It’s almost summer, which means it’s the perfect time to get out and explore the National Parks! I know not everyone has the time or unlimited vacation hours for some of the National Parks longer hikes, so I made a list of our favorite National Park hikes that are short, but still absolutely STUNNING. Every National Park trail on the list below is 1 mile or less. They are great for beginner hikers or hiking groups of all ages. They are even perfect for the day after a big hike, when you are trying to give your tired legs a little rest😊 I hope you enjoy these trails as much as we did!
*If you are looking for more hikes at any of the parks below, just click on the park name for a full itinerary of that specific park!*
#1 Double Arch Trail
The hike to Double Arch is an easy 0.8 miles roundtrip made up of flat, packed sand. This trail is full of stunning views the whole way to the arch and our kiddos loved finding all of the “animals” in the rock formations. On the way to Double Arch, the Parade of Elephants will be on your left (west side of trail). Fun Fact: Double Arch is the tallest arch and second largest arch in the park. It is truly an impressive sight and one you won’t want to miss when visiting Arches National Park!
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Take the connector trail to check out the Windows and Turret Arch. If you complete the entire primitive trail loop, it will add another easy 1.2 miles roundtrip onto the hike.
#2 Sprague Lake Trail
This loop trail is 0.8 miles roundtrip and one I highly suggest taking in the evening. If you are looking for the perfect spot to see wildlife, then this is your hike! If you visit just as the sun is starting to make its way down, you will often find a moose enjoying a snack in the grassy waters near the boardwalk.
The trail is flat, easy, and both wheelchair and stroller accessible. We had no trouble finding parking in the evening. However, if you are visiting during the day, I would recommend the park and drive shuttle. Before 6 pm this area of the park will also require a timed entry pass (for Bear Corridor), in addition to a park pass.
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Head down the road to Bear Lake and walk the 0.6-mile loop trail around another beautiful lake😊
#3 Ship Harbor Trail
Ship Harbor is one of our favorite Acadia Trails😊 Located on the more isolated part of Mount Desert Island, it’s likely you’ll have this trail all to yourself! This figure-8 loop trail is 1.4 miles in length, with stunning ocean views, a rocky cove to check out, and plenty of tide pools to explore! If you want a closer look at the tide pools make sure to plan your visit around low tide. To safely check out the tide pools- be aware of the direction of the tide, stay a safe distance from the crashing waves, black rocks are VERY slippery, and please leave sea creatures undisturbed.
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Head just down the road to the Wonderland Trail. The Wonderland Trail is another easy, 1.4 miles with more stunning views of the park’s rocky shoreline.
#4 Painted Canyon Nature Trail
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This 1-mile loop trail, with approximately 250 ft of elevation gain, has stunning panoramic views of the colorful canyon. The trail starts on the WEST side of the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (on the east side starts the Painted Canyon Trail, which is also a lovely trail but much longer). The last part of this hike is all uphill but still doable for all ages with a gradual incline on the way up. There are several short side trails to more overlooks, which make this trail sometimes difficult to follow, and extend this to a little over a mile. If you want to just follow the trail, keep a lookout for the very thin posts that say Painted Canyon on them. This trail, like almost every other trail at this park, led to plenty of bison sightings as well- be sure to keep your distance😊
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Head to Medora and take the 36-mile drive to a few short but scenic hikes. The Buck Hill Trail, Coal Vien Trail, and Ridgeline Nature Trail are a few of our favorites!
#5 Rankin Ridge Nature Trail
Located at the north end of the park, this 1-mile loop trail, with approximately 250 ft of elevation gain, comes with the best views in the area. On a clear day, hiking to the highest point in the park will provide views of both Buffalo Gap and Badlands National Park- which is 40 miles away! The trail also has 14 site stops along the way with information about the area. Make sure to grab a brochure at the trailhead to follow along. There is even a very cool fire tower at the top of the hill that our kiddos loved! Wildlife, particularly bison, often frequent this area so please be aware and give them plenty of space.
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Check out the Prairie Vista Trail near the Visitor Center. The easy, 1 mile loop trail will have you wandering over beautiful rolling hills making it feel a little like a scene from the Sound of Music😊
#6 Mesa Arch Trail
For this next trail, I highly recommend hiking it at sunrise. However, if you are not an early bird, it is gorgeous at any time of day. The Mesa Arch Trail is an easy, 0.7-mile, loop trail that is perfect for all ages. The trail’s halfway point rewards you with a 27-foot, sandstone arch, backdropped with magnificent mountain and canyon views in the distance. It’s a lot of reward for very little walking work😊 Something to keep in mind- there are no railings near the arch, which is perched on the mesa top’s ledge, please use caution while taking in the amazing views!
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Check out the Grandview Point Overlook and Trail. The trail is an easy 1.8 miles roundtrip. Again, use caution. It does hug the canyon rim, and does NOT have a barrier or railing near the ledge if you have littles that love to run😊
#7 Notch Trail
This 1.5-mile trail is easily one of our Badlands favorites! If you are up for a little adventure, then this trail is for you! The first portion of the trail is a nice, easy walk through the canyon. Then you will come upon a very steep ladder that will allow you to climb up out of the canyon and continue the trail on the canyon rim until you reach beautiful views of the White River Valley.
Some things to note: Our 7- and 8-year-olds had no problem completing the ladder portion themselves, but my husband did have to help our 5 -year -old some. Also, once you are up the ladder you are walking on a very narrow ledge for a short period of time. Please take caution with small children or those afraid of heights! The views, however, from that part of the trail, are so amazing! I can not recommend this trail enough!
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Keep your car where it’s at and just walk to the other end of the lot to check out the Door Trail. It is an easy, 0.75 miles, out and back trail with more beautiful Badland views!
#8 Hidden Falls Trail
I almost left this one off the list because for it to be considered a mile or less, you’ll need to jump on the Jenny Lake boat shuttle. I think once you make it to the falls, you’ll agree it was definitely worth the trip!
Park near the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and take the short Discovery Trail down to the boat dock. Tickets do not need to be purchased ahead of time. Take the boat shuttle across the gorgeous Jenny Lake. Once you are on the other side of Jenny Lake you will turn left off the boat shuttle dock. It is a 0.6-mile hike to Hidden Falls, making it 1.2 miles roundtrip. When the main trail splits you will head left to get to the impressive almost 100ft waterfall. Signage is not great on this trail but the Hidden Falls viewing area is small and often very full, so you will not be able to miss it. This trail is moderate in difficulty and has just under 200 ft of elevation gain.
Looking for another short hike in the area? Head another 0.5 miles from Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point. This 0.5 miles is all uphill making it more strenuous than the trip to Hidden Falls. However, if you take it slow and make plenty of stops, all ages can complete the trek. We completed the trail with a group ages 5 to 75 and the views from Inspiration Point are unbelievable!
#9 Brandywine Gorge Trail
If you do nothing else at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this trail is a must! The 1.5-mile loop trail has approximately 160 ft of elevation gain and takes you to an impressive 60 ft waterfall and stunning forest and water views as you walk along Brandywine Creek. This trail is popular- for good reason! Plan on hiking early or late to avoid crowds and secure a parking spot. Also, proper footwear is recommended. There is some uneven terrain, and the trail can also get a bit muddy, especially when getting a closer look at the creek.
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Head over to the Kendal Lake area and walk the 1.5-mile Lake Trail. The trail has minimal elevation gain but does get muddy!
#10 Wraith Falls
The Wraith Falls Trailhead can be found off Grand Loop Road, about a half mile from the Lava Creek Picnic Area. This trail has a beautiful meadow full of wildflowers, a tall, lush, forested area, and crosses the lovely Lupine Creek before coming to the 79ft, Wraith Falls. This easy, 1 mile roundtrip trail, has minimal elevation gain and is an excellent hike for all ages! Bears do frequent the area, so please be aware.
Looking for another easy hike in the area? Check out the Lost Lake Trail. This trail can be picked up right at the Petrified Tree parking lot. To the lake and back is right around 1.8 miles with about 100 ft of elevation gain. Again, bison and bear frequent the area. Travel with bear spray and keep your distance from wildlife.
And that’s my list! Hopefully you will get the chance to check out a few of them! Let me know below what other short, but stunning National Park trails would make your list😊
Also, Check out our favorite hiking gear and apparel for these trails here!
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