Hiking in the U.S. has never been more popular, according to the most recent available data. On leading hiking app AllTrails, for example, the total number of hikes logged for 2020 was more than 170% higher than the number logged for 2019. Perhaps with quarantine and social distancing requirements in place, hikes offer a way to safely explore nature while also enjoying a desperately needed sense of normality.
In recognition of the activity’s rising popularity, we used Yelp’s API to research over 16,000 hiking trails in the U.S. With this information, we were able to determine both the best and worst trails based on feedback from people who have actually hiked them. Looking beyond just distance and difficulty, we finally have data-backed information on the very best and worst hikes across America based on the hikers’ experiences. Keep reading to see where they are.
- Alaska scored the highest average rating for hiking trails, according to Yelp.
- The High Line, a natural respite in the middle of New York City, ranked as the most popular trail in the U.S.
- Hikers are most likely to have a mediocre time in Tennessee, where 20% of the trails garnered a sub-three-star rating.
Best Hiking States in the U.S.
The study kicks off with the best hiking states this country has to offer, according to Yelpers (who can be a particularly tough crowd). After analyzing all the data from hike reviews, we averaged each state’s ratings to find the top hiking states and also looked at the best individual trails.
Based on average Yelp ratings per hike, Alaska is the crowd-chosen best state for hiking in the U.S. As a relatively unpopulated state, hiking this area likely involves a road trip or flight to start, but evidently, it is well worth the journey. All hikes in this state received an average rating of 4.59 out of 5 stars –higher than any other state in the country. Followed by Arkansas and Hawaii, perhaps it is the combination of beautiful scenery and relative remoteness that make for the perfect hike. That said, the single best individual trail was not in any of these states.
The single most popular hiking trail in the U.S. may not even be considered a true hike by nature aficionados, as the entire route runs along a human-made elevated structure. It’s called The High Line in New York City and is hiked by an estimated 8 million visitors annually. The trail totals 1.5 miles through a part of NYC that has recently undergone $25 billion worth of transformations. The second-best hike – Diamond Head State Monument in Hawaii –offers something much more natural but is likely harder to get to unless you’re lucky enough to live in the Aloha State.
Different Definitions of the Best Trails
Of course the word “best” can be defined in several different ways. Moving past the most popular hikes in the country, we wanted to look at the standout trails within each of our top-rated states. First, we chose the best trail for each state based on ratings and number of reviews, and then we focused on hikes that had fewer ratings but were exclusively given five stars by reviewers.
Yelpers previously designated Alaska as the single best state for hiking in the U.S. Their favorite trail within that hallowed state was Kenai Fjords National Park. The beautiful photos reviewers have added make it easy to see why –gorgeous green cliffs, sprawling valleys, and pristine water – this hike has it all. One reviewer even made time for this hike on her honeymoon.
But popularity and pretty pictures aren’t everything when it comes to hiking. In fact, popularity can sometimes be a deterrent. If you’re more of a “hidden gem” hiker, try the Hatcher Pass State Recreation Area. Even though it’s based in America’s favorite hiking state (Alaska), it has yet to receive more than 30 reviews. That said, every single review is five stars. A recent reviewer put it succinctly, saying “I mean honestly, this place is @#$%^ amazing.”
Worst Hikes in the Country
Of course, Yelpers had some pretty terrible things to say about certain hikes as well. The next section of our study looks at the states with the largest proportion of sub-three-star reviews.
Based on Yelp data, Kentucky is the worst state for hiking in the U.S. Even though geographers consider this state to be both hilly and covered in forest, Yelpers did not enjoy their hiking experiences there. Twenty percent of all hiking reviews were three, two, or one stars. One hiker attempted the Beargrass Creek Greenway at Irish Hill hike, and had this to say about it:
“This paved trail isn’t completely secluded, but it is tucked away. Since it is next to a major interstate, there’s a lot of traffic noise. The entire time, all I could think was how easy it would be for someone to mug you, kidnap you, injure you, or the most dreaded of all … possibly dispose of you. It’s so loud that no one would hear your cries for help.”
The next state most likely to offer subpar hikes was New Hampshire. Also hilly, rocky, and densely wooded, hikers often reported terrible times on its trails. One who went to Silver Lake State Park complained of the smell – something that wouldn’t be evident in even the most beautiful photographs. She stated “There’s grass growing in the sand, it smells like feces, dead snails all over the shore area, and it just looks run-down and dirty.” Hikers, be warned.
Your Next Hiking Adventure
If you’re considering a hike yourself, you can benefit from the footwork done by other hikers before you. Thanks to the thousands and thousands of reviews they’ve logged, we were able to create a definitive list of the best and worst hiking states and trails in the U.S.
Inevitably, even the worst hikes can result in some funny memories, which means there’s no reason not to brush off your boots – especially after a year of spending so much time indoors. The benefits of exercise, fresh air, and time spent in nature could even make a trip to far-flung states like Hawaii or Alaska worthwhile. When you get back from your adventure, perhaps leave a review for the next hiker to learn from.
Methodology and Limitations
We collected data via Yelp Fusion API, used with permissions for accessing and presenting Yelp content on this consumer-facing content distribution platform. We analyzed over 16,000 hiking trails listed on Yelp. State rankings were calculated according to the average rating. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone.
Fair Use Statement
If you or your followers are interested in the great outdoors, perhaps you might benefit from the findings of this study. You’re welcome to share the data as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes and you provide a link back to this page.