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Hidden Gems: Explore These Lesser-Known Hiking Trails in the U.S.

Don’t stick to the same ol’ trails for your next hiking trip, embark on a journey to some of the best-kept trek secrets of the American wilderness. The Grand Canyon and Yosemite Valley may steal the spotlight, but the U.S. is teeming with amazing unexplored hiking trails. These trails may be bypassed by the masses in favor of the well-trodden paths, but that offers you the chance to escape the crowds. 

From coastal islands to maze-like canyons, join us as we unveil the lesser-known treasures of the U.S. hiking scene for those who dare to venture off the beaten path.

Highline Trail – Montana

Image by Chris LaBasco

If you’re serious about trekking, then you won’t want to miss this one within the incredible Glacier National Park. This trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and pristine lakes. The Highline Trail is an 11.5-mile one-way hike with an elevation gain of around 1,500 feet. The best time to go is from June to October. This hike may bring you the best views of Glacier you’ll find. Dance along rugged cliff edges in contrast with the gorgeous green vegetation waiting to be explored. If you’re looking to do the hike in more than a day, make sure to get a backcountry permit

Scoville Point Loop Trail – Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

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Stoll Memorial Trail or the trail to Scoville Point is one of the most beautiful lake trails you can do. The Isle Royale National Park is far less visited than other national parks, but not for any lack in beauty. Located in the middle of Lake Superior, this remote island national park offers a network of trails through dense forests, along rugged coastlines, and past historic sites with more than 160 miles of trails. You can backpack across the park or just go out for a day. The solitude and wildlife-viewing opportunities are unparalleled.

The trail to Scoville Point Loop Trail is one of the best. This 4.7-mile loop trail starts near Rock Harbor, Michigan. It takes about an hour and a half, is easily accessible, and has unbeatable views—plus, you might even see a moose. This lesser-known trail still gets some traffic, but way less than popular trails within more-visited parks. You may see others birding, hiking, or running. The best time to go is May through September. 

The Maze – Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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This wild trail is part of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze is a challenging hike through a labyrinth of sandstone canyons, and the solitude and unique landscapes make this truly a hidden gem. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, the Maze takes an average of three hours to hike and spans 8 miles.

If you embark on the Maze trail, make sure to pack your map; the maze isn’t called the maze for no reason. This trail can also get hot, so bring lots of water. The trail may be less traveled due to its danger, but if you’re up for a challenge, leave your itinerary with the rangers and head on out. 

Secret Canyon Trail – Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Image by Michael DeYoung

Appropriately named, this secret hike is just outside of Sedona on the Navajo Nation and is a less popular alternative to Antelope Canyon. Both Secret Canyon and Antelope Canyon are beautiful slot canyons near Page, Arizona. Why not avoid all the tourists and go for the lesser-known Secret Canyon instead?

The Secret Canyon trail features stunning red rock formations, narrow canyons, and a serene atmosphere—just like Antelope, but without all the crowds. Secret Canyon is a short slot in the middle fork of upper Water Holes Canyon. Enjoy the smooth sandstone curves, mystical slim passageways, and magical vibes. The Secret Canyon trail is a 9.8-mile trail going out and back, and it is considered moderately challenging, typically taking around three hours.

Big Pine Lakes Trail – California

Image by John Gone/500 PX

Located in the gorgeous Eastern Sierras, this trail takes you through a series of glacial lakes surrounded by jagged peaks. The scenery is stunning, and it’s much less crowded than some of the more famous trails in the region.

The Big Pine Lakes Trail is considered a hidden-gem hike for a variety of reasons. Off the radar for many hikers, Big Pine Lakes offers all the stunning landscapes without the crowds, making it a secluded and wonderfully peaceful destination. This trail takes you on a journey through a series of glacial lakes nestled among jagged peaks, striking alpine scenery, and pristine lakes.

The Big Pine Lakes Trail is a 15.4-mile out-and-back trail that takes around 8.5 hours to complete. Go for backpacking, camping, and fishing, and enjoy the glacial lakes peacefully. The best times to visit are May through October.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area – Idaho

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The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (NRA) is full of incredible trails. Known for its jagged peaks and alpine lakes, the Sawtooth NRA offers numerous trails that are often overlooked in favor of more famous destinations in the Rockies. Discover hidden lakes and pristine alpine meadows in this natural paradise. 

Some of the best trails include Fishhook Creek Trail, a 4.5-mile out-and-back trail; Bench Lakes Trail, a 7.8-mile out-and-back trail with 1,240 feet of elevation gain; and Lady Face Falls, a 5.3-mile out-and-back trail popular for snowshoeing. With over 700 miles of trails to explore, there’s ample room to escape into the wilderness and find solitude, either with a backcountry hike or overnight camping. 

Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop –
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Image by Randy Koester

While the Presidential Range gets a lot of attention, the White Mountains have many lesser-known trails that are equally beautiful. The Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop is an 8.6-mile loop trail near Lincoln, New Hampshire. Enjoy the dense forests cascading waterfalls and picturesque alpine meadows without all the crowds. Although the Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail is a more difficult trail, the White Mountains National Forest offers a range of hikes that cater to different skill levels.

Parallel Trail – Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

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This unique trail is only accessible by taking a ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, Georgia. It offers serene hiking along its pristine beaches, maritime forests, and historic sites, including the Dungeness Ruins. The added ferry trip often defers crowds, so hikers that go the extra mile can enjoy its natural beauty relatively undisturbed. The Parallel Trail is a 5.7-mile out-and-back trail taking an average of 4-5 hours.

Explore miles of shoreline and ancient oak trees decorated with Spanish moss and encounter wild horses that roam freely on the island. This special hike provides the chance for trek lovers to glimpse history when they stumble upon the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion, the Carnegie family’s former state, and other historic structures. This well-maintained trail is a wonderful way to explore Georgia’s coast with a touch of Southern charm and heritage.

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