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By Aimee Walker

February 3, 2013 (Southwest U.S.)The southwest of the United States is of course widely known for that most magnificent of natural wonders, the Grand Canyon.  The region has much more to offer than a single scenic wonder, however.  The four states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona have some of the most magnificent hiking trails in all of the US.

Zion National Park: Angel’s Landing Zone

This lovely trail has on numerous occasions been voted as the best half-day hiking trail found in the southwest of the US.  It is particularly well-known for its steep switchbacks – for example, Walter’s Wiggles.  Once one reaches the top, however, the views of the Virgin River and the Zion Canyon below are simply outstanding. 

Note: The maximum elevation is 1700 feet, but to reach the top, there is one section where chain-assisted climbing is required.  This is a strenuous trail not suitable for the unfit or those who are fearful of heights.  The round-trip distance is 5 miles.


Yosemite National Park: Mist Trail

This one-of-a-kind trail follows the Nevada and Vernal waterfalls.  Hike the trail to the summit of the Nevada Falls to enjoy stunning views of the world-renowned Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley below.  Those who are lucky will be treated with the spectacle of a rainbow in the mist that sprays off the waterfall.   At the top of the falls, there are crystal-clear pools where hikers can take a break and soak their tired feet while enjoying a picnic. 

This is a seven-mile round-trip journey with a maximum elevation of 2,000 feet.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park: Bright Angel Trail

This trail starts just west of the popular Bright Angel Lodge and boasts a number of day hikes, the longest of which is 12 miles round-trip.  It forms part of the two main day hikes available for those visiting the Grand Canyon.  The other one is the South Kaibab Trail. 

Both these trails are kept in an excellent state, and both offer unparalleled views of the Grand Canyon itself and the stunningly beautiful Colorado River far below.  The one respect in which Bright Angel has an advantage over its sister trail is the fact that it offers more shade.  Water is available.

The trail reaches a maximum elevation of 3,000 feet and is quite strenuous. 

Canyonlands National Park: Grand View Trail

The biggest plus of this trail is that it is easy to traverse.  The terrain is relatively flat, yet it offers some of the most beautiful panoramic views one can find on any trail in the southwest.  It runs along the southern edge of the Island in the Sky plateau.   Far below, one can see the Colorado and Green rivers meeting, and in the distance, views of the lovely Maze district are framed by distant mountains.

There is very little climbing involved with this trail, and few hikers should have a problem with the two-mile round-trip journey.

Getting there

The southwest of the US is a short flight away from most major cities in the country.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to travel to this region: cheap flight tickets (e.g. last-minute flights) are almost always available online. 

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