17 Best East Coast Hikes To Do in 2024

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To help you plan your upcoming outdoor adventures, here are some of the US and Canada’s best East Coast hikes to do this year!

When you think of hiking in North America, you probably envisage the dramatic peaks to the west, like the Rocky Mountains. So it may surprise you to learn that some of the best hikes in Canada and the US are actually on the East Coast.

How do I know this? I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, and I’ve lived in Eastern Canada since 2018. So I’ve had the opportunity to explore many beautiful trails on this side of the continent.

Plus, I reached out to some of my fellow travel bloggers who were able to share their favourite East Coast hikes with me. And, as there were so many great suggestions, we’ve been able to put together this guide to the best East Coast hikes. Here, you’ll find everything from short easy trails, to technical multi-day treks, and everything in-between!

So, read on to find out about some of the best East Coast hikes to do in North America in 2024.

17 of the Best East Coast Hikes in 2024

Eastern Canada

Nova Scotia, Canada

1. Skyline Trail, Cape Breton Island

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 7.7 kilometres / 4.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 195 meters / 640 feet
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

The Skyline Trail on Cape Breton Island is a fantastic hike for anyone who loves incredible views without a lot of effort. While this hike is officially rated as moderate, it’s actually pretty easy until the boardwalk right at the turnaround point.

The trail is well-kept and mostly flat, so it’s ideal for families with younger children. Overall, it shouldn’t take you more than 2-3 hours to complete.

And if you’re looking for the perfect photo for the ‘Gram, you’ll definitely find the opportunity here. The main draw of this hike is the view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cabot Trail from the boardwalk. The views of the coastline are jaw-dropping!

Just a heads up, the boardwalk is made up of 263 steps that travel down towards the coast. On windy days, this can be difficult to navigate. As a result, this trail is not really appropriate for people with mobility issues or those pushing strollers, unless you just want to take in the views from the top of the steps. But this really isn’t the same experience.

And since you need to climb back up those steps to get back on the trail, the return journey will be quite a cardio workout. Although, fortunately, there are benches along the boardwalk where you can take breaks and enjoy the view along the way.

A male hiker sitting at a lookout with views of the water on the Skyline Trail on Cape Breton Island, which is one of the best East Coast hikes.

The best time to hike the Skyline Trail is late spring to early fall when the weather is nice, and the bugs aren’t too bad. Just make sure to wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water.

There is also a pretty great opportunity for spotting marine and wildlife on this hike. From moose to whales, bald eagles and even bears, you never know what you might see.

To get to the trailhead, you’ll need to enter Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which does have an entrance fee. You will find plenty of parking at the trailhead, including spots for RVs, as well as several washrooms. And, there are plenty of signs, so the trail is really easy to find.

Recommended by Marianne from the The Journeying Giordanos

2. Gaffs Point and Hirtle’s Beach

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Type: Out and back (lollipop)
  • Distance: 6.5 kilometres / 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 96 meters / 315 feet
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Detailed overview: Alltrails

Gaff’s Point is an easy coastal hike and one of the best trails in Nova Scotia. This is lollipop hike, which means it’s an out and back trail, with a loop at the end. And you’ll get to enjoy a mix of forest and coastal terrain with stunning views, especially at sunset.

The hike begins along Hirtle’s Beach, where you walk along the sand for around 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) before reaching the end of the beach and the Gaff Point trailhead

From here, the trail leads away from the water and into the forest until you reach a fork. This is where the loop section starts, so you can choose to hike it in either direction. This part of the hike is a bit more technical, with raised roots and uneven ground, so watch your footing.  

The trail then heads back to the coast, where you’ll see waves crashing against the impressive cliffs below. It continues along the water, leading you over rocks and coastal barrens before looping back to the forest. 

The rugged shore of Hirtle's beach on the Gaff Point hike in Nova Scotia.

You should expect to spend 2 to 3 hours on this hike, depending on your pace and how often you stop to take in the views. The terrain is uneven so you will need to watch your footing. But, overall, it’s not a difficult hike and is suitable for kids as well.

Something to keep in mind is if you’re planning to head out for sunset, make sure to bring a headlamp with you, as it will be dark on your way back!

Fortunately, this is an easy hike to plan for. There’s no entrance fee and dogs are allowed. Plus, parking is available at the end of Hirtle’s Beach and vault toilets are available at the parking area. 

Recommended by Erin from Nova Scotia Bucket List

3. Cape Split Loop, Cape Split Provincial Park

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 14.5 kilometres / 9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 421 meters / 1,381 feet
  • Time: 3 to 4 hours
  • Detailed overview: Alltrails

In Cape Split Provincial Park, the Minas Basin Trail and the Scots Bay Trail meet to form a the Cape Split Loop around the high cliffs of the peninsula, which is one of the best east coast hikes.

The trailhead is at the end of Cape Split Road in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. Here, you will arrive at a vast parking lot with picnic tables looking out over Scots Bay and the start of the hike.

The dirt-packed trails are wide and well-marked, but they require sturdy footwear due to scattered rocks, roots, and sometimes mud. And, if you plan on exploring in winter, microspikes are a must. 

You should plan to complete the hike in 3 to 4 hours, which will give you plenty of time to enjoy each viewpoint.

The view of the water from the high cliffs of the peninsula in Cape Split Provincial Park, on one of the best East Coast hikes.

There are a few lookouts over the Bay of Fundy along the way. Although the best view comes at the far end of the peninsula, where the trail emerges from the forest into a beautiful meadow. From here you’ll get impressive views of the endless ocean and dramatic rock pillars protruding from the sea. 

It’s also the perfect place for bird watching, as hundreds fly about or perch on the flat top of the largest pillar. So, if you’re a birder, make sure to bring your binoculars!

This non-operating park is easy to access as it has no entrance fee, is unstaffed, and is open year-round. The park is also dog-friendly, but dogs must be on a leash at all times. 

Recommended by Josanne from Adventuresome Jo

4. Hemlocks & Hardwoods trail, Kejimkujik National Park

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5 kilometres / 3.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 93 meters / 305 feet
  • Time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Detailed overview: Alltrails

Hemlocks & Hardwoods is one of the many beautiful trails in Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia.

This is one of the most interesting trails in the park, taking you through an ancient forest that dates back to when the Mi’kmaq First Nations people were the only ones inhabiting the land. If you’re looking to spend one day in Kejimkujik National Park, you should definitely attempt this hike.

The path is a mix of well-maintained trail and wooden boardwalk which protects the fragile roots of the trees around it. Along the way there are informational panels informing you about the forest and its eco-system.

The trail is mostly flat and only has an elevation gain of 93 meters (305 feet), so it’s suitable for everyone. As it’s a loop, you’ll return back to the car park where you started, without having to go back on yourself. And, you can bring your dog, but it will have to be on a lead at all times, due to wildlife in the area, especially bears.

There are also several campsites towards the end of the trail, so you can even spend the night in the park. Although you will have to pre-book your site.

A boardwalk through a forest on a hike in Kejimkujik National Park.

Something that might deter some hikers is that the road to reach the start of the trail is not very well maintained. So it takes around half an hour of very slow driving to get there from the main road. But, this helps to keep the trail quiet, secluded and peaceful. In fact, you’re likely to only encounter a handful of other people on your hike, or have the entire trail to yourself!

Finally, it’s worth noting that to access this hike you will need to pay a park fee of $6.50 Canadian Dollars per day.

Recommended by Joanna from The World in My Pocket

Newfoundland, Canada

5. Long Range Traverse, Gros Morne National Park

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Type: Point-to-point (multi-day)
  • Distance: 35 kilometres / 22 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 meters / 2,297 feet
  • Time: 3 to 4 days
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Not only is the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park one of the best east coast hikes, but it’s also one of the most rugged backcountry routes in Atlantic Canada. And it’s just that – a route, rather than a maintained hiking trail. As such, this is a challenging hike, there’s no signage, and the route can be difficult to follow. Therefore, hikers must have navigation and route-finding skills before taking on this challenge.

But, for the prepared hiker, the Long Range Traverse offers a true Canadian backcountry experience along Newfoundland’s west coast. You will get to tackle varied terrain, stay at several remote campsites and enjoy spectacular panoramic views along the way.

To complete this trek, you will need to reserve a backcountry permit in advance, through Parks Canada.

You must also book a boat shuttle to access the trailhead across Western Brook Pond freshwater fjord, which is an exceptionally scenic way to start your journey. And, after hiking to the top of the fjord, turn around for one of the most beautiful postcard views in all of Canada!

Another great thing about this hike is that it’s fantastic for wildlife spotting. It’s fairly common to see moose, caribou, and even black bears in the area. But, remember to always maintain a safe distance and respect any wildlife you might encounter in Gros Morne’s backcountry.

Three hikers making their way through green foliage on a backcountry trail in a valley in Gros Morne National Park.

Most hikers take between three to four days to complete the entire route and you will need to bring all your essential hiking gear, camping equipment and food with you. This includes sturdy footwear (hiking boots), a comfortable hiking pack and a lightweight tent.

There are plenty of freshwater sources along the way but water must be purified or filtered before drinking. Also keep in mind that the weather is unpredictable here, so bring extra layers and a rain jacket to keep warm and dry (this is Newfoundland, after all!).

Overall, the Long Range Traverse is a fun backcountry adventure for those who are prepared and up for an adventure!

Recommended by Thomas from Out & Across

Prince Edward Island, Canada

6. Greenwich Dunes Trail, PEI

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 4.3 kilometres / 2.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 19 meters / 62 feet
  • Time: 45 to 60 minutes
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

If you love hikes with scenic views, the Greenwich trail system in Prince Edward Island National Park is one of the best east coast hikes in Canada’s smallest province. This magical area on PEI is nestled between impressive shifting sand dunes – the biggest on the island!

One of the best parts about this easy hiking trail is its variety of terrain. It starts out on a flat gravel path before winding through a dense forest, leading to a 700 metre floating boardwalk over a marshy area. Finally, it ends at a stunning beach with incredible coastal views, which is the perfect place to spend a lazy summer day.

For the best views, you can also do sandy climb to the top of a dune, where the landscape opens up and you can see for miles in every direction.

Shaped by wind and water, and at the mercy of Mother Nature, this area is considered one of the most delicate ecosystems in North America. To learn more about it, there are a number of winding trails and interpretive signs with history and culture of the area.

The hike itself takes around 45 – 60 minutes, depending on your pace, and whether you’re with kids or not. Although you should plan to spend more time at Greenwich so you can soak in the views and relax on the beach.

Views of a boardwalk through a green wetland along the Greenwich trail system in PEI, which is one of the best East Coast hikes.

If you’re visiting during the summer and want to get more out of the area, you can also visit the Interpretation Centre after your hike. The centre features over 20 exhibits, bringing 10,000 years of human history in the area to life with interactive media.

There is a fee to enter the park, and tickets must be purchased at the interpretive centre before driving to the parking lot, which you will then need to display on your dash. As for facilities, there are washrooms which you can use at the interpretive centre.

Something to keep in mind is that, aside from the forest section, there is very little shade on this hike, and it can get very hot. So make sure to bring a hat and wear sunscreen. As long as you’re dressed appropriately, this is a beautiful place to visit year-round!

Recommended by Sarah from In Search of Sarah

Ontario, Canada

7. Georgian Bay Trail, Bruce Peninsula National Park

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4 kilometres / 2.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 62 meters / 203 feet
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

It may surprise you to learn that some of the best East Coast hikes in Canada are actually in Southern Ontario.

Located only a 3-hour drive from Toronto, Bruce Peninsula National Park is home to several fantastic hiking trails along Georgian Bay. The most popular is the Georgian Bay Trail, which leads you to the park’s most famous landmark, the Grotto.

This natural limestone cave is filled with a pool of clear blue water, which looks more like something you’d find in the Caribbean rather than in Canada. But, although swimming can be very tempting, be warned: the water is extremely cold!

The Georgian Bay Trail is relatively flat and easy, taking you on a loop around Horse Lake and past the Grotto. This is a paved trail through lush forest, leading to spectacular views with very little effort. So, it’s a great trail for hikers of all abilities, and is very family- and dog-friendly (on leash).

A white pebble beach and turquoise blue water on the Bruce Peninsula during the fall.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, this isn’t the only trail you’ll find in the park. For a longer and more difficult hike, there are two trailheads further away, from which you can hike along the impressive escarpment cliffs all the way to the Grotto.

From the northern end of the peninsula, you can start at Little Cove and hike 24 kilometres (15 miles) out-and-back to the Grotto. And, starting further south, you can hike from the Halfway Log Dump trailhead for 8 kilometres (5 miles) each way.

Both these trails pass by several stunning lookout points and pristine pebble beaches, where you can enjoy a lunch or snack break while taking in the views.

While the Bruce Peninsula can be visited year-round, the trails can get too icy and snowy in the winter, and are very busy in the summer. And, from April to October, you will need to reserve a parking pass online, in order to park and access the trailheads. These can be difficult to get on weekends and holidays, so make sure to plan in advance!

My favourite time of year to visit the Bruce Peninsula is in October, when the park lights up with vibrant fall colours, which is especially spectacular in contrast with the bright blue water of Georgian Bay.

Eastern USA

Maine, USA

8. Acadia Mountain Trail, Acadia National Park

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4 kilometres / 2.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 216 meters / 708 feet
  • Time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Although Acadia Mountain is not the highest mountain in Acadia National Park, the views from the summit are nothing short of stunning and are definitely worth the effort.

This is a moderately difficult hike which should take 1 to 2 hours to complete. It’s a great trail to hike at any time of year. Although summer and fall are when it’s at its most beautiful, thanks to sunny weather and colourful foliage which lights up the landscape.

The trailhead is easy to find, as it’s located directly across the street from the Acadia Mountain parking area. Although the parking lot is fairly small, so it’s best to get there early. 

After crossing the road, you can either start along the St. Sauveur Mountain Trail and then turn left (north) at the Acadia Mountain Trail junction. OR, hike north along the roadside trail and then turn right on the “Man o’ War” dirt road until you get to the intersection with the Acadia Mountain Trail

The trail, which is steep in parts, then passes through the forest before reaching the summit. There are two viewpoints at the top with spectacular views over Somes Sound and the surrounding islands. As you descend, it’s worth taking a short side trail to the Man o’ War Brook Waterfall, which cascades down into the ocean.

The view of the bay from the top of Acadia Mountain in Maine.

While dogs are welcome on this trail, they must be kept on a leash at all times. And there are some steep sections which you may need to help them navigate.

Keep in mind that as the trail is inside Acadia National Park, you will need to pay the park entrance fee. But, there are no additional fees for the hike itself.

Recommended by James from Parks Collecting

New York, USA

9. Bonticou Crag, Mohonk Preserve, Hudson Valley

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.7 kilometres / 2.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 173 meters / 567 feet
  • Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

The Bonticou Crag is one of the best east coast hikes in New York State’s Hudson Valley. It has a great mix of leisurely trail, fun terrain and breathtaking panoramic views.

The trailhead is located at the Spring Farm Trailhead in Mohonk Preserve, which has a parking area with washrooms. This is a private preserve, so there is a day use fee of $15 USD to enter.  

Most of the Bonticou Crag trail is pretty easy, on a well-marked path and an old carriage road. But, the most fun – and challenging – part of the hike is a rock scramble near the end. It’s an almost vertical clamber up large rocks to get to the top of the Crag. 

Although many hikers love this part of the hike the most, it is a steep and exposed climb, so it’s not suitable for people with a fear of heights, or for most dogs. (Although dogs are otherwise allowed on the trail).

Luckily, there is an alternate route (which you typically go down to complete a loop). So, if you want to skip the rock scramble but still enjoy the views, you can go up this much easier way instead.

No matter which route you choose to take, you will be rewarded with spectacular views from the top. The forested Mohonk Preserve and the Hudson Valley are spread out before you. And there’s a flat rock section where you can sit, enjoy the views, and even have a picnic. 

The view of green hills from a rocky peak on the Bonticou Crag hike in Mohonk Preserve, Hudson Valley.

Although this is a relatively short hike, there are several interconnected trails in the Preserve, so you can extend your hike. Or, if you’re looking to take it easy, simply loop back down the trail to the parking area where you started.

Recommended by Ian from Hudson Valley Discovered

10. Devil’s Hole & Whirlpool Rapids Hike, Niagara Falls

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 8 kilometres / 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 303 meters / 994 feet
  • Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Niagara Falls is one of the East Coast’s most famous landmarks. But this isn’t the only reason to visit Niagara. The region also has a number of fantastic hiking trails with beautiful views and interesting terrain.

And, while the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is usually considered better overall, the best hikes are actually on the US side. In particular, the Devil’s Hole and Whirlpool Rapids hike will not only test your fitness, but will also lead you to some of the Niagara Gorge’s most spectacular views.

Although most of this trail is relatively flat, sections of it are rocky and close to the water’s edge. Plus, there is a really big ascent and descent with lots of stairs. So, this hike won’t suit everyone and isn’t very dog-friendly (although dogs are allowed on a leash).

But, if you do take on the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a really scenic walk away from the crowds, and with close up views of the rapids.

Note – The section between the Devil’s Hole Stairs and Whirlpool Stairs is currently closed due to a rockslide. Therefore, you can’t currently hike the entire trail, and I recommend keeping an eye on the park’s website for the latest updates.

The flowing Niagara River at the Niagara Gorge Whirlpool Rapids in summer.

If this trail seems to be a bit too difficult for you, fortunately there are also some shorter, easier hikes nearby, which offer similar views.

Both the Niagara Gorge Rim and Whirlpool Rapids Trail, and Devil’s Hole and Niagara Gorge Trail Loop also have stairs. But, these trails only have about half the elevation as the Devil’s Hole/Whirlpool Hike, so they’re a bit more manageable.

Parking is available in two lots near the trailhead at Devil’s Hole State Park, with additional parking in the adjacent Whirlpool State Park. But these lots can fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. So, if visiting during peak season, it’s best to get there early.

11. Kaaterskill Falls, Catskill Mountains, Hunter

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 2.6 kilometres / 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 121 meters / 397 feet
  • Time: 45 to 60 minutes
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

The Kaaterskill Falls hike in the Catskill Mountains features a stunning 260-foot, two-tiered waterfall. It also offers options for all abilities, including an accessible path to an overlook platform, and a more challenging trail with 400+ steps leading to the lower falls. If you’re up for it, this is the trail you want to do!

As one of the tallest waterfalls in New York, it is an extremely popular hike. Parking is available at the Laurel House and Scutt Road lots, though spaces fill quickly. If you’re visiting during the summer and fall, you’ll want to arrive early in the morning to secure a spot.

Although the hike is technically 2.6 kilometres (1.6 miles) long, it could be up to 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) out-and-back, depending on where you park. Also keep in mind, the Laurel House lot is usually reserved for accessible parking during popular visiting times.

And, if you’re looking to do a longer hike, you can take an additional side trail to Inspiration Point for incredible views of the Catskill Mountains, which would add on another 5 kilometres (3 miles).

Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains in Hunter, New York, which is one of the best East Coast hikes.

Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls is beautiful at any time of year, but the falls are at their fullest in winter and spring. Since the stone steps can get icy in cold weather, wear crampons or ice spikes if you hike this trail in the winter.

Kaaterskill Falls is a great hike to do with kids, it’s dog-friendly, and is free to visit.

Recommended by Lauren from Trails That Rock

12. Glen Creek Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 3.5 kilometres / 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 meters / 492 feet
  • Time: 60 to 90 minutes
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Watkins Glen State Park’s renowned Glen Creek Gorge trail is not to be missed on a Finger Lakes vacation in New York State.

The scenic hike winds through the deep, narrow gorge carved by the staggering power of Glen Creek and features 19 waterfalls along its two-mile stretch, each with its own unique charm.

The most famous waterfall, Rainbow Falls, along with its stone bridge, is widely regarded as the most photogenic.

To access the park, there is a daily vehicle entrance fee, which costs $10 USD. But, this pass can also be used at other New York State Parks in the area on the same day, such as Letchworth State Park, which is only a 1-hour drive away.

People hiking along the Glen Creek Gorge in Watkins Glen State Park, New York.

You’ll want to arrive early at Watkins Glen, especially in the summer and fall, to avoid large crowds. Fortunately, the park is open from dawn to dusk year-round, and it’s a beautiful trail no matter the time of year.

However, you should make sure to wear sturdy, non-slip footwear, as, although the trail is well-maintained, it can get wet and slippery due to the waterfalls’ spray.  It’s also advisable to bring a waterproof bag (or disposable poncho) to stay dry and protect your camera or phone from the mist. 

This hike is ideal for families as it’s relatively short. But, you should still plan for about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete it, so you can take your time at each waterfall. And, after your hike, there are plenty of picnic areas beside the parking lot where you can have lunch or take a snack break.  

Recommended by Catherine from Postcard Narrative

Virginia, USA

13. Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15.1 kilometres / 9.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 794 meters / 2,605 feet
  • Time: 7 to 8 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Old Rag is one of the best hikes in Shenandoah National Park (and on the East Coast) thanks to its rewarding, challenging climb and amazing panoramic views.

It’s especially beautiful in the fall when the Appalachians turn bright red, yellow and orange as the leaves change colour. But, no matter what time of year you choose to hike Old Rag, you’ll love it!

Along this 15-kilometre (9-mile) circuit, you’ll pass multiple panoramic views and enjoy several sections with rock scrambles.

Although rock scrambles are a lot of fun, they do limit the number of people who can go through at a time. Plus, given the elevation gain on Old Rag and technical terrain, the round trip can take a good 7 to 8 hours. So, you should aim to start your hike early, to make sure you have plenty of time in case you need to wait along the trail, and so you can enjoy yourself when you get to the top.

The view from the rock scramble on Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, on one of the best East Coast hikes.

Given the challenging nature of this hike, it’s essential to be well-prepared with adequate water and snacks, proper footwear (sturdy hiking boots are necessary), and other essential hiking gear (like basic first aid supplies, sunscreen, and a waterproof layer).

You should also always check the weather and park regulations and safety guidelines before starting this hike.

Recommended by Meghan from The Traveling Teacher

North Carolina, USA

14. Hawksbill Summit Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 2.6 kilometres / 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 205 meters / 673 feet
  • Time: 60 to 75 minutes
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

One of the most amazing places to visit for outdoor adventures and hiking on the East Coast is Blue Ridge Parkway. Blue Ridge Parkway connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The Parkway runs between North Carolina and Virginia. 

The North Carolina side has tons of fantastic hiking opportunities, with varying difficulty levels. Located in the Linville Gorge area, Hawksbill Mountain Summit offers spectacular views of the Canyon and the surrounding landscapes. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of Charlotte – about 90 miles away! 

The hike is a moderate 1.6 mile Roundtrip with nearly 700 feet of elevation gain. The trail to the summit of Hawksbill begins from the parking area on the unpaved Pisgah National Forest Service Road 1264. You start with a short downhill section, but then it’s a gradual uphill trail.

Mostly, the trail to the summit is a meandering adventure through pine forest. It passes a small, shallow cave half a kilometre in (.3 mile) before climbing gradually through rocky, rhododendron-filled terrain. The last stretch is quite strenuous but, once you make it, the views from the top are spectacular!

The views of colourful fall foliage from the top of a hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee.

This hike is especially beautiful if you head up early or late in the day, to catch the sunset or sunrise from the top. Although, if you plan to do this, make sure to pack a headlamp so you can navigate in the dark.

Along with this hike, you can also take a trail to Linville Falls and the Gorge. And, for another great view of Linville Gorge, hike to the top of Shortoff Mountain near Lake James. Or, to see Hawksbill from across the Gorge, head to Wiseman’s View Point which has panoramic views!

Recommended by Mayuri from Fernwehrahee

15. Mount Mitchell Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 18 kilometres / 11.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,125 meters / 3,691 feet
  • Time: 6 to 8 hours
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Another popular hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is the Mount Mitchell Trail. At 2,037 meters (6,684 feet), Mount Mitchell is a massive mountain. In fact, it’s the highest peak east of the Mississippi River!

On average, this hike takes about 7 hours. However, there is an option to shorten the hike time by only hiking up and taking a shuttle service back down to the parking lot. While there are no fees to do this hike, there is a small fee for the shuttle and you will need to reserve it at least a day in advance.

The main reason why Mount Mitchell is one of the best East Coast hikes is because of the challenge it presents and the bragging rights. You should expect a good workout thanks to a very steep climb with lots of switchbacks.

And, it’s an especially beautiful hike to do in the fall, thanks to the gorgeous foliage that lights up the landscape.

Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway is often cloudy, so views aren’t guaranteed. And, as most of the trail is wooded, you won’t see that much of the surrounding mountains on the way up. But, if it’s a clear day, in addition to bragging about your accomplishment, you’ll also get to enjoy beautiful panoramic views from the summit.

The red sign at the top of the Mount Mitchell hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This hike starts at the Black Mountain Campground, where there’s a large parking lot. Once inside the campground, follow the South Toe River to your left. The trail is very well-marked and is dog-friendly, but dogs have to be on leashes.

Finally, something to note is that it’s a good idea to bring a poncho since it rains often. Depending on how waterproof your hiking boots may be, you might also want to pack extra socks, as there is a section of the trail where you will be rock hopping across a waterfall, so you might get your feet wet.

Recommended by Natalie of Outsider Odyssey

16. Catawba Falls trail, Old Fort

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back, or loop
  • Distance: 3.7 kilometres / 2.3 miles (+ additional side trails)
  • Elevation gain: 117 meters / 384 feet
  • Time: 1 hour for the main trail, but up to 5 hours if combining trails
  • Detailed overview: AllTrails

Having recently undergone renovations, and with various side trails and plenty to see along the way, the Catawba Falls trail in Old Fort, North Carolina is a fantastic hike for hikers of all abilities, including families. It’s also conveniently located only 30 minutes from Asheville, 3.5 hours from Raleigh, and less than 2 hours from Charlotte. 

This year-round, easy to moderate hike has several trail options, so you can tailor the hike to suit your interests and experience level:

  • River Trail: A 1.8 kilometre (1.1 mile) out-and-back route to the base of the Lower Falls, featuring remnants of a historic hydro power dam and small waterfalls along the way.
  • River Trail Stairs to Upper Falls: A half kilometre (0.3 mile) extension with 580 steps leading to multiple observation decks and a connection to the Ridge Trail.
  • Wildflower Trail: A 400 meter (0.25 mile) offshoot from the River Trail to the Lower Falls.
  • Ridge Trail: A 3.4 kilometre (2.1-mile) trail to the previously hard-to-reach Upper Falls.
  • Loop Trail: A 5.6 kilometre (3.5-mile) combination of the River and Ridge Trails.

The most challenging section is the 580-step ascent on the River Trail, which is equivalent to climbing a 30-story building, with nearly 100 meters (300 feet) of elevation gain in under 160 meters (.1 mile)! Fortunately, benches are strategically placed along the route so you can take some time to rest on your way up.

Something that’s good to know is that dogs on leashes are welcome at Catawba Falls. But the metal, serrated steps to the upper observation deck on the River Trail may be unsuitable for dogs with small or sensitive paws. So, if you’d like to see the upper falls with your dog, you could start at the Ridge Trail head and do an out-and-back hike instead.

And, accessing the trail and parking at the trailhead are free, but the lot is small. So you will need to arrive early to secure a spot.

The lower falls on the Catawba Falls trail, located in Old Fort, North Carolina.

While the main trail can be completed in around an hour, the best way to do this hike is to take your time so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery. Depending on which trails you choose and your fitness level, you could easily spend 3 to 5 hours soaking in the area’s beauty!

Note – while All Trails is usually a good resource, they have not yet updated this hike with the new trail information. So, currently, it only shows the River Trail as an out-and-back route. Whereas, you can actually choose your own adventure with an out-and-back hike on the River or Ridge Trails, or combine them for a loop trail experience.

Recommended by Christy from North Carolina Traveler

Florida, USA

17. Florida Trail, Aucilla Sinks Trailhead

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 7.1 kilometres / 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 25 meters / 82 feet
  • Time: 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Detailed overview: Florida Hikes

Many people visit Florida for its famous theme parks, beautiful beaches and water sports, like diving, boating and parasailing, but forget about the Sunshine State’s endless hiking trails. In fact, it’s one of the best places to go hiking on the East Coast!

The Florida Trail, Aucilla Sinks Trailhead is an epitome of such a place. This 7.1 kilometre (4.4 mile) hike takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes, and is the most fascinating section of the 2,400 kilometre (1,500 mile) Florida Trail. While making your way through dense palm fonds, you’ll see some truly weird landscapes and come across several geologically significant sights.

But the best part of Florida Trail is the Aucilla Sinks, which are a group of sinkholes that emerge in the swamp. You will also pass through the Aucilla River, which appears and disappears as it’s swallowed underground. It would continue this way until it reaches its final location, known as Nutall Rise, where you get to walk along the river’s bank.

The best time to hike the Florida Trail is February through March, when the weather conditions are most stable for hiking. Although it might seem like this will be a wet hike it’s actually dry for most of the year. The trail is only wet during the rainy season, when the river tends to flood, so be careful during this time.

Something else to be cautious of when hiking the Florida Trail is that seasonal hunting takes place here. You should always check the hunting dates before visiting this trail, and wear bright orange to ensure you’re not mistaken for an animal.

Recommended by Ossama from Awesome Traveler

A swamp along the Florida Trail in Florida, USA.

FAQs

What is the hardest hike on the East Coast?

There are several challenging hikes on the East Coast, which could be considered the ‘hardest’.

One of these is the Devil’s Path in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. This technical trail is 35 kilometres (22 miles) long with five summits, 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) of elevation, and steep, rocky terrain to tackle.

Similarly, the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire is just as technical and has an equal amount of elevation gain, across a 30 kilometre (19 mile) trail.

What are the tallest hikes on the East Coast?

The tallest East Coast hikes are Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet, and Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which stands at 6,288 feet.

What is considered a difficult hike?

A difficult hike typically involves steep inclines, rough and technical terrain, and significant elevation gain. It will usually take several hours or even days to complete such a hike and requires previous hiking experience and good physical fitness.

Where are the most beautiful mountains on the East Coast?

There are several beautiful mountain ranges on the East Coast. In particular, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, and the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Georgia to Maine.

Can you walk down the East Coast?

While you might not be able to walk the entirety of the East Coast in one continuous trail, there are a number of long backpacking trails in Eastern USA and Canada.

You can walk through most of Eastern USA by hiking the famous Appalachian Trail, which stretches approximately 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) from Georgia to Maine, passing through 14 states. And, in Canada, you can hike over 300 kilometres (186 miles) of scenic coastal paths along Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail.

What is the longest trail on the East Coast?

The longest trail on the East Coast is the Appalachian Trail, which spans approximately 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) from Georgia to Maine. This is an iconic backpacking route and is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.

What is the most beautiful trail in the United States?

The United States has a huge variety of trails, across very different terrain, so it’s hard to say which one is the most beautiful. But, some which are considered to be the most beautiful in the US include:

  • The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, and is renowned for its stunning mountain vistas, scenic valleys and lush forests;
  • The Pacific Crest Trail, which runs all the way from Mexico to Canada and passes through several of the countries most beautiful landscapes in California, Oregon, and Washington; and
  • The John Muir Trail in California, which traverses the breathtaking Sierra Nevada mountains.

There are also plenty of shorter trails and day hikes which have spectacular views in parks like Glacier, Yosemite, Zion, Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Parks.

Final Thoughts – Best East Coast Hikes

So, there you have it, some of the best East Coast hikes to do in 2024!

Hopefully this list has given you some new ideas for hikes to do in eastern USA and Canada, and inspires you to get outside and explore this region’s beautiful landscapes, parks and coastlines.

Want to read more about hiking in North America? Check out some of my other hiking and backpacking content!


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