Selfie stick not required
Every trail provides something memorable, but it’s that little something extra that keeps us chasing summits: unadulterated, bird’s eye views. Difficult terrain, dangerous ridges, and unreliable footing are immediately forgotten once you reach these vistas. So grab your boots and camera and get ready to bag some of the most photogenic peaks in the U.S.
Mt. Storm King Trail: Olympic National Park
Short and oh-so-pretty, Mt. Storm King Trail's taxing, continuous uphill climb is not for the weak of heart. With an average incline of 24 percent (it maxes out at a whopping 49 percent), it’s a tricky trail. "This trail is steep," says Hiking Project contributor Josh Sutcliffe. "So steep you'll need to use a rope to get to the top, but it's worth it."
Your reward for huffing and puffing up the trail? The scary scramble leads to a vista overlooking pine trees, Pyramid Peak, and the clear, blue water of Crescent Lake.
Kalalau Trail: Ha’ena State Park
Kalalau Trail is as beautiful as it is treacherous. Hiking along the Na Pali coast, the 19-plus-mile trail weaves through five valleys, over tiny footpaths, and past remote beaches. The trail gets more dangerous as you move along; expect to encounter sketchy footing, exhausting switchbacks, and teetering ridges. But you'll feel like you're walking around in a postcard as you pass through the lush, green vegetation and several waterfalls. "The Kalalau Trail, part of the famous Nāpali coastline, offers some of the best views on the planet," says Hiking Project contributor Ryan Pett.
But remember: safety first. Avoid swimming on this hike, as surrounding waters have incredibly strong currents. Plus, keep an eye on the weather—this trail is notorious for flash floods.
Tolmie Peak: Mount Rainier National Park
In 1833, Dr. William Tolmie, for whom this mountain is named, sailed from London to Fort Vancouver. When he spotted the peak, he visited the mountain's surrounding area to collect herbs for making medicine.
The 5.6-mile trail is accessible and family-friendly. Several switchbacks, lush forests, and avalanche lillies, lupine, and bear grass keep the trail interesting as you work your way to the summit. You'll know you've reached the best seat in the house when you spot the old, wooden fire lookout at the peak. From the top of Tolmie Peak, it's easy to see what drew Dr. Tolmie to the area. Look out over an array of crystal-clear lakes framing the base of Mt. Rainer.
Clouds Rest Viewpoint Trail: Yosemite National Park
Welcome to the best view in Yosemite. Despite its length and relative difficulty (we're talking a max grade of 49 percent incline), the trail remains popular, thanks to the unobstructed views of some of the National Park Service's most iconic landmarks. Lupine, lily, lodgepole pine, and hemlock will keep you company as you make your way through meadows and up a series of steep switchbacks. The stretch of trail immediately leading up to the peak is narrow with sizable drop-offs on each side. Brace yourself for a razor-edge ridge as you reach the trail's highest point. At the summit, you'll get a 360-degree view that spans over some of Yosemite's greatest hits: Half Dome, Glacier Point, Mt. Watkins, and North Dome. "Incredibly stupendous side-on views of Half Dome are the highlight of this hike," says Hiking Project contributor Megan W.
Devil’s Lake Loop: Devil’s Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake Loop doesn’t have the highest summit, but it’s one of Wisconsin’s signature hikes for good reason. Rounding Devil’s Lake, you’ll get an expansive view of the entire state park, which is especially rewarding (and colorful) during the fall months. The quartzite cliffs lining the trail showcase the area’s unique geological history—look for Devil's Doorway and Balanced Rock on the East Bluff Trail. Scrambling is necessary in some areas, but overall the trail is more steep than technical.
Chisos Mountain Loop: Big Bend National Park
Everything’s bigger in Texas—including the summit views. Chisos Mountain Loop is a major undertaking, covering over 16 miles of desert. It’s hot and strenuous, so bring plenty of water. (You'll need roughly one gallon per person per day.) The trail isn’t heavily trafficked, so you may encounter deer, snakes, and other wildlife. From rolling hills and forests to harsh desert and steep cliffs, this trail has it all. At the highest point (nearly 7,800 feet), revel in the expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert and the striking canyon views.
Mt. Tammany Summit: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Mt. Tammany is an area classic: challenging and beautiful. At 1,500 feet, the summit surely isn’t the highest out there, but the viewpoint is incredible, offering panoramic vistas of the Delaware Water Gap and Mt. Minsi. Although the footing is generally reliable, the trail is not welcoming to beginners, as it is steep and rocky. On your way up, you’ll pass small waterfalls and make your way through a dense forest. Mt. Tammany Summit is gorgeous year-round, but the prime time to hike it? The cool and colorful fall months.
Munra Point Trail: Columbia River Gorge
Although not incredibly long, Munra Point trail is a steep one. The first couple miles are mellow and cross two streams, but it's all uphill from there. Pack your grippiest shoes; the natural trail is not well-maintained, so things can get a little dicey. The high ridges of Munra Point Trail are flanked by steep drop-offs, and falls have resulted in death. Near the summit you’ll find a rope to help you reach the top, where you’ll be rewarded with views of the Columbia River Gorge and across the boarder into Washington state. Bonus: Veer slightly east after your first bend at the beginning and you'll spot the 289-foot Elowah Falls.