The best hikes with scenic water views

Hiking is a wonderful way to explore the natural flora and fauna of a new area, birdwatch, get in some exercise and sunshine, and enjoy some fantastic scenery. Featured below are 15 wonderful easy-moderate hikes, each featuring a beautiful vista of a creek, lake, the coast, or any other body of water. A scenic water viewpoint can make an already fabulous hike even more mesmerizing. Below I have featured 15 incredible hikes which all feature scenic water views.

Also be sure to check out my best waterfront bike paths post. Note: this list does not include mesmerizing waterfalls (they deserve their own page!), so please check out my post featuring 20 fabulous bucket list waterfalls!

1. Outcroppings trail at Chimney Rock State Park

Location: Western North Carolina

Incredible views of the Blue Ridge region from the Chimney Rock overlook in North Carolina

Upstate South Carolina is a gorgeous area to hike and explore nature. This mountainous region in the majestic Blue Ridge foothills is home to many beautiful waterfalls and state parks. Chimney Rock is a very popular tourist destination for good reason. Although admission is quite pricey at $17pp, the trails are gorgeous and well-maintained. The park is named after a 535 million year old granite rock named “Chimney” for its’ unique shape. The iconic 494 step Outcroppings trail, also known as “the Ultimate Stairmaster,” features incredible viewpoints of the Hickory Nut Gorge as well as Lake Lure, another popular tourist destination where you can take a narrated boat ride and explore Dirty Dancing filming locations. Another must-do at the state park is hiking to 404 foot tall Hickory Nut Falls, the 2nd tallest waterfall in the state.

2. Vikingsholm trail at Emerald Bay State Park

Location: South Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay State Park in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is easily one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the country. If you love nature, hiking, skiing, boating, mountain scenery, and/or lakes, then you should add this gem to your vacation bucket list. Beautiful Emerald Bay State park is located just 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe and it’s a must visit for any hikers looking to enjoy the best-of-the-best Tahoe has to offer. The relatively easy 1.7 mile long Vikingsholm trail is a great place to start your adventure. The trail begins at a stone overlook area on Hwy 89 and begins a downhill descent to Vikingsholm Castle (tours available 7 days a week). Fabulous views of Lake Tahoe, “One of the purest lakes in the world” throughout. If you are up for a more intense & exciting adventure, consider hiking the popular (but difficult) Rubicon trail which connects to DL Bliss State Park.

3. Ocean View Loop at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Middletown, Rhode Island

Beautiful views at Sachuest Point Willdlife Refuge near Newport, RI

One of the often overlooked gems in Rhode Island is Sachuest Point, the most beautiful of 5 natural wildlife refuges in the state. This nature oasis is located just outside of Newport, so a great add on activity after exploring the Mansions, Cliffwalk, or the gorgeous beaches in the area. If you are looking for something free to do in the area, save yourself some money, hassle, and avoid the crowds and commotion in favor of a relaxing and picturesque hike at Sachuest. The 1.5 mile long Ocean Loop trail features relaxing views of fresh and saltwater marshes and Sachuest Bay, plus ample opportunities for bird watching, photography, and wildlife watching. After your hike, relax at Sachuest (Second) Beach – one of the best in the Newport region.

4. Mt. Battie trail at Camden Hill State Park

Location: Camden, Maine

Gorgeous views via the Mt. Battie trail at Camden Hills State Park in Maine

Camden, “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea,” is one of the most gorgeous places on the coast of Maine, and possibly New England. The quiet seaside community offers plenty in the way of recreation. Camden Hills State Park is the gem of the region. The challenging, yet short Mt. Battie summit hike offers 360 degree panoramic views of Camden and Penobscot Bay. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt. Washington. A picture-perfect postcard view if ever there was one. Alternatively, you can opt to drive up Mt. Battie road, however, you would be missing out on a scenic and gorgeous natural adventure! After a tiresome day hiking, take a stroll around downtown Camden, home to many shops and restaurants (Camden Deli serves delicious food and offers scenic waterfront dining!).

5. East head loop trail at Myles Standish State Forest

Location: Carver, Massachusetts

Beautiful fall scenery at Myles Standish STate Forest in Massachusetts

Myles Standish State Forest is the oasis of the Southeast Massachusetts. This beautiful, large (13,000 acre), quiet forest is the place to hike, horseback ride, bike, and enjoy photography and wildlife in southeast Massachusetts. It’s the largest recreation area in the region and easily accessible from many nearby tourist destinations like Plymouth and Cape Cod. The 2.6 mile East Head trail features relaxing views of the East Head reservoir. The hike meanders through dense pine and spruce forest and is rarely crowded. It’s a wonderful place to get lost in nature for an hour or 2. Fall is the best time to visit as the temps are perfect, the foliage brilliant, and the crowds basically non existent. After hiking, check out nearby Plymouth, home to historical attractions, whale watching, and many local shops and restaurants.

6. Los Liones trail at Topanga State Park

Location: Los Angeles, California

Los Liones trail at Topanga State Park in Los Angeles

Coastal hiking is a free and healthy activity to add to your Southern California bucket list. While most tourists head to the busy beaches and Hollywood attractions, you can escape the crowds in exchange for a relaxing trek into nature. The Santa Monica mountains offer endless opportunity to explore the natural landscapes around L.A. Topanga Canyon State Park features 76 miles of trails and is referred to as “the largest state park within a city limit in the US.” The Los Liones trail features stunning views of the coast and mountains. It’s free to visit, so a must-do for anyone seeking a fun, healthy, and budget friendly L.A. activity. Simply go out to the first overlook (Fire Rd) for a moderate 1.5 mile hike or challenge yourself to the full 7 mile trek to Parker Mesa overlook (difficult, but the views keep getting better!).

7. West Fork Trail in the Coconino National Forest

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Creek along the quaint West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona

Featuring a fascinating array of incredible 250+ million year old colorful red rock formations, Sedona is one of the most incredible destinations for hikers and nature lovers. Beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, running a 14 mile course from Flagstaff to Sedona, is one of the most scenic drives in the entire country. Along the route lies the most popular hiking trail in the Coconino National Forest, the West Fork Trail. This trail is geographically different than the jaw dropping red rock trails found throughout the region as it features gorgeous views of perennial Oak Creek and 13 fun creek crossings. Plenty of dense trees to meander through (providing lots of shade) which turn brilliant shades of orange and red during the fall season. Due to the immense beauty, Oak Creek Canyon is often considered to be “the smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon.”

8. Guy Fleming trail at Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve

Location: San Diego, California

Torrey Pines preserve in San Diego, California

San Diego’s best attraction (outside of the gorgeous beaches) is Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve, home to 2000 acres of uninterrupted coastal state park. Enjoy one of several short and scenic trails or take a walk along a beautiful quiet beach. While you could easily hike several trails here (all are relatively short and easy), the scenic ~ 1 mile Guy Fleming trail is a great place to start. Along with taking in magnificent views of the California coast, you will also get to explore local desert cacti and plant life and wildflowers. Frequently sighted mammals include cottontail rabbits and California Ground Squirrel, although mule deer, coyote, and gray fox are sometimes seen. After hiking, enjoy a long walk, swim, or surf at the wide & sandy Torrey Pines State Beach.

9. Linville Falls trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: Western North Carolina

Views of the Linville River on the Blue Ridge Parkway

This beautiful waterfall hike is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive.” With over 14 million visitors per year, it’s America’s most visited national park site. Linville Falls is one of the most incredible waterfalls on the Parkway and it is easily accessible from major tourist destinations like Asheville, Greenville, and the Smoky Mountains. The hike is 1.5 miles round-trip, moderate in intensity with several steep hills, and features 4 incredible viewpoints. Not only will you take in gorgeous views of the Linville Gorge and the Upper and Lower Falls (totalling 150 feet), but you will also enjoy a fabulous viewpoint of the Linville River. Be sure to plan this beauty during the peak of fall as the hemlock forest contrasts beautifully with the vivid foliage of the oak, birch, and hickory trees.

10. Cliffwalk

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

40 stone steps on Cliffwalk in Newport, Rhode Island

The historic Newport Mansions draw tourists from all over the country, but few tourists know about Cliffwalk, a dazzling 3.5 mile walk along the Newport coastline. The walk is free, features amazing views of Narragansett Bay and the mansions, and is an excellent destination for birdwatching. The best time to visit is during the fall when summer tourist crowds have finally died down. Get in some exercise and enjoy exterior views of iconic Mansions like The Breakers – this walk is a great budget friendly alternative for anyone who doesn’t want to pay for a pricey mansion tour. Bonus – there is a great beach (Easton’s) adjacent to the start. After your hike, take a relaxing harbor cruise or enjoy a shopping and dining adventure through historic Thames Street.

11. Starved Rock & Sandstone trail at Starved Rock State Park

Location: Oglesby, Illinois

Views of the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock is the natural oasis of Illinois – the best place to hike, horseback ride, bike, birdwatch, and enjoy nature. If you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago or the suburbs for a few hours, Starved Rock is a great place to do so. The park is most well known for its’ 18 canyons which feature walls of moss covered St. Peter sandstone. The sandstone was formed via glacial meltwaters that cut through the sandstone. During the rainy spring season, you will be able to see up to 14 waterfalls in the canyons. With 13 miles of trails, you can make hiking at Starved Rock an hour or all day adventure. Start with the 4.5 mile Starved Rock and Sandstone Point trail featuring gorgeous views of the Illinois River.

12. Watchman Trail at Zion National Park

Location: Springdale, Utah

Peaceful views of the Virgin River via the Watchman trail at Zion National Park in Utah

Utah is home to several incredible national parks. Zion, which translates into “place of Peace” in Hebrew is one of the standouts. Featuring miles of incredible hiking trails, scenic drives, and biking paths with views of towering red rocks and the Virgin River, Zion truly is a perfect vacation destination for photographers and nature lovers. Early summer is the best time to plan your visit as the temps are comfortable and free shuttles are running. Start off with a moderate hike along the Watchman trail, a 3 mile RT adventure featuring a moderate 400 feet in elevation gain. Great views of the Watchman sandstone mountain (summit 6545 ft), the Virgin River, and Zion Valley along the route.

Another great beginners trail which starts from the visitor’s center is the Pa’Rus trail (also great for biking), a 3 mile gem featuring enchanting views of the red/white rock formations and river.

Serene views of the Virgin river along the Pa'Rus trail at Zion National Park in Utah

13. South Kalibab trail at Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Northern Arizona

Views of the Colorado River via the South Kalibab trail at the Grand Canyon South Rim

Enjoy a Grand Canyon adventure of a lifetime with a hike along the mesmerizing South Kalibab trail. This breathtaking trail takes you on a picturesque & exciting journey through the heart of the canyon with fabulous views throughout. While most visitors simply view the canyon via the many overlooks, hiking the canyon is a magnificent adventure worth putting on your bucket list, even moreso if you are a photographer or avid hiker. There are many different stopping points, so this is a great one for all skill levels. Although steep and quite difficult, the trek to Skeleton Point rewards with a fabulous viewpoint of the Colorado river at the end. This trail is quiet, peaceful, and one of the most scenic in Northern Arizona (no small feat in an area loaded with natural beauty!). For those looking to take it easier on vacation (understandably!) consider a guided mule tour.

14. Boardwalk trail Weedon Island Preserve

Location: St. Petersburg, Florida

Views of Tampa Bay from Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, FL

Escape the hustle and bustle of St. Pete beach crowds in favor of a relaxing hike at Weedon Island Preserve. This St. Petersburg gem truly is a natural oasis is a bustling tourist area. Here you will be able to explore local plant life which includes red mangroves, black mangroves, and white mangroves. Other ecosystems include pine flatwoods and xeric hammocks. Small mammals often make appearances including the armadillo and gopher tortoise. You may seen an alligator or 2 and birdwatching is always exciting. Climb the 45 foot observation tower for a breathtaking view of the preserve and Tampa Bay.

15. Watson Lake Loop

Location: Prescott, Arizona

Gorgeous Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona

Watson is the largest lake of 3 incredible bodies of water in Prescott, a charming small city located just 2 hours north of Phoenix. Prescott enjoys a mild 4 season climate, meaning it is a great escape for desert dwellers during the hot spring and summer months. The lake is open all year for hiking, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The ~5 mile Watson Lake Loop is a scenic course offering excellent views of both the lake and the Granite dells. These stunning 1400 million year old rock formations really jut out dramatically amongst the lake scenery. If you are up for a long cardio workout, connect to the Peavine trail, a gorgeous 6 mile path which follows the former route of the Santa Fe Railway. After a great workout, check out local restaurants, historic Whiskey Row, and boutique shops in downtown Prescott.