40 Great American Day Hikes To Do This Summer

In its simplest definition, a day hike is a wilderness walk you can complete in a single day. That means you can go fast and light, unencumbered by tent, sleeping bags, cooking pots and other trappings of overnight camping. It's a short, glorious booster shot of nature to tide you over through yet another work week. [slideshow:681]

And, at its best, a day hike gets straight to the essence of the place. It takes you inside the canyon, beneath the waterfall and delivers you straight to the wildflower-strewn clearing at the mountain's peak.

Click here for the 40 Great American Day Hikes slideshow.

We've rounded up a collection of some of the greatest day hikes in a nation that's crisscrossed by tens of thousands of miles of trails. To be fair, we picked 20 in the East and 20 out West (OK, we cheated—three are up in Canada, another country spanned by untrammeled wilderness and chockfull of trails). For the most part, the West—with its high altitudes, rugged peaks and generally chill, outdoorsy vibe—has quietly claimed the reputation of quintessential hiking milieu. But for those who would write off everything east of the Mississippi, the seemingly endless wilderness stretches along the Ozark Highlands, North Country Scenic Trail and Appalachians have some surprises in store. There are miles of quiet singletrack trails, panoramic views and majestic peaks.

The hikes we've chosen include national parks gems, as well as more than a few you've never heard of. They run the gamut from easy, two-hour jaunts among wildflower glades and berry thickets to all-day, hope-you-brought-a-headlamp slogs that serve as one-day highlight reels for entire mountain ranges. So, whether you're an expert or a first-timer, we've got the day hike for you.

Not sure how to judge your time out on the trail? First of all, know yourself and the rest of your hiking party—a group is only as fast as its slowest member. Next, apply Naismith's Rule, an old rule of thumb for judging hiking time that was developed in the 1800s by Scottish mountaineer W. Naismith. It's as simple as this: Add one hour for every three miles covered. Add at least an additional 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet you'll ascend and, in steep terrain, the same for every 1,000 you descend (I know it sounds crazy, but it usually takes roughly the same amount of time coming down). Also, understand that Naismith was an old-school badass, who probably strode easily over almost any terrain, and that Scotland is, for the most part, very open, unbroken terrain. If you're hiking over tricky territory, it'll take you more time. With enough practice, you can come to know your hiking speed and more accurately judge future hikes.

Join us for a virtual hike down these 40 breathtaking (literally so, in some cases) trails, from coast to coast and shore to peak.

Click here for the 40 Great American Day Hikes slideshow.

This story was reported by Amy Reinink and Caitlin Giddings.