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10 Great American Hikes That Should Be on Your Bucket List

Adventure

Getting outside is a great form of exercise and a great way to learn about the natural world. It also just makes you feel good. Luckily, there are beautiful natural areas nearby to explore no matter where you live. North America, for one, is home to so much natural beauty that no one person can see it all, but there are certain places that everybody should try to see before they die. Once you've checked out these treasures within the U.S. National Parks, try these hikes:

The Continental Divide Trail

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While many wax poetic about the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail (and for good reason), the lesser known Continental Divide Trail is a real gem, too. Complete all three of the country's longest trails and you will be known as a "triple crowner." It stretches 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada passing through sun-soaked New Mexico, Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, Yellowstone's backcountry in Wyoming and Montana's open wilderness.

The Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The trail climbs up to towering sea cliffs, drops down to lush valleys and all the way down to sea level. Hawaii is home to a large number of endemic species, or species that can only be found there, so the flora and fauna are sure to delight.

John Muir Trail

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This 210-mile trail winds through the High Sierra wilderness. For 160 of those miles, the trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. You will be mostly above 8,000 feet in elevation for the hike, which begins at Yosemite National Park, passes through Inyo National Forest, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and ends at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S.

Cadillac Mountain Trail

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Found in Acadia National Park, the Northeast's only national park, Cadillac Mountain is a must. If you catch the sunrise from the top, you will be the first person to view the sun rising on the East Coast. It's a moderate 4-mile hike to the summit at 1,500 feet. The views from the top, especially at sunrise, are absolutely breathtaking.

Skyline Trail

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This trail in Mount Rainier National Park affords you amazing views of the 14,000-foot volcano, which is the tallest in North America. It takes you as close as you can get to the volcano without technical climbing gear. The entire trail is 5.5 miles long with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Hikers cross through foggy alpine valleys full of wildflowers, take in cascading waterfalls and trek through snowfields. On a clear day, you can even see peaks as far south as Oregon's Mount Hood.

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White Oak Canyon

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This 4.8-mile hike in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a standout because you'll cross wooden footbridges over emerald pools and see six major waterfalls. While Shenandoah's high alpine trails can only be tackled a few months out of the year, this trail is open and accessible all year. Spring brings wildflowers to the open meadows. The trees provide ample shade to avoid the heat of summer. The fall foliage is not to be missed. And there's a certain beautiful serenity to a winter walk.

The Narrows

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The Narrows is the narrowest part of the canyon walls in Zion National Park. The Virgin River cuts through the canyon, creating walls up to 1,000 feet tall and sometimes just twenty feet wide. A hike in the narrows involves actually walking in the river. Depending on the river flow, the water reaches from ankle level to waste deep or more. Hikers take in incredible views of the canyon walls as they trek through the river.

The Lost Coast Trail

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The Lost Coast is the portion of California's north coast that was spared the development that came with building State Route 1 right along the coast in the southern portion of California. The steepness of the coastal mountains and the density of coastal forests made it difficult to build the highway right on the coast, so this part of California has remained more rugged and remote. As a result, the Lost Coast has maintained more of its natural beauty. The Lost Coast Trail is a 24-mile hike starting at Mattole and ending at Black Sands Beach. You will hike through rocky tidal pools, watch sea lions sunbathing on the beach and explore abandoned lighthouses. The hike, which takes about three days, is impassible at times because of the tides, so don't forget a tide chart.

Mount Mitchell Trail

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At nearly 7,000 feet, Mount Mitchell near Asheville, North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and it's not to be missed. It's an 11-mile hike with a 3,600-foot elevation gain, making it one of the toughest climbs in the area. The views from the summit are spectacular in any season. The summit is accessible to vehicles, so if you don't want to share your summit views with a bunch of people, pick a bad weather day or a day when the road is closed.

Half Dome

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The 14 to 16 mile round trip hike is not for the faint of heart. You will be gaining elevation (4,800 feet in total) for most of your hike. But it's well worth the effort. Along the way, you'll take in views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome and views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. It takes most hikers 10 to 12 hours to complete, so an early start is a must. The most famous part of the hike is the metal cables, which make the last 400 feet of the ascent possible. Permits are required and are distributed by a lottery.

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