Here’s my typical disclaimer for my National Park lists. I’m sure there are plenty of other National Parks that are great for short day hikes, but I’ve only been to twenty National Parks so far, so I have to base my list on them. So, if you disagree with me, please tell me your favorite parks for short hikes. As far as the distance I have in mind for these “short hikes” I’m thinking of trails less than five miles long.
- Yellowstone National Park; Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. This was the first National Park I ever visited and it’s the first park that comes to mind when I’m thinking of a good park for short hikes. I’ve hiked over ten short trails in Yellowstone, not to mention all the boardwalks around geysers and hot springs. There are very easy short hikes like Storm Point to the shore of Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone River Narrows, which gives you impressive views above the river. Avalanche Peak is a great four-mile hike, but it is very strenuous due to how incredibly steep it is. Uncle Tom’s Trail takes you down a series of metal staircases to an up-close view of the Lower Falls. Bunsen Peak and Slough Creek are a couple of other nice short hikes in Yellowstone. The many short boardwalk “trails” around thermal features are fantastic as well. I especially like the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Midway Geyser Basin. Oh, and don’t forget the short walk to the Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs. You can take a dip in the Boiling River, which will even be warm in winter thanks to the springs that heat that portion of the river.
- Arches National Park, Utah. Arches N.P. is home to several great short hikes to the many different arches within the park. The best one has to be the short hike to Delicate Arch (3 miles). There are very short trails to The Windows, Double Arch, Turret Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Skyline Arch and more. The hike to Balanced Rock is less than half a mile. The Devil’s Garden hike is the only trail in Arches N.P. more than a few miles long, but many people turn around at Landscape Arch which is less than two miles roundtrip. I somehow missed the Park Avenue hike when I was in Arches, but that looks like another good short one.
- Yosemite National Park, California. Yosemite is quite diverse when it comes to hiking trails. There are plenty of amazing short and easy trails and lots of longer difficult hikes in the park. Two very quick and easy hikes in Yosemite Valley are the “trails” to the base of Bridalveil Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall. The Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall is three miles roundtrip and is fairly strenuous, but an amazing hike. Other nice short hikes outside the valley include Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, portions of the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, and a few others in the Tuolumne Meadows area.
- Zion National Park, Utah. Zion is home to an assortment of short hikes, especially within scenic Zion Canyon. I’ve hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, the Riverside Walk, Watchman Trail, Weeping Rock, and a few miles of the Narrows. If the conditions are good, I cannot recommend the Narrows enough. Even if you only have enough time to hike for an hour or two, you should still experience it. There are several other short and easy trails in the park that I have yet to enjoy. The Pa’rus Trail, Sand Bench Trail, and Canyon Overlook Trail all sound nice to me.
Again, this is just a short list of four National Parks that offer fantastic short hiking opportunities. I’d give Olympic and Bryce Canyon honorable mentions. I’m sure there are plenty of other parks that have great short hikes that I haven’t visited yet, too.