At Your Service: 8 National Park Hikes

June 27, 2016
Hikes on NPS Land
Brian WassonWhite blazes lead the way on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, one of many iconic National Park hikes.

Since its creation 100 years ago, the National Park Service (NPS) has grown to protect more than 84 million acres of seashore, scenic trails, and historical parks. The eight hikes below represent the rich variety of NPS land in AMC’s region, from Maine to Virginia, offering the best of the outdoors, American history, and even art.

Acadia National Park  |  Mount Desert Island, Maine
The iconic Precipice Trail follows a series of iron-rung handholds and ladders up nearly 1,000 vertical feet of granite cliffs. Park at the Precipice Trail parking area on Park Loop Road; the trailhead is before the entrance-fee station. Follow the trail for 0.6 mile and stay left when you reach the junction with the Orange and Black Path. Not for the faint of heart, inexperienced hikers, or those afraid of heights, this trail may be closed during peregrine falcon nesting season, March to early August. Rather than descending Precipice on your return, follow Champlain North Ridge Trail and turn onto the Orange and Black Path.

Distance: 4 miles round trip
Info: Discover Acadia National Park, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); Acadia National Park

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site  |  Cornish, N.H.
Located on the former property of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s greatest sculptors, Saint-Gaudens is the only designated National Sculpture Park in the country. The site encompasses more than 100 acres of forest, including several nature trails. Follow the Blow-Me-Down Trail, staying left at the junction with Sycamore Trail, until you reach Blow-Me-Down Pond. There, venture onto a boardwalk or add on Sycamore Trail for another 0.26 mile. The main house presents rotating exhibitions, while an art tour offers glimpses of Saint-Gaudens’ 100 works on site, including some of his public monuments.

Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
Info: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

Cape Cod National Seashore  |  Provincetown, Mass.
Among the seashore’s many breathtaking hikes, the Beech Forest Trail is a hidden gem. Parking is free for the 0.75-mile Pond Loop Trail (near the Province Lands Visitor Center), which connects with the 0.25-mile Beech Forest Trail. You’ll follow sand and dirt paths past oaks, mayflower, and beeches. At the junction of the two trails, 0.4 mile in, veer right and climb a set of steep dirt steps. Atop the ridge, the trail transitions from forest to dunes—a great place to watch the sunset before heading back.

Distance: 1.1 miles round trip
Info: Cape Cod National Seashore

Appalachian Trail, Connecticut  |  Kent, Conn.
Hikes on Connecticut’s 52 miles of Appalachian Trail feature well-maintained paths (courtesy of AMC’s Connecticut Chapter) and shelters. Park at the trailhead on Route 341, near Kent, for a challenging round-trip over Mount Algo to the expansive vista at Indian Rock. Make sure to follow the white blazes of the AT, but take a 200-yard detour down the blue-blazed trail to the Mount Algo shelter. The trail is rife with mountain laurel, the state flower, as well as mayflower. There are multiple outlooks over the Housatonic River, but if you’d like to see the water close up, continue on to Bull’s Bridge, a covered crossing built in 1842, where you can spot a second car.

Distance: 7.6 miles round trip or 7.8 miles one way
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area  |  Dingmans Ferry, Pa.
In addition to American Indian archeological sites and remains from early Dutch settlements, the Delaware Water Gap—which spans Pennsylvania and New Jersey, divided by the Delaware River—features some 1,000 miles of trails. For an easy waterfall hike, opt for Hornbecks Creek Trail. Look for the trailhead at mile marker 10.4 on US 209; from there, the trail follows an old roadbed. The waterfall at your turnaround point isn’t the largest, but its round plunge pool and the symmetrical cliffs framing it create an idyllic setting. Be on the lookout for black bears, timber rattlesnakes, and bald eagles, some of the area’s more elusive species.

Distance: 2 miles round trip
Info: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Appalachian Trail, Pennsylvania  |  Port Clinton, Pa.
The 8.9-mile stretch of the AT connecting the town of Port Clinton to the scenic overlook known as the Pinnacle passes through the vista-strewn Blue Mountains. Starting in Port Clinton near the fire department, follow the white blazes through occasionally rocky terrain and past another AT landmark, Pulpit Rock. Keep an eye out as you summit the Pinnacle. Hawk Mountain, to the north, hosts 20,000 migrating raptors each fall. If you’d like to make this a backpacking trip, continue to Bake Oven Knob and the Lehigh Gap.

Distance: 17.8 miles round trip or 40 miles one way
Info: Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Valley Forge National Historical Park  |  King of Prussia, Pa.
The site of the Continental Army’s infamous winter encampment of 1777-78, Valley Forge, with its 19-plus miles of trails, is a must-see for history buffs and hikers alike. These trails preserve a landscape similar to that of the Revolutionary War era and pass buildings that housed Marquis de Lafayette and General Henry Knox. Park at Washington’s Headquarters and follow the Valley Creek Trail for 0.34 mile through oak woods and floodplain forest until you reach the Horse-Shoe Trail, connecting mounts Misery and Joy. Another 0.61 mile on, the trail turns into the Mount Misery Trail, which then connects to the Mount Joy Trail. Atop Mount Joy, you’ll be able to view the former encampment in its entirety.

Distance: 5 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books); Valley Forge National Historic Park

Shenandoah National Park  |  Crozet, Va.
Only 75 miles from Washington, D.C., this national treasure features more than 500 miles of trails. The South District’s Doyles River Trail, along Skyline Drive, lets you immerse yourself in the backcountry by land and by water. Follow the riverside trail to Jones Run stream and falls—allowing you to cool off in a river, a stream, or a waterfall. You’ll eventually join the AT to head back to the Doyles River parking area. Watch for salamanders and wood frogs along the route or get a permit to fish for native brook trout. Keep in mind that all streams are open to catch-and-release fishing year round, but only some allow you to take your bounty home, including Doyles River.

Distance: 8 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC Books); Shenandoah National Park

CONTRIBUTORS: Jennifer Adach, Susan Charkes, René Laubach, Michael R. Martin, Jerry and Marcy Monkman, Charles W. G. Smith


  • Find hundreds of additional trip ideas throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in the Get Out archives.

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Alexandra Malloy

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.