscle, especially abdominal muscle, and a decrease in total body fat.

What is the best time of day to go hiking? ›

The early morning is the best time of the day to hike, particularly if you are planning to hike for more than a couple of hours. The air may be cool but as you exercise in the rising sun, you will warm up. This is also the best time to avoid full parking lots near popular trails.

What level of fitness do you need for hiking? ›

While shorter hikes don't really require a high level of fitness, for longer and more challenging hikes you'll need to be competent in strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. Efficiently train in these three components and you'll certainly be in prime condition to dominate whatever trails lay ahead!

Is cycling good exercise for hiking? ›

Cardio is especially important for hikers, and mountain biking fits the bill beautifully. This low-impact escape helps stress the heart and lungs and allows you to incorporate some intervals and speedwork into your training plan.

How much water do I need for a 10 mile hike? ›

The Quick Answer:

Adults usually need 2 cups of water per hour of hiking. Children usually need 1-2 cups per hour of hiking. However, you may need more of less than this depending on whether you can filter water along the way, weather conditions, and personal thirstiness.

What should I eat before a 10 mile hike? ›

Eat a combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein, 1-3 hours before a hike, for example:
  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread.
  • Greek yogurt with berries.
  • Oatmeal with low fat milk and fruit.
  • Apple and peanut butter.
  • A handful of nuts and raisins (2 parts raisins, 1 part nuts)

What to avoid when hiking? ›

Things you should never do while hiking
  • Never go off the trail. ...
  • Never play loud music. ...
  • Never wear headphones while walking. ...
  • Never drink alcohol while hiking. ...
  • Never eat wild fruits. ...
  • Never litter. ...
  • Never attend nature's call near the stream. ...
  • Never ignore any medical condition.

What should you not wear during a hike? ›

Cotton: The worst kind of fabric to wear when hiking. It is extremely moisture-absorbing – it can absorb as much as 2700% of its own weight in moisture. For a basic idea of how this compares to other material: polyester absorbs up to 0.4% of its own weight in moisture, silk 30% and Merino wool 33%.

What not to take on a day hike? ›

Avoid carrying food such as raw meat, particularly chicken unless you have it adequately cooled which usually means a cooler and lots of ice. Not really an option for most hiking scenarios. As previously mentioned avoid soft food such as peaches and bananas. Even apples tend to get bruised on a trip past the first day.

What is an experienced hiker called? ›

Expert: This type of hiker has had much experience with day hikes and hiking in different weather conditions. At this point, the hiker is prepared to be out there throughout the night, has the knowledge of when to hike at a fast pace, at a slow pace to conserve energy, and when to rest.

What is the 3000 foot rule hiking? ›

Most critical is the so-called "Colorado Rule", which says that the climber must ascend at least 3,000 vertical feet net elevation on foot from the base of the first peak in a series, and descend at least 3,000 feet at the end of the series.

Can a beginner do a 7 mile hike? ›

Most reputable outdoor agencies suggest that beginner hikers should plan to hike no more than 8-10 miles per day. Of course, if you're super fit and want to put in some really full days on the trail, there's nothing to say you can't hike further, but these recommendations are designed to maximize safety and enjoyment.

What are the different levels of difficulty for hiking? ›

Easy - 1-2 miles with easy terrain and little elevation gain. Moderate - 2-4 miles with moderate terrain and some elevation change. Challenging - 4 or more miles OR varying terrain.

Can a beginner do a moderate hike? ›

Doing your research is the most important step you can take to make sure you pick the right trail for your skill level and expectations. Beginner hikers should start on easy to moderate trails less than 5 miles long. Once you've got the hang of shorter hikes, move up to longer and more strenuous trails.

Is it easier to hike up or down a mountain? ›

Uphill may not be as brutal for thru hikers once they get into trail shape, but for section hikers those first few long uphill stretches can be completely humbling. There is a reason that you really do not sweat going downhill – it is easier. Hiking downhill is more difficult … let me count the ways.

How do I know my hiking level? ›

How to Determine Hiking Difficulty
  1. Easiest. Numerical Rating: less than 50. A hike that is generally suitable for anyone who enjoys walking. ...
  2. Moderate. Numerical Rating: 50-100. ...
  3. Moderately Strenuous. Numerical Rating: 100 –150. ...
  4. Strenuous. Numerical Rating: 150-200. ...
  5. Very Strenuous. Numerical Rating : greater than 200.
Dec 5, 2017

What is a Class 1 hike? ›

A Class 1 hike is a low-risk hike on a well-marked trail. A majority of frequently accessed hiking trails are considered Class 1.

What thru hike should I do first? ›

A classic example is the 800-mile-long Arizona Trail. The AZT is frequently chosen and recommended as a first thru-hike because of its length.

Is hiking more strenuous than walking? ›

Hiking outdoors, surrounded by nature, boosts your outlook, according to studies. While you can burn around 100 calories per mile walking, you can easily double that figure when hiking. And if you strap a heavy pack on your back and tackle steep, arduous terrain, that number can soar to well over 500 calories per hour.

Do you have to be in shape to hike? ›

Your core muscles are essential to maintaining stability and balance on rugged terrain, so they're just as important as leg stamina. While you don't need a full six-pack to tackle a multi-day hike, by the end of each day your back and stomach muscles will hurt if they're not conditioned.

How do I strengthen my legs for downhill hiking? ›

Walking lunges, reverse lunges, kettlebell deadlifts, and single leg ¼ squats are excellent exercises if you have difficulty walking downhill. Training for downhill hiking requires that you perform some lower body exercises with a slow descent.

Will your weight change if you climb a mountain? ›

A. You would weigh very slightly more at sea level than at the top of a mountain, not enough for you to notice, but a measurable amount. Weight, which really means gravitational force, is proportional to the product of the masses of two objects acting on each other, in this case the giant earth and the minuscule you.

How many miles can the average person hike? ›

But as a general rule of thumb, an experienced hiker in good shape can cover 10-12 miles on easy terrain with little to no elevation gain. The most I've ever hiked in a day was roughly 18 miles, but that was on relatively flat terrain, save for a few small hills here and there.

Can you lose weight by hiking once a week? ›

Yes, you can lose weight by hiking once a week. However, it all depends on how your body burns calories and how long or strenuous your hike is. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week to lose weight.


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