You can pack a lot into five miles — we’ve found slot canyons, redwoods, caving, 100-year-old via ferrate, sand dunes, summits, just to name a few. Sometimes you don’t need to hammer out 10 miles, or a full day, or really even get too fa...
You can pack a lot into five miles — we’ve found slot canyons, redwoods, caving, 100-year-old via ferrate, sand dunes, summits, just to name a few. Sometimes you don’t need to hammer out 10 miles, or a full day, or really even get too far from your car to see the good stuff (or completely destroy your legs). Coast to coast, here are our picks for the best hikes under five miles (in no particular order):
1. Ding and Dang Canyon Loop, San Rafael Swell, Utah
A step above “entry level” as far as canyoneering in the San Rafael Swell is concerned, Ding and Dang canyons form a loop cutting through the sandstone reef, its undulating walls closing down to as narrow as a foot wide in spots, but as high as a couple hundred feet. Depending on the level of the sediment on the floor at different spots in the canyon, a rope can be handy for climbing or descending some of the tricky scrambling spots.
2. The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
Driving east along the Virgin River through Zion National Park, the canyon walls become steeper, higher and more dramatic until you reach the last parking lot, at the Temple of Sinawava trailhead at the back of the canyon. If you have water shoes and sturdy trekking poles or a hiking staff, the adventure starts where the trail ends — walking the riverbed back into the canyon between the skyscraper-tall walls (photo, above). Of course, the canyon is quite a bit longer than 2.5 miles, but you can get a couple miles in and turn around for a dose of hiking like nothing else in the United States.
3. Tall Trees Trail, Redwoods National Park, California
Entrance to the 3.7-mile Tall Trees Trail is controlled by the Park Service and requires registration to get one of the only 50 first-come, first-served hiking permits issued each day. But then you’ll get a chance to walk around, and even into, some of the enormous redwood trees in the park, some as tall as 360 feet and 12 feet diameter.
4. Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine
In 1912, Rudolph Brunnow looked at the the sheer granite cliffs on Champlain Mountain in what is now Acadia National Park and went to work, drilling holes and installing iron rungs for passage up and across the peak’s east face. One of the most famous hikes in the park today, the Precipice Trail climbs 1,000 feet over 1.6 miles and ends at the summit, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Wild Cave Tour, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
OK, it’s not so much a hike as it is guided spelunking in Mammoth Cave — walking, crawling, squeezing through tight spots underground. You’ll be given coveralls to wear (to help minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in the eastern U.S.), as well as a hardhat, gloves, and headlamp for the four-hour tour through variable subterranean terrain.
6. Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
“Sand” isn’t the first answer most people say to word-association tests about Colorado, but the Great Sand Dunes are the tallest sand dunes in North America, sitting at the foot of 14,000-foot peaks at the south end of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Star Dune isn’t actually the tallest dune in the park, but it looks like it, and the sand-slog to its 650-foot “summit” takes most folks one to two hours.
7. Piestewa Peak, Phoenix, Arizona
Not many cities have mountains shooting 1,500-plus feet above their streets, but Phoenix has plenty, including the uber-popular Camelback and nearby Piestewa (formerly Squaw) Peak. Both are great urban hikes, but Piestewa has a fun bit of scrambling near the top and an equally commanding view of the valley below. It’s a crusher, though, gaining 1,200-plus vertical feet in 1.2 miles.
8. Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California
This hike up the Mist Trail gains 1,000 feet up to one of Yosemite’s biggest and most famous waterfalls — the Merced River spills over the booming, 317-foot-tall Vernal Fall at the 1.5-mile mark. Be careful on the rock steps, which are often covered in the n