Trips

12 Hikes to Beat the Summer Heat

Escape the dog days with these deliciously cool trails.

Zion National Park, UT

Zion Narrows
Larry Lamsa

The Narrows, 16 miles

One of the most bucket-listed hikes in the national parks is also a prime spot for avoiding Utah’s scorching summer heat. The slot canyon extends 16 miles, though many will select portions based on their skill level. No matter where you go, one thing’s for sure: You will get wet.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA

prairie creek redwoods
Juri Knauth

Fern Canyon Loop Trail, 1 mile

You won’t need much time to hike this flat, short loop hidden among the redwoods of Humboldt County. The path follows shallow Home Creek, where towering canyon walls saturated with ferns keep the heat out. 

Shenandoah National Park, VA

bridge
Katy Cain/Shenandoah National Park

Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail, 10 miles

Six waterfalls populate this moderately difficult out-and-back, which takes hikers through into a rocky gorge in the heart of Shenandoah. Bonus: Swimming holes line the path.

Kachemak Bay State Park, AK

grewingk glacier
Dave Bezaire

Grewingk Glacier Lake Trail, 3.2 miles

The easiest way to cool off in the summer months: chase ice. The hike to Grewingk Glacier is both frosty and beautiful, but keep an eye out for black and brown bears. 

Burgess Falls State Natural Area, TN

Burgess Falls
James Tatum

River Trail/Service Loop, 1.5 miles

Waterfalls up to 136 feet high adorn this moderately strenuous trail along and into a sheer limestone gorge, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity for a cool down spray from above.

The Presidio of San Francisco, CA

presidio
Beatrice Murch

Lover’s Lane Trail, .6 mile

Visitors bemoan San Francisco’s fog, but when the heat of summer rolls around, there’s no more consistently cool place than the city’s misty eucalyptus groves. The canopy provides relief from the sun, and picturesque foliage will have you convinced you’re far from an urban area.

Lake Tahoe, CA

rubicon trail
Ray Bouknight

Rubicon Trail, 6.5 miles

Summer is the time to enjoy Tahoe’s perpetually cool water. This moderately difficult trail has plenty of waterside sections, and the tall canopy of the surrounding forest keeps the sun from beating down.

Sedona, AZ

west fork
Larry Lane

West Fork Trail, 14 miles

There’s no heat like Arizona heat, so in summer, the water-heavy West Fork Trail is very welcome. The first 3 miles are easy, with plenty of stream crossings. After that, be prepared to wade, and maybe swim, down the stream. 

Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

None

Deep Gap Trail, 4.3 miles

Situated in a microclimate that keeps it cooler than the surrounding area, the Deep Gap trail can stay fresh even during heat waves. Thank the high altitude, which grants hikers spectacular views of the Black Mountains. 

Santa Barbara, CA

refugio beach
Ashley

Refugio to El Capitan, 2.5 miles

The great thing about beach hikes is that cooling off in the ocean isn’t just possible—it’s encouraged. This easy hike from Refugio to El Capitan has beaches, tidepools, and lots of rocky outcroppings. Pro tip: Take a look at the tidal schedules first.

Pattison State Park, WI

Big Manitou Falls
Doug Kerr

Big Manitou Falls River Trail, .75 mile

Get a ground-level view of Wisconsin’s tallest waterfall, a 165-foot cascade carved into sandstone and basalt, with a short, downhill hike along the Black River. Keep an eye out for one of the park’s rarer residents, the tiny vertigo land snail.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

mammoth cave
Niagara66

Mammoth Cave Wild Cave Tour, 5 miles

You’ll need to book a tour guide for this excursion, but it’s worth it: the temperatures underground hover around 54 fahrenheit year-round. And then there’s the architecture: the Wild Cave Tour gives visitors 6 hours of messy, scrambling fun well beneath the earth’s surface.

What do you do when the summer heat is tar-meltingly, brain-fryingly unbearable? You could hit the pool, or hide in the basement with your AC on blast and Netflix queued up. Better idea: Hit one of these 12 hikes around the country, where altitude, slot canyons, and deliciously cool water combine to create a natural respite from whatever the season is throwing at you.