Incredible mountain vistas at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Arizona

Hiking is one of the best cardio activities, one of the rare few which is enjoyable at the same time as being calorie busting. Getting out on the trail is a great way to work up a sweat while also taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Planning a vacation near a great park can save you money and enable you to enjoy beautiful views which you would otherwise not get to see. While some trails simply offer you the opportunity to enjoy nature, soak in Vitamin D, and get in a quality workout, others offer the added bonus of tremendous scenery.

All of the trails below feature incredible mountain vistas. Consider planning your next vacation near one of these spectacular trails.

1. Slate Mountain Trail

Amazing view of the San Francisco peaks via the Slate Mountain trail near Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 2.4 miles out-and-back. Moderately difficult due to the 800 foot elevation gain and high altitude (starts at 7300 ft)
  • Nearby vacation destination: Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Historic Hotel Weatherford
  • What to do in the vicinity: Check out the local dining & shopping scene in historic downtown Flagstaff

An often overlooked trail in Northern Arizona, hidden about halfway in between the quaint mountain community of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, is the spectacular Slate Mountain trail. This 2.4 mile out-and-back adventure will take you on a high altitude journey to a mesmerizing overlook of the San Francisco Peaks. The highest mountain peaks in Arizona sits at an altitude of 12,000+ feet, and are best viewed in their uninterrupted state via this trail.

The route travels nearly 900 feet in elevation for just over 2 miles. Luckily, the incline is gradual so the hike doesn’t feel nearly as hard as it appears. Once you arrive at the top, you will be happy that you put in the effort. The downhill journey will feel like a breeze. The real benefit of this trail is not solely the scenery, but moreso the rare solitude you will get to experience as you enjoy nature at its finest all to yourself. As this trail is pretty secluded, it is one of the few places in the state where black bears have been sighted.

2. Canyon nature loop at Catalina State Park

View of the tall Arizona Saguaro via the Canyon nature loop at Catalina State Park
  • Trail length & difficulty: 2 mile loop, Pretty easy (add a degree of difficulty if you hike during the super hot summer season).
  • Nearby vacation destination: Oro Valley, Arizona
  • Where to stay: El Conquistador Resort
  • What to do in the vicinity: Hike the Honeybee Canyon trail, Brunch at Hacienda del Sol, Shop for authentic southwestern gifts at Happy Saguaro

Catalina State Park is one of the true gems of Southern Arizona. It’s worth planning a vacation to Tucson solely to enjoy the beauty of the awe-inspiring Saguaro cactus. Catalina features unending views of Arizona’s native cacti, plus the most incredible views of the Santa Catalinas, Tucson’s most grandiose mountain range. Because this park is located in suburban Oro Valley, the park remains pretty quiet, and thus, is a great spot for bird & wildlife watching (don’t be surprised if you see a bobcat roaming about).

While many of the trails here are a bit too arduous for the hot sunny summer season, the Canyon nature loop is short & flat enough to be enjoyed anytime of year. This 2 mile loop features splendid views throughout and is easy enough for casual hikers, yet impressive enough in beauty to please the most avid hikers as well.

3. Brasstown Bald

Scenic views of the Blue Ridge mountains from Brasstown Bald, the highest point of Georgia

Northern Georgia offers a plethora of wonderful hiking trails courtesy of its’ stunning location in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state, can be accessed via a steep half mile trail. From the 4784 foot summit, you will be treated to mesmerizing views of 4 states including Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.

The trail is quite steep going up, although paved, so a bit easier on your joints. No need to hassle with hiking shoes for this one- regular gym shoes should be fine. The intensity will be worth it in the end for the enchanting 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. While the Appalachians are gorgeous anytime of year, they really shine their best during the colorful fall season.

4. Pa’Rus Trail at Zion National Park

The gorgeous Pa'Rus trail at Zion National Park
  • Trail length & difficulty: 3 miles out-and-back, Easy
  • Vacation destination: Springdale, Utah
  • Where to stay: Majestic View Lodge
  • What to do in the vicinity: Take a cruise down the jaw dropping 57 mile long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Explore the cafe & shops of downtown Springdale

Zion National Park is one of the most enchanting parks to add to your Western states travel bucket list. Even the name “Zion” translates to a place of peace in Hebrew. If you love hiking, nature, photography, and wildlife then you need to put Zion near the top of your travel bucket list. The most popular trails in the park are pretty intense. Those looking to start their trip on a more casual note should start with the Pa’Rus. The Pa’Rus trail is one of the easiest trails in the parks, but far from the least scenic.

This 3 mile multi-use trail is shared by hikers and cyclists due to its’ flat terrain. With peaceful views of the Virgin River and breathtaking views of the towering rock formations, there is never a dull view in sight on this trail. Start your visit to Zion off on a high note with this easy picturesque trail conveniently located right next to the visitors center.

5. Outcroppings trail at Chimney Rock State Park

Scenic vista of the Blue Ridge mountains and Lake Lure from Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina
  • Trail length & difficulty: 499 steps (0.40 miles), Fairly strenuous
  • Nearby Vacation destination: Lake Lure
  • Where to stay: Chimney Rock Inn
  • What to do in the vicinity: Take a cruise on Lake Lure, Explore the shops & eateries of Chimney Rock Village

North Carolina offers no shortage of wonderful recreational opportunities. The state is jam packed with beautiful parks, drives, and natural wonders. And hence, there is no shortage of spectacular hiking adventures. Chimney Rock is (rightfully so) one of the state’s most popular tourism draws. The park’s name comes from the 500+ year old monolith which juts out high above the beautiful Hickory Nut Gorge.

A 499 step climb with lead you to the top of this iconic rock outcropping. From here, it is nothing but beautiful nature as far as the eye can see. Gorgeous Lake Lure and the enchanting Blue Ridge mountains make quite a statement. While the staircase climb is quite steep, the views going up do not disappoint for a moment. The entire walk is rewarding with picture-perfect scenery anywhere you look – it’s easy to challenge yourself when the views are so fabulous. Those up for a challenge can connect to various other trails for a longer adventure.

6. Clingmans Dome

Gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains from the Clingman's Dome hike in Gatlinburg, TN

As one of America’s most beautiful parks, the Smokies are a must visit for any nature lovers out there. Most notably, the Smokies are one of the top places in the US to see a black bear roaming about in its’ natural habitat. Chances are you will see a black bear at some point during your trip. As one of America’s only free national parks, it’s no surprise that most Smokies trails are always loaded with people. In fact, parking is often a real hassle. Despite the crowds, hiking the Smokies is always an adventure. The park is free, incredible scenic, and easily accessible to many – is this really a surprise?

Clingmans Dome is one gorgeous trail to consider despite the heavy foot traffic. If beautiful mountain view are what you are after, the hike to Clingmans Dome is about as good as it gets. At 6643 feet, Clingmans is the highest point in the state, and 3rd highest east of the Mississippi. The drive over from Gatlinburg is beautiful in and of itself. The half mile trek to the overlook is steep and scenic. Once you arrive, you will get to gaze upon the lovely mountain views before completing the relaxing downward trek back.

7. Brins Mesa trail

Amazing overlook of the red rocks along the Brins Mesa trail in Sedona, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 1.5 miles out-and-back, Moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Sedona, Arizona
  • Where to stay: The Inn Above Oak Creek
  • What to do in the vicinity: Explore the shops, galleries, & restaurants of Uptown Sedona.

Brins Mesa is one incredible trail to put high on your Sedona to-do list. As one of Sedona’s easier and most beautiful trails, Brins Mesa is an easy addition to any hiker’s bucket list. Views of the tremendous red rocks seem to go on forever on this trail. Lots of great wide open picture-perfect vistas of Sedona’s unusual red rock formations can be enjoyed via this trail. The hike is about 3 miles in total, with the option to connect with the equally scenic Soldiers Pass trail for a 5 mile loop.

This one is fairly crowded during the busy summer season. Also, while the red rock views are beyond amazing, this one does not see much shade. And thus, this trail is better suited for the cooler/less crowded fall and winter season. You can really relax on this one during the off season as you admire the enchanting scenery in an isolated setting. As you gaze out upon the otherworldly rock formations, it’s easy to let all your cares drift away.

8. Dripping Springs Trail

Incredible views of the Organ mountains via the Dripping Springs trail in Las Cruces, NM
  • Trail length & Difficulty: 1.5 miles out-and-back, Moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Where to stay: Hotel Encato de Las Cruces
  • What to do in the vicinity: Explore the Zuhl museum (spotlighting petrified wood), Visit White Sands National Monument

The 9000+ foot Organ mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the lovely high altitude Southwestern town of Las Cruces. The mountains were named as so for their spires which resemble organ pipes. Although there are lots of awe-inspiring sights in this area, nothing compares to Dripping Springs natural area. This area features incredible vistas of these mountains, plus the opportunity to observe rare desert plants & wildlife. As you leisurely complete this 1.5 mile trail, you will be surrounded by diverse desert vegetation which includes oak woodlands, pinon-juniper, and desert scrub.

Desert mule deer and coyote are often sighted, and on the rare occasion hikers have observed a mountain lion in the distance! The mountain scenery is just fabulous throughout – really you do not get to see views like this all too often. On an interesting historical note, an old sanitorium is located near the end of the trail. In the late 19th century, tuberculosis patients were often sent to high altitude areas to treat this devastating lung disease. Like many historical area with a sad backstory, ghosts are said to frequent this area.

9. Nate Avery trail

Gorgeous views of the San Francisco Peaks from the Nate Avery loop at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Trail length & Difficulty: 2 mile loop, Easy (moderate if you are not adjusted to the altitude)
  • Nearby vacation destination: Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Monte Vista Hotel
  • What to do in the vicinity: Grab lunch at Salsa Brava, an amazing local Mexican restaurant featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives

Flagstaff’s favorite recreational hotspot features a wide expanse of open space with an attractive mountain backdrop. The Nate Avery trail, also known as the Buffalo Park loop, is a beautiful 2 mile long trail which meanders around the ancient McMillan Mesa lava flow.

From here, wonderful wide open views of Mt Elden and the San Francisco Peak create a picture-perfect setting. While the views are not as stunning as those found at Slate Mountain, this hike is easy and enjoyable, not to mention conveniently located within the city limits. This trail is great anytime of the year. Cross country skiing is a blast with the 100+ inches of snow the city sees each season, while bike riding and hiking amongst the summer wildflowers & lush greenery really cannot be beat.

10. Eagle’s Nest Loop at Red Rock State Park

Beautiful scenery at Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 2 mile loop, Easy
  • Nearby vacation destination: Sedona, Arizona
  • Where to stay: The Inn Above Oak Creek
  • What to do in the vicinity: Take a look at this list of 29 must-dos in Sedona

Red Rock State Park is an amazing place to begin your Sedona adventure. This park is home to a great visitors center, numerous nature programs, and most importantly, an abundance of easy trails for the beginner. The Eagle’s Nest Loop trail is short on the distance, but definitely not short on the views. The red rock scenery vistas via this simple trail rivals the best in the entire area. Best of all, the park never gets too crowded as most tourists head to more popular destinations like Devil’s Bridge and Little Horse.

It would be a mistake to pass up on the beauty of this well-maintained park. While you are here consider signing up for one of their guided nature or birdwatching hikes. You will get to enjoy the scenery while also learning more about the local habitat.

11. Hidden Canyon Bowen trail

Terrific mountain and cacti scenery along the Bowen Hidden Canyon Trail in Tucson, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 2 mile loop, Easy
  • Nearby vacation destination: Tucson, Arizona
  • Where to stay: JW Marriott Resort at Starr Pass
  • What to do in the vicinity: Treat yourself to breakfast tacos at Seis, Hike Tumamoc Hill, Explore the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Tucson is one of the most gorgeous vacation destinations of the Southwest, although unfortunately often overlooked in favor of Phoenix. Much rustic land still exists within the Tucson metro, with miles and miles of cacti studded hiking trails for all to enjoy. Four spectacular mountain ranges surround the city. The Hidden Canyon trail is tucked away behind the JW Marriott at Starr Pass resort and does not see much traffic, which is crazy considering the immense beauty found here.

The quiet beauty of this trail is really unparalleled, even in an area bustling at the seams with terrific scenery. The loop is just 2 miles long and relatively easy with no major elevation gain. You will see more Saguaro here than you could possibly ever imagine. Even better are the fabulous vistas of the Tucson mountain range which are always in the background. Keep a keen eye out for wildlife – deer, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion can be seen roaming about near dawn and dusk.

12. Watchman trail

Gorgeous views from the Watchman trail overlook at Zion National Park in Utah
  • Trail length & difficulty: 3 mile loop, Easy/moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Zion National Park
  • Where to stay: Majestic View Lodge
  • What to do in the vicinity: Hike to the gorgeous Upper Emerald Pools

The Watchman is one of a number of relatively easy must-do trails at Zion National Park. This one is fairy short and no more than moderate in intensity, and thus, is a must for anyone visiting Zion. The 3 mile trail travels up about 300 feet in elevation with grandiose viewpoints overlooking Zion’s magnificent rock formations. Surprisingly, this trail is usually pretty quiet in comparison with the uber popular Emerald Pools trail.

Set out early in the morning and you may just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of deer running in the mountains. This trail is peaceful, scenic, and a hotspot for wildlife sightings – one of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in Zion.

13. Linville Falls

Incredible views from the Linville Falls trail in Western North Carolina
  • Trail length & difficulty: 1.5 mile loop, Moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Asheville, North Carolina
  • Where to stay: Omni Park Grove Inn
  • What to do in the vicinity: Drive the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, Explore downtown Asheville’s amazing foodie scene

Western North Carolina is loaded with all sorts of incredible waterfalls. One of the most popular, due to its’ easily accessibility via the Blue Ridge Parkway, is Linville Falls. Not only does this trail offer a stunning vista of the multi tiered 90 foot waterfall, but you wall also get to enjoy sweeping views of the mountains. The Linville Gorge wilderness areas, at 11,786 acres, is one of the largest wilderness areas in the state. This region is sometimes referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the East.”

The hike to see the falls is a little over 1.5 miles in total, although relatively steep in several sections. Although North Carolina’s Blue Ridge region is loaded with fabulous hikes, Linville Falls is one of the best bang-for-your-buck options for those limited on time.

14. Gateway trail at Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Gorgeous mountain scenery at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 4 mile loop, Easy
  • Nearby vacation destination: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
  • What to do in the vicinity: Explore the galleries and shops of downtown Scottsdale, Shop at Kierland Commons

One of my favorite places to hike in the entire Phoenix metro is the McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale. Although the region has no shortage of spectacular hiking options, this park offers the advantage of being quiet, incredibly scenic, and located far away from the hustle and bustle. There are so many diverse trails within this massive hiking system, that one could never complete them all.

One of the best trail options for new tourists begins at the Gateway trailhead. The Gateway trail is only 4 miles long and reasonably flat compared to others in the area. The trek is loaded with both fabulous cacti and mountain views. Picture-perfect desert scenery and well-marked easy trails are incorporated into a fabulous trail system atone of the best parks in the Phoenix metro.

15. Pinnacle Peak trail

Gorgeous views of The Valley via the Pinnacle Peak trail in Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 1.7 miles out-and-back, Moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Scottsdale Fairmont Princess
  • What to do in the vicinity: Odysea Aquarium, Breakfast at Butter’s Pancake House

Scottsdale is such a wonderful tourist destination. From museums, to Southwestern restaurants, to massive malls, to wonderful hiking, there’s something here for everyone. As far as hiking goes, you can’t visit without completing the wonderful Pinnacle Peak trail. While this hike is quite intense due to the steep uphill nature, you are rewarded with the most mesmerizing panorama of the area in return for your effort.

Be ready for a moderately challenging 3 mile workout with a total elevation gain of over 1000 feet. Also be ready for an exciting adventure filled with endless incredible overlooks of the entire valley.

16. Tumamoc Hill

Gorgeous sunrise hike up the Tumamoc Hill trail in Tucson, Arizona
  • Trail length & Difficulty: 1.5 miles out-and-back, Moderate/intense
  • Nearby vacation destination: Tucson, Arizona
  • Where to stay: JW Marriott at Starr Pass
  • What to do in the vicinity: Drive up “A” mountain, Enjoy an authentic Mexican meal at La Cocina, D & D Pinball

The steep, yet rewarding hike up Tumamoc Hill is a must-do for any fitness enthusiasts visiting Tucson. Hiking Tumanoc at sunrise is an experience you will never forget. Amazing city views, up close views of cacti, a great workout…and it’s all free! Set your alarm super early and join the locals in an energizing climb up this 800 foot hill. Along the way, you will take in a magnificent overlook of the entire region. A diverse assortment of cacti line the sides of this paved trail.

Once you finally reach the top, take a seat, relax, and enjoy the incredible mountain scenery. It is a challenge for sure, although one that is much worth the effort. Afterwards treat yourself to some delicious breakfast tacos at Seis, one of the city’s favorite foodie destinations.

17. The Nature trail at Madera Canyon

Scenic mountain views along the Nature trail at Madera Canyon in Southern Arizona
  • Trail length & difficulty: 1.8 miles out-and-back, Easy
  • Nearby vacation destination: Tubac, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Tubac Secret Garden Inn
  • What to do in the vicinity: Explore the wonderful galleries & gift shops of Tubac, a southwestern city “where art and history meet”

There are easily enough interesting hikes in Tucson to keep you busy your entire trip. However, if you do feel like exploring a bit, Madera Canyon is an overlooked gem worthy of a daytrip. Located about 30 minutes south of Tucson, this beautiful canyon is nestled in the Santa Rita mountains. In addition to pristine mountain scenery, Madera is a hotspot for birdwatching. To date, more than 200 species have been identified here. If you love hummingbirds, this is the place for you as over a dozen species reside here.

Madera sits at a higher elevation than Tucson (4911 feet vs. 2389 ft), and thus, the scenery is pretty diverse. Trails cross through a variety of habitats including pine forest, juniper-oak woodlands, and riparian forest. The nature trail is a great place to start your visit. At just under 4 miles RT, the nature trail is short enough to not wear you out, yet still long enough to give you time to appreciate the scenery, soak in some desert sunshine, and reap the benefits of a great cardio workout.

18. Raven Cliff Falls trail at Caesars Head State Park

Gorgeous mountain scenery at Caesar's Head State Park in Upstate SC
  • Trail length & difficulty: 2.2 miles out-and-back
  • Nearby vacation destination: Greenville, South Carolina
  • Where to stay: Hyatt Regency downtown Greenville
  • What to do in the vicinity: Explore the shops, restaurants, & galleries of downtown Greenville, Take a stroll around Falls Park

While most people have heard of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain region of Western North Carolina, few are aware of the beauty of nearby Upstate South Carolina. This portion of the state is home to so many incredible hiking trails, state parks, and waterfalls. Caesars Head State Park is one of the most impressive parks of the Upstate, especially during the colorful autumn season.

The Raven Cliff Falls trail is a semi-challenging 2 mile trek to one of the largest waterfalls in the state. The trek is woody with lots of unique plant life to enjoy along the way. At the end, you are treated to a wonderful overlook of the mountains, as well as the stunning 300+ foot waterfall. If you find yourself vacationing to nearby Greenville (the newest hotspot of the South), consider planning a daytrip to this Carolina gem.

19. Treasure Falls

Amazing views of the San Juan wilderness via the Treasure Falls hike in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
  • Trail length & difficulty: 0.5 miles out-and-back, Moderate
  • Nearby vacation destination: Pagosa Springs
  • Where to stay: Elk Trace Bed & Breakfast
  • What to do in the vicinity: Soak in the natural mineral infused waters of the world’s deepest hot spring

The hike to the incredible Treasure Falls waterfall is a must-do while visiting Pagosa Springs. While the hot springs tends to get most of the attention, hiking is pretty fabulous in this area too due to the massive San Juan National Wilderness.

A half mile (relatively steep) hikes leads you to this mesmerizing 105 foot tall waterfall wonder. Along the way, fantastic views of the San Juan mountains motivate you to complete the steep journey. Really, there are not that many places where you can see such a stunning waterfall via such little effort. The history behind the name of the falls involves a local legend about gold being hidden in the area. If you are not up for the challenge, you can get a pretty good glimpse of the falls via the road.

20. Aspen Nature Loop

  • Trail length & difficulty: 1.7 mile loop, Easy/mod (high altitude)
  • Nearby vacation destination: Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Where to stay: Arizona Mountain Inn & Cabins
  • What to do in the vicinity: Take a chairlift ride at Arizona Snowbowl

The Aspen Nature Loop is one of 3 fantastic trails located at Arizona Snowbowl. The state’s most popular ski resort transforms into a popular hiking destination as soon as spring rolls around. The Aspen Nature Loop is the easiest and most scenic of the 3. Gorgeous mountain views – check. Amazing fall foliage – check. Never overly crowded – check.

If you are seeking fabulous scenery without putting in much effort, this is hands down the best trail in the Flagstaff area for you. The loop is just under 2 miles and features little elevation gain. However, you must be prepared for the high altitude. Check out these helpful tips to prevent altitude sickness.