10 Feel-Good Summer Hikes

Craving sunshine on your shoulders? Consider this your hit list.

Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

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These ten dayhikes turn every step into a celebration of summer—and they’re located near major cities, so they’re convenient for urbanites and summer travelers.


45 minutes north of San Francisco

Pack a swimsuit and head to Mount Tamalpais State Park for a spectacular hike/swim combo. Plunge down the 1.5-mile Steep Ravine Trail, which uses wooden ladders on its route along a cascading creek surrounded by towering redwoods. Follow the Dipsea Trail for 1.5 miles to the soft, surf-lapped sands at Stinson Beach (lifeguards on duty Memorial Day to Labor Day) then complete the loop on the 4-mile Matt Davis Trail for sweeping views over Bolinas Lagoon. parks.ca.gov


60 minutes east of Salt Lake City

Little Cottonwood Canyon’s famously deep snows nourish bogglingly bright wildflower meadows come summer. To wade among kaleidoscopic posies in Albion Basin, park at Alta’s Albion Base Area and hike south for 2.3 miles (one way) on the Upper Albion Meadows and Cecret Lake trails to picnic alongside the shimmering shores of mountain-ringed Cecret Lake. fs.usda.gov/uwcbf


75 minutes northwest of Lihue, Kauai

The Kalalau Trail deserves its reputation for world-class scenery, but a lesser-known spur up Hanakapi`ai Valley is safer and less committing than hiking the entire 11-mile (one way) NaPali Coast—and the detour ends at a paradisical waterfall and swimming hole. From Ke’e Beach, hike 2 miles along the Kalalau Trail’s spectacular ocean cliffs then follow the Hanakapi’ai Trail for 2 more miles to the 300-foot falls. Bring snorkeling gear to explore Ke’e vibrant reefs. kalalautrail.com


45 minutes east of Seattle

Solitude may be scarce on the 4-mile (one way) trail up Mount Si, but patches of old-growth forest and spectacular summit views are well worth sharing. From the parking lot (Discovery Pass required), the route challenges hikers’ lungs and legs with 3,100-foot elevation gain, ending with a grand-finale scramble up the Haystack (Si’s true summit) and its panoramas of the pointy Cascades–including, on a clear day, Mt. Rainier. wta.org


40 minutes south of Cleveland

Escape summertime heat and humidity in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where the 2.2-mile Ledges Trail winds among tree-shaded rock cliffs so massive, they’re practically impervious to summer’s heat waves: These chasms and gullies feel air-conditioned even on Ohio’s hottest days. From the trailhead on Kendall Park Road, borrow into sandstone folds and scale 100-foot overlooks that feel as grand as the Canyonlands. nps.gov/cuva


1 hour, 45 minutes west of Chicago

Starved Rock State Park turns rainy days into a bonanza for waterfall-loving hikers: A plethora of streams cascade over this region’s sandstone cliffs and chasms, and they flow fullest when nature’s faucets open wide. From the Visitor Center, hike 1.5 miles west to ogle 80-foot falls in St. Louis Canyon, then return and extend your hike (for 3 miles round trip) into steep-walled French and Wildcat Canyons. starvedrockstatepark.org

New York

60 minutes north of New York City

Glorious stands of massive old oak, tulip poplar, and maple trees lend a hushed serenity to Rockefeller State Park Preserve’s 13 Bridges Loop Trail, a 2-mile circuit that skips across babbling Gory Brook on—you guessed it—13 graceful spans. Scan stream banks for toads and turtles, listen for knocking woodpeckers, and admire cascading songs of wood thrushes and orioles that fill the evening air with music. parks.ny.gov

New Hampshire

2 hours north of Boston

Sure, you could drive farther for spectacularly scenic (and crowded) trails in the White Mountains, but Mount Major offers similarly dazzling views—with a far easier commute. The blue-blazed Mount Major Trail scales rocky ledges on a 1.5-mile climb (one way) to a 1,786-foot summit overlooking the azure expanses of Lake Winnipesaukee. Descend via the orange-blazed Brook Trail to close the 3.5-mile loop. belknaprangetrails.org


1 hour, 45 minutes north of Atlanta

Gloriously open views reward hikers on Blood Mountain, a bald summit with rocky outcrops that offer see-forever views across the green-carpeted Appalachians. To tag this 4,458-foot peak, start from Vogel State Park and follow the Bear Hair Gap, Coosa Backcountry, Duncan Ridge and Appalachian trails for 9 total miles. atlantatrails.com

South Carolina

2 hours west of Charlotte, NC

The Carolinas may be famous for their beaches, but the Jones Gap Trail in South Carolina’s Jones Gap State Park lets hikers cool off amidst mountains. Here, hikers hug the banks of the Middle Fork of the Saluda River, which tumbles out of the cool Appalachians and includes swimming holes galore. From the park office and parking lots, hike west: Plenty of small cascades and bracing pools fill the trail’s first 2.5 miles. southcarolinaparks.com


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