Travelers and nature-lovers have long been aware of the health benefits of getting out on the trail.
Hiking in nature is a great way to get in shape and improve your physical fitness, and has also been shown to have fantastic benefits for mental health and general well being. It’s no surprise, therefore, that more and more of us are pulling on our hiking boots and heading out into the wild.
One of the reasons why hiking is now seen as a fantastic wellness activity is because it offers holistic benefits. Walking through the hills or scrambling up to a high ridge is a cardio, strength and endurance workout all in one, and doing it on a regular basis will ensure you stay in great shape. However, it’s also an activity that promotes reflection, meditation, and an opportunity to reconnect with nature, allowing you to become more aware of your own body and the environment in which it lives.
Happily, the United States is packed with beautiful natural spots and national parks that provide the perfect setting for a hiking or backpacking trip. A trip to one of these incredible hiking destinations is the ideal way to boost your health and restore both your body and soul.
North Cascades National Park
Boasting 400 miles of hiking trails in some of North America’s finest scenery, the North Cascades National Park is a dream destination for hikers looking to get off the beaten track. This gorgeous national park is littered with dense forest, cascading waterfalls, and serene lakes, not to mention more than 300 glaciers, which adorn the peaks of the North Cascades range. You’ll find panoramic mountain views, lush scenery and an abundance of wildlife, all ideal if you’re looking for a way to escape the daily grind and stresses of day-to-day life.
North Cascades National Park covers more than 1000 square miles of wilderness, making it a great location for getting out into the backcountry on an epic backpacking trip. One of the benefits of hiking is that it allows you to reconnect with nature and become more aware of the natural environment, and the North Cascades provides a vast wilderness to explore. The park is home to a wide range of animals, insects and birds, creating a delicate, rich ecosystem that sustains many rare species. Amongst others, you may catch a glimpse of black bears, elusive wolverines, gray wolves, leaping salmon, river otters, bald eagles, and several types of deer.
If you want to immerse yourself in the wilderness and reconnect with nature, the north Cascades is the place for you. For a little more inspiration, check out these favorite hikes in the North Cascades National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Think of a US park known for geothermal features, and Yellowstone National Park will probably spring to mind first. However, Yellowstone isn’t the only place in the United States where you can see some volcanic action. Situated in northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a strange, steamy land, surrounded by a lush, green conifer forest.
This is a landscape shaped by fire and water. At the center of the park, the towering Lassen Peak dominates the horizon. This dormant volcano last erupted in 1914, and beneath the earth Lassen remains a hive of volcanic activity. You’ll pass by bubbling sulfur springs, roaring steam vents, mud pots and fumaroles, and these fiery volcanic features give this park its distinctive character. However, Lassen is also known for its tumbling waterfalls, glittering lakes fed by natural springs, and lush meadows, studded with wildflowers.
A hiking trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park is sure to be a rejuvenating experience. One of the best experiences you can have in Lassen occurs after sundown, when you’ll discover the brilliance of the night sky. This is considered to be one of the best places in the world for stargazing, and the annual Dark Sky Festival in August is the ideal time to visit. Take advantage of knowledgeable rangers, astronomers and astro-biologists, and admire the brilliance of the night sky illuminated by countless stars.
If you’re looking for a way to become more mindful, present and aware of your natural environment, Lassen is a wonderful destination. Marvel at the steaming vents and mud pots as you hike through the park by day, and gaze in wonder at the brilliance of the sky at night – by the time you leave you’ll have a new sense of your place in this vast, beautiful world.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Moab, and particularly the area covering the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, is one of the most popular spots in the United States for hiking. These remarkable, unique parks are named for their distinctive sandstone arches and deep canyons, which cast strange and otherworldly shadows across the landscape. Hiking in Moab and the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks is an experience you’re likely never to forget, and it’s the perfect place to go for a change of scene.
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of sandstone arches, together with many other unusual geological features. Expect to see soaring sandstone fins, towering pinnacles, and precariously balanced rocks littering the landscape. Similarly, the nearby Canyonlands National Park is a rugged, high desert, an incredible, colorful landscape carved over centuries by the Colorado River. Whether it’s the spectacular views from the Island in the Sky, or the peaceful solitude of the Maze region, there’s plenty to draw visitors to this unique corner of Utah.
Interestingly, this region has also emerged as a popular destination for fitness fans, who flock to Moab for wellness and fitness retreats. Hiking in Moab can be hard work, due to the hot sun and stark landscape, but it’s recently become very popular as a trail running, climbing and mountain biking destination. If you’re looking for a new fitness challenge, a place to train, or simply an activity holiday in a stunning landscape, head to Moab and start exploring the trails in the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
Trail running in Moab will take you through some truly incredible terrain, where the red sandstone glows warmly under the hot sun and vivid desert flowers peek out from under the rocks. The trails here are well established, easy to follow and perfect for trail running, biking or hiking, making this a fantastic destination if you want an active vacation or a place to hit your fitness goals.
For a little inspiration, and to plan your fitness challenge, check out this list of the best hikes around Moab.
The Hoh Rainforest
The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to a little rain, which leaves its landscapes clothed in lush green vegetation. Deep in the heart of the Olympic National Park, you’ll find the Hoh Rainforest, a lush, temperate rainforest dominated by sweet-smelling Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. The trees here are draped with fragrant mosses and ferns, creating a magical atmosphere that will transport you into another world.
The area around the Hoh Rainforest receives over 140 inches of rain per year, creating a lush ecosystem that supports an incredible diversity of plants, animals and insects. The trees are clothed in lettuce lichen, sustaining a healthy population of deer, elk and other mammals who love to nibble at the tasty greenery. Walking through this landscape is like diving into fairyland, and around every turn of the path, you’ll see another shade of green.
The Hoh Rainforest is an ideal location for anyone looking to experiment with the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Forest bathing is a relaxation technique that involves spending time in forests or among trees, breathing deeply and observing the surrounding nature. This type of mindful exploration has been shown to have significant benefits for relaxation, wellbeing and general psychological health, lowering blood pressure, cortisol levels, and even boosting your immune system.
The eerie, atmospheric Hoh Rainforest is an ideal location to try your hand at this ancient Japanese practice. Some of the trees here are over 1000 years old, covered in layers of moss and lichen, true grandfathers of the forest. Breathing in the humid forest air will help you to clear your mind, leave behind any stress and anxieties, and reconnect with nature.
The best way to experience the Hoh Rainforest is by heading out for a hike on the Hoh River Trail. There’s even the possibility of turning the trek into a backpacking trip, and spending the night at one of the beautiful campgrounds along the trail.
Glacier National Park
Known as the ‘Crown of the Continent’, Glacier National Park is a stunning area of wilderness in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. It was named for the many glaciers that carved this remarkable landscape over millennia, and traces of these ice giants can still be seen on the craggy peaks that fill the park. Glacier National Park shows off the Rockies at their finest, with jaw-dropping views around every corner.
Hiking in Glacier National Park is a dream for most keen adventurers, with countless backcountry trails that wind their way through some thrilling scenery. Expect jagged, wild ridges, tall, glacier-clad peaks, serene lakes and lush wildflower meadows. Summer is a wonderful time to visit, when the forest is at its greenest and delicate wildflowers are in bloom everywhere.
In recent years, wellness has become big business in Glacier National Park, as many visitors become more aware of the restorative effects of hiking in this beautiful landscape. You’ll find many companies offering yoga retreats, mindful hiking programs, and meditation workshops, usually based in the friendly town of Whitefish on the edge of the park. If you’re looking for a place to combine a hiking trip with some yoga or relaxation workshops, there’s no better destination than Glacier National Park. Even without a yoga or meditation course, the dramatic beauty of this expansive wilderness speaks for itself – you’ll come away feeling rejuvenated, restored and reinvigorated.
Check out this list of all the best hikes in Glacier National Park, and start planning your next escape!