Blaze some of the best trails in the country while taking in the breathtaking views at both legendary and lesser-known U.S. national parks
Hit the Trails
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Need motivation to take your workout outdoors? Soaking up the sun doesn’t always require laying on a beach or going for a run—you can get a dose of Vitamin D from the sun’s rays and feel the calming effect of nature with an easy afternoon hike. Strap on your activity tracker and get ready to burn around 415 calories an hour. This Saturday, April 18, marks the beginning of National Park Week, with free entrance to the parks all weekend long. The U.S. is home to more than 400 national parks, so you’re bound to find one in your area (seriously, just check out FindYourPark.com). We’ve rounded up our favorite hikes for fitness—now, it’s up to you to get outside! (And if you need an excuse for some cool new swag, we've got 16 Hiking Gear Essentials for Your Next Adventure.)
Photo: Corbis Images
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Georgia
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Get a taste of history before you hit the trails at this Civil War battlefield turned national park. Head to the Visitor's Center to pick up a map with detailed distances and times for four different hiking options, as well as how many calories you’ll burn on each trail (but if you're not into those, don't worry—there are plenty more paths to choose from). We'd recommend starting with Pigeon Hill Trail, which has a steeper grade, so you’ll burn more calories in less time. The 5.4 mile trip will only take you about 2 hours. Make sure to keep an eye out for cannons and trenches, reminders of the battle fought on the mountain.
Glacier National Park, Montana
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Start at the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead for the 5.5 mile trek to Grinnell Glacier. While the hike is moderate, you’ll cover lots of ground, so comfy hiking boots are a must. Keep your camera ready as you pass beautiful lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, and plenty of wildlife, but watch out of grizzly bears. Your final destination will be Grinnell Lake, where the runoff from the massive Grinnell Glacier has pooled into a large body of water, complete with icebergs drifting by. You’ll hike another 5.5 miles back, so make sure to break for an energizing snack, like these 10 Homemade Energy Bars.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
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Adventure seekers: This one is for you. Hike to the summit of Lassen Peak, an active volcano that last erupted in 1915, on a five-mile round-trip journey from the trailhead. You’ll gain 2,000 ft of elevation over your 3.5 hour hike, which really targets your hamstrings and calves. At the peak, you can look down to see the impact that the 1915 volcano had on the surrounding area. Make sure to stretch while enjoying the view!
Zion National Park, Utah
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Take the path less traveled by following the whole length of the East Rim Trail, which clocks in at 10.8 miles. Most visitors choose to hike the lower section, but you’ll blast more fat and see more breathtaking sights trekking from the East Entrance Trailhead all the way into the main canyon on this full-day hike. Climb 1,000 feet in elevation onto the plateau and then travel across it, through Ponderosa Forest, before the trail opens into Echo Canyon Basin. The trail then descends 2,300 feet down into the canyon. The downhill hike will make your quads burn, but keep a moderate pace so you stay in control of your muscles, giving them the best workout.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
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Find the trailhead to Overall Run Falls—the tallest waterfall in the park—in the North District, at mile 21.1 on Skyline Drive. The 6.1 mile out-and-back hike follows the Appalachian Trail south, before turning onto Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail and winding through the quiet forest all the way out to the waterfall. (Stay warm in the shady areas with one of 15 Sporty-Chic Spring Jackets for Women.) Give yourself just under 5 hours to complete this trip, but add extra some extra time for taking in the spectacular views on the ledge above the falls. The path is moderately strenuous, so you’ll be challenged without feeling totally winded.
Acadia National Park, Maine
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Follow Cadillac North Ridge Trail from the base of Cadillac Mountain to the summit for 2.2 miles. Your reward? Open views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay. Plus, you skirt the packed parking lot at the top! Find an open space away from the crowds—this is the perfect spot to Instagram that yoga pose you’ve been working on. After you’ve sufficiently snapped pictures of the view, descend the same way for a 4.4 mile round-trip hike, or take the Loop Trail bus back to the base of the mountain for a fast descent.
Redwoods National and State Parks, California
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The Redwood National and State Parks boast more than just tall trees—the James Irvine-Miner's Ridge Loop is considered one of the best Redwoods trails by avid hikers. Located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of the larger Redwoods National Parks system, this trail offers views of the larger-than-life forest that will make you feel like you just stepped into a scene from Lord of The Rings. And the 13-mile trek challenges your muscles by taking you over different terrains—you'll start in the tree-covered forest (watch out for exposed roots poking up from the ground), then travel through fern canyon, where enormous ferns cover the canyon walls. Walk over the rocky canyon bottom, then stroll through the meadow and Gold Bluffs Beach, where you'll be able stretch your toes (and work the muscles in your feet) walking barefoot through the sand.
Yellowstone National Park
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Trek up Purple Mountain, a six-mile round trip hike that will have you climbing 1,500 feet in just three miles (hello, hamstrings!) It's strenuous on the way up, but the prize is the view at the top of the Gibbon, Madison, and Firehole rivers. The half-day hike is perfect if you only have a few hours to get in a workout but still want the excitement of Yellowstone. You don't need a guide on this hike, which many other Yellowstone hikes require, but be prepared before you go—a knowledge of bear safety is essential!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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The park spans both North Carolina and Tennessee, but to access Alum Cave, start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and drive to the the trailhead. This out-and-back hike is five miles, and you'll reach the first landmark, Arch Rock, around 1.3 miles. Follow the trail under the natural rock arch and take the steps carved into the rock. After about 2.2 miles you'll get to Alum Cave, where with the assistance of stairs and cables used as handrails, you can look out over the bluffs. Take the same route back, or continue the rest of the trail until you get to the summit of Mount Le Conte.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
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A visit to Joshua Tree State Park is a treat for any nature-lover—this is where the Colorado desert and Mojave desert meet, meaning a fascinating variety of plants and wildlife. The dessert oasis is also easily accessible from San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, making it the perfect escape for urbanites who need their outdoor fix. The Lost Horse Loop Trail is a moderately strenuous four-mile hike (sturdy hiking boots are essential for the steep, rocky trail) ending at the Lost Horse Mine, a historic preserved mill. After you reach the mill, continue up the ridge to the overlook behind the mill for a peak down at the surrounding area.