Short trails don’t have to be boring. Nor do you have to forgo the best scenery because you can’t – or don’t want to – hike all day long, miles and miles on end. So I thought I’d put together a list of 11 Amazing Trails of the West that are 1 Mile (or Less) – and that’s round trip!
Really, there are more than 11 trails here…I just couldn’t resist including several trails in a given area if they’re all good and they’re all less than a mile RT! And, FYI, they’re all west of the Mississippi…well, almost all (you’ll see what I mean in a minute).
So here they are…from Minnesota to California, and from Washington state to Colorado, in no particular order.
11 Amazing Trails of the West that are 1 Mile (or Less)
- Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California. At only 0.5 miles RT, this trail offers a tremendous bang for its buck, with a breathtaking view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley far below. Of course, that’s why it’s so popular, so you may have to wait your turn to get a glimpse over the heads of other visitors…but it’s still worth the stroll.
- Huffers Hill (Alpine Ridge Trail), Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. While we’re on the topic of breathtaking trails, it wouldn’t do to leave out the Alpine Ridge Trail, which begins at well over 11,000ft. above sea level and tops out, 400ft. of elevation later, at over 12,000ft. above sea level. Four Hundred Feet in a quarter mile would be breath-intensive at any elevation, but this high…well…take your time! The view over the Never Summer Range and Mummy Range make the 0.5 mile (RT) trail worth the trek!
- Whale Rock, Island in the Sky Unit, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. This 1 mile (RT) trail is just one of those fun hikes that is enjoyable to just about every age segment. After traversing a sandy desert trail, it turns upward across the slickrock to the top of a very wale-shaped rock and views over canyon country. So fun!
- Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Minnesota. Only 0.3 miles RT, the trail to the hypothetical headwaters of the famous Mississippi River is not to be missed. The headwaters itself is pretty impressive, and who doesn’t want to have their picture taken with the sign stating they’ve been to the headwaters, then join arms with their companions to straddle the “mighty” Mississippi?
- Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington. While we’re on the topic of water, how about the Pacific Coast? The Ruby Beach Trail is technically only about 0.1 miles long (each way), but by carefully crossing a stream on stepping stones and walking 0.2 miles further along the beach, you can walk among sea arches and sea stacks and enjoy some of the best of the rugged Olympic coastline.
- Vista Point, Beartooth Highway, Wyoming. Located right on the Montana Boarder, Vista Point offers some of the best official views on the highway. And it really doesn’t matter whether you stroll from the parking lot to the adjacent railing, or take the approximately 0.2 mile trail (each way) to the true viewpoint – both offer outstanding views of the Hellroaring Plateau, Mount Rearguard, the Beartooth Range, and more. And since it’s at the very beginning (or end) of the Beartooth Highway, it’s a great starting or ending place for those who choose to drive the – well, incredible and beautiful are two adjectives – highway!
- Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. Ok, so this can’t really even be classified as a trail, although I believe a marked trail does exist should you choose to use it. But those with a sense of adventure are welcome to leave the trail behind and wander among crazy rock formations, arches, and Utah desert scenery as they traverse the Garden. Could you get lost? Probably. But the Garden isn’t so big as to really worry about that happening if you’ve a good sense of direction. And even if you wander, you’re not likely to hike more than a mile (unless you wander in a lot of circles!)
- Chasm View Trail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. Leave the paved roads of the south rim of the park behind if you want the very best that Black Canyon has to offer. At the end of the (well-maintained) dirt roads is a short loop trail (0.5 miles RT) that will take you to a place where you can look down into the canyon’s depths…some 1,000ft. below you! The views are quite impressive, the canyon walls sheer and jagged, the Gunnison River green and hurrying as it flows through the boulder-strewn canyon bottom…and the viewpoints not for those with vertigo!
- Red Rock Point, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Although not included in the official Yellowstone Park Map, the Red Rock Point Trail (0.5 miles RT) is surely one of the best places on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to view Lower Yellowstone Falls. It’s just far enough away to allow the falls to shine, with an awesome foreground of the canyon. Cool…but be prepared for a fair number of stairs to take you halfway down to the canyon bottom! And also check out nearby Lookout Point for more good views of the falls!
- Caves at Lava Beds National Monument, California. For some reason, Lava Beds National Monument has never really made it to the popularity circle of national monuments and national parks, perhaps because of its remote location and limited attractions. But the attractions that do exist are very worth seeing: there are over 700 lava tube caves in the park, with 17 developed caves easily accessible from a paved “cave loop” road. Ever wanted to explore a cave without sidewalks and guard rails? This is your chance…if you know how not to lose your way! And the best part? Visitors can “rent” free flashlights at the visitor center, so you don’t even have to bring your own batteries!
- Rim Viewpoints on the Hermits Rest Road, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Ok, so I saved my favorite until last. At last count, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 10 times, and each one of those times that I’ve visited the south rim, these viewpoints have been on our itinerary. Most are very short strolls from the bus stops (you have to take a free tram to the viewpoints) but offer breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon. If you don’t do anything else in GCNP, do this!
What is your favorite short trail to stroll or hike?