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How to Hike Solo At National Parks – 13 Must-See Trails + Tips

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Molly Egan

Teton National Park – Paintbrush Canyon

Need help with how to hike solo, especially in National Parks? Welcome to the memorable experiences ahead on solo adventures – keep reading for the best solo hike tips and hiking trails!

The best solo adventures and hiking awaits. Especially in the Wild, Wild West! There are many National Parks in the West; however, we recommend these three for ease of access and ability for all: Yellowstone National Park, Teton National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Once you have a few hiking and solo travel adventures, take solo hike trips internationally in Portugal!

Solo hike in Algarve, Portugal

How to hike solo?

Easy. Follow the steps below to ensure a good hike!
  1. Bring Bear Spray and Bear Bell
  2. Break in your hiking boots (the waterproof kind!)
  3. Wear appropriate clothing – sunblock, SPF, hats, wool socks 
  4. Check the weather! Recommend Clime App (or NOAA)
  5. Research the trail and map out your hike
  6. Tell a friend where you are going and when you expect to be back (cell service won’t be an option)
  7. Download trail maps (Avenza is best) to know where you are at all times
  8. Bring snacks and a hydration pack
  9. Have fun!

How Many People Visit National Parks?

Guess! Well, just in 2022, it was over 311 million visitors to the National Parks. Great Smokey Mountains National Park had nearly 13 million in 2022, and Zion National Park had nearly 4.7 million visitors.

Zion National Park has had nearly 3 million visitors and Great Smokey Mountain NP has had nearly 9 million visitors by August 1st, only half of the 2023 calendar year!

If you want tips specific on how to hike solo in the current weather conditions, and trail conditions, then utilize the park rangers in the visitor center and throughout the national parks!

What are the Best National Park Trails?

Here are the top hiking trails. The following have the most amazing views, and best of all – minimal crowds!
  1. String Lake at Paintbrush Canyon, Teton National Park
  2. Lost Lake, Yellowstone National Park
  3. Five Lakes Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park (secret insiders tip!)
  4. Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park
  5. Highline Trail, Glacier National Park
  6. Queens Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park
  7. Peekaboo Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park
  8. Angels Landing, Zion National Park
  9. Observation Point, Zion National Park
  10. Peregrine Peak, Great Smokey Mountains National Park
  11. Rainbow Falls Trail, Great Smokey Mountains National Park
  12. Curecanti Creek Trail, Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park
  13. North Vista Trail, Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

String Lake, Paintbrush Canyon, Teton National Park

Teton Mountains from Teton National Park Hiking Trails

This trail is amazing for its varied terrain, views, wildflowers, animal sighting possibilities (moose, bear, deer & birds), and the refreshing cool-off in the lake! We recommend String Lake Trail and start with the East portion of Jenny Lake Loop Trail (4 miles, 550ft., 3hrs.)! Sign me up for awe-inspiring views in addition to three lakes – Jenny, String, Leigh!

The Paintbrush Canyon Loop is 20.6 miles with over 5,000 elevation gain – challenging, long yet amazing – and begins at String Lake. This String Lake Trail loop is an attainable taste of Paintbrush Canyon for all. As a solo hiker, you will feel comfortable and awed simultaneously.

Lost Lake via NPS

Lost Lake, Roosevelt, Yellowstone National Park

The best trail in Yellowstone National Park is the Lost Lake Trail! It’s a peaceful hike to a secluded lake, where you’ll see a petrified tree and wildflowers. Why do we love it? It is easy, has a reasonable distance, and has low elevation gain (3 miles, 2 hrs., 600ft) – great for all ages, families, and solo!

Emerald Lake at Five Lakes Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park – image via x

Five Lakes Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park

The best hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Five Lakes Loop Trail (7 miles RT)! Depending on the effort you’d like to exert and the distance take a look at which falls and lakes you’d like to see as well as elevation to pick your exact trail path.

The recommended short distance instead of a loop is to head up to Emerald Lake and pass both Dream and Nymph Lake here. (3 miles RT). Surprise yourself with nature’s beauty hiking solo.

Glacial lake view on Pawnee Pass Trail

Pawnee Pass, Roosevelt Forest (Next to Rocky Mtn Nat’l Park)

The best solo hiking trail when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is Pawnee Pass Trail in Roosevelt Forest and next to National Park. Why? A serene solo hike away from the overcrowded trails in Rocky Mountain National Park is magical!

This is our secret insider tip to hiking solo and amid beautiful landscapes of the national parks and national forests. You pass so many glacial lakes (Long, Isabelle, Pawnee, Mirror, Crater) that it’s euphoric!

We recommend continuing on FS 1 Trail to finish at Crater Lake before turning back if you have the time. Since this trail is less crowded than the touristy Rocky Mountain National Park – you’ll have a blast!

Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park

View from Grinnell Glacier Trail

Have you seen a glacier in person or a turquoise lake of a former glacier? You need to put this on your list. It’s a great hike for all levels with many rewards and opportunities to turn back!

This will take approximately 5 hours (round trip) or more if you have a slower pace and stop to take in all the views!

You’ll start near Many Glacier Hotel and pass two lakes before the ascending begins. For those that want to shorten the hike by 2 miles – take the boat across both lakes!

Some people head to the Canadian border for a day trip during peak season when they cannot get a reservation. This is a beautiful opportunity; however, it will result in more driving, and there are so many trails that unless you are there for an extended time, stick to Glacier National Park.

Highline Trail, Glacier National Park

View from Highline Trail

The Highline Trail lives up to all the hype and is a long trail worth your while! Start early at Logan’s Pass and make your way to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook for an unbelievable view and photo opportunity!

Recommend eating at Granite Park Chalet – either bring your food or pre-order food! Treat yourself before descending down the loop – it can get quite warm with tree cover or shade.

All in all this trail is nearly 14 miles one way – Logan Pass to Loop Trail bus stop – and well worth every minute!

Teton Mountains from Jackson Lake

Queens Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is breathtaking with the hoodoos. The two highly recommended hiking trails are Queens Garden – one of the park’s most popular trails – and Peekaboo Trail. You will love a solo hike here!

We highly recommend Queens Garden Trail as it is the least difficult, and you are amongst the hoodoos – the most magical part of this National Park. Combine this trail with the Navajo Loop to increase your to 2.9 miles round trip. Or stick to the 1.8 miles. 

The best time to go is in the Winter – Yes, in November and early December, as there are no crowds, have the park all to yourself! 

Due to the shuttle not operating, you get PRIMO parking spots as close to trailheads as possible. Do wear suitable clothing for the cooler temperatures and high winds.

Peekaboo Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park

Peekaboo Loop is a longer trail than Queens Garden (which in peak season can get overcrowded) with more elevation gain at 5.5 miles and 1560′. This will take closer to 4 hours, pending your acclamation to altitude and fitness level (and amount of selfies!)

This trail is the best way to enjoy the incredible views and offers plenty of photo opportunities with the hoodoos. Solo hiking on this trail is magical!

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Angels Landing is an unreal trail with the most spectacular views! It is not for those with a fear of heights. However, you can walk up to the point where it gets incredibly steep with chain link rope to use and the most sought out reservations.

The best time of year again for Zion National Park is Late Fall and Early Winter! With the shuttle closed, you can park so close – that means sleep in! The lack of crowds is oh-so incredible for a solo hike.

This trail is great for solo travelers as it has a steady flow of people despite the low season. One of the park’s most popular trails – you will have an opportunity for someone to take your photo or say hi to fellow travelers while solo hiking.

Observation Point, Zion National Park

Observation Point begins at Weeping Rock Trailhead and is 8 miles long. The elevation gain and length is more than Angels Landing with 2100′, 8 miles, and 3-7 hours.

If you are doing this during the warm months, start VERY early to avoid a lot of time in peak sun exposure and heat. The fewer crowds make this a great trail – especially during high season.

The unique part of this trail is when you are the viewpoint and look down at Angel’s Landing – incredible views! Climbs through Echo Canyon to the viewpoint on the rim of Zion Canyon.

Always check the trail report, as rockfall or trail damage can occur. Insiders Tip: stop in the visitor center and speak with park rangers upon arrival to get the most up-to-date information and enjoy the best park for solo hikes.

The Canyon Overlook Trail is an excellent alternative with views and a fraction of the distance – 1 mile, 163′, and 45 min to an hour – parking is very limited! It is an excellent introduction to the park with panoramic views or easy hike before you depart Zion National Park.

Peregrine Peak, Great Smokey Mountains National Park

The Smokey Mountains National Park is the most popular National Parks since the National Park Service started tracking it. With Covid changing the patterns, we wonder if it is the most visited park.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a personal favorite and one that I have fond memories of driving from the University to Atlanta in the Fall months – the colors are magical in Fall. The best time to hike is in the Fall for the colors!

On a solo hike, you will enjoy the occasional hiker, especially if this is your first time and the best national parks in the US.

Rainbow Falls Trail, Great Smokey Mountains National Park

This 5-mile trail is near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, so it is a nice challenging trail close to lodging and plenty of food options to reward yourself!

Since it is a popular trail, it is excellent for solo hiking to encounter other people while hiking solo. As always, depending on the season, road closures, and access changes, so double-check before heading out.

The views, Rainbow Falls, overlooks, bridges, smaller falls, and creek make this a beautiful trail!

Curecanti Creek Trail, Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

Curecanti Creek Trail

This trail is just outside the Black Canyon GNP and is a lot of steps but magical for the view and the refreshing dip in the creek swimming before hiking back up.

The 3.7 miles and ~800’ of vertical gain make this an enjoyable trail for all levels. It is an experience of the Gunnison River that you don’t get from the National Park.

Curecanti Creek Trail

North Vista Trail, Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park

If you venture into the BCG National Park, admire the oldest rock, steepest cliffs, and craggiest spires in North America.

For an easy hike that is recommended for solo hikers, do Warner Point Nature Trail and follow along with this guide for the trail markers.

For those that want unrivaled views, then hike the North Vista Trail, which is 3 miles round trip if you do the moderate path to the exclamation point or 7 miles round trip if to Green Mountain – more strenuous.

The view of the North Vista trail includes the best inner-canyon views, an aerial perspective of Black Canyon, and the San Juan Mountains – my favorite in Colorado – West Elk Mountains and Uncompahgre Plateau.

Curecanti Creek Trail

Tips for Best Hiking Experience

When hiking in the Summer months, afternoon rain is nearly guaranteed to occur. Therefore it is best to start the hike as early as you can (within reason, not everyone is a morning person, plus jet lag). Consider the time it will take you to hike it, then add an hour on as things often take longer than expected.

It’s advisable to be done with your hike in the early afternoon – between 1pm and 2 pm – to maximize your time and not encounter a thunderstorm or rain. If rain is forecasted bring a light rain jacket or waterproof clothing layers.

Your cell phone will not have service! It’s recommended to keep it on airplane mode and wifi off to maximize your battery.

Hiking at Crater Lake

That being said. Download map apps such as Avenza, National Park Service, and State map apps – such as CO Trex for Colorado.

Check the weather when planning your hike and the morning of your hike! It’s always changing. The clime weather app by NOAA is highly recommended. Also, a forest fire may impact the air quality.

Are there fees or passes needed for entry? National Parks typically have fees and The Rocky Mountain National Park requires timed entry reservations.

Paintbrush Canyon at Teton National Park

Best National Parks for Solo Travel Conclusion

Take precautions on your hike with the weather and have appropriate gear such as bear spray, a hat, and water. Remember, these hikes are higher than sea level, so take your time, use sunblock, and hydrate – see the ultimate packing list here.

Enjoy the beauty of the US National Parks and National Forests – whether hiking solo or in a group!!

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