Hiking Health Benefits: Hike To The Most Exotic Trails On The East Coast

Post originally seen on ConservationInstitute.org

Public green spaces like national parks and hiking trails offer us an affordable and easy escape from our daily routines. The combination of hiking and physical exercise outside has been proven to lead to increased physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being.

The presence and use of national parks is especially important in American culture because we have adopted a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, a study notes that 43% of the U.S. population is sedentary the majority of their lifetime. This percentage is by far the largest amount of inactivity in comparison to any other country worldwide.

Decreasing whole-body movements, like sitting inside, leads to an increase in sedentary behaviors and lifestyles in the United States. Within the past decade, more Americans have engaged in indoor-centered lifestyles leading to a range of health issues which studies note as nature-deficit disorder.

Nature-deficit disorder simply means that people are not outside enough. A study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health links sedentary behaviors and nature-deficit disorder to health issues like obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, mental fatigue, and increasing stress levels. People who spend less than the recommended amount of time outside are more vulnerable to health issues like morbidity and premature death. Even though nature-deficit disorder is a fairly new term, we have known about the importance of being outside for centuries.

Dating back to the 19th century, parks were created to provide space for recreational activities when scientists and architects came to understand the connection between green space and health. Even so, we continue to build gyms indoors and promote 40 hour work weeks that require us to sit inside on a computer for a large chunk of our day.

So now the question is, how can we combat these health issues and the American sedentary lifestyle? We suggest hiking or biking.

So why choose hiking?

health benefits of hiking infographic

Based on the statistics, you’re most likely lacking time spent outdoors so we’re writing you a prescription for hiking.

In the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, research suggests that nature and green spaces increase well-being and health due to the following:

  • Exposure to daylight, nature, and fresh air
  • Participation in physical activity
  • Restoration of mental and emotional health
  • Time spent with other people

Benefits of Hiking

Even though there are trails all over the United States, some of the most beautiful and exotic hiking trails run up and down the east coast. Cure nature-deficit disorder for good with some of the most beautiful views along the east coast that we will outline for you in this article.

So without further ado, here is a list of unique hiking experiences that will lift your mood and have you feeling better than ever before.

Summary of Hiking Trails

1. Grandfather Mountain Crest Trails

grandfather mountain
  • Location: Linville, North Carolina
  • Trails included: Crest Trails are called Grandfather Trail and Underwood Trail.
  • Park Size: Grandfather Mountain State Park has 12 miles of trails across 2,456 acres along mountain ridgeline.
  • Cost: Access the Crest Trails for free from trailheads outside the state park attraction area. If you want to visit the swinging bridge, a pass is required which costs $20 per person.
  • Regulations: Must return to vehicle by 6pm or other specified time which can be found at the visitor center.
  • Parking: There is a parking lot with facilities in the visitor center.
  • Access: Crest trail access is at the Top Shop parking lot, Hiker’s Parking Area, on through the Profile Trail or Daniel Boone Scout Trail.

Grandfather Trail

grandfather Trail
  • Duration of Hike: up to 2.5 hours one-way.
  • Length: 2.4 miles one-way.
  • Elevation: 5,964 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Pets: This trail is not pet friendly unless you have a little pup that you can fit in your backpack.
  • Who: Not recommended for pets, children, or inexperienced hikers.
  • What you’ll need: Water, snacks, proper hiking boots with good tread, and rain gear just in case.
  • What to expect: Cables, ladders, rocky terrain, steep ledges.
  • Regulations: Hikers are required to fill out a piece of paper with their name and vehicle descriptors. The park calls this a “permit” which is meant for safety purposes if you do not return to your vehicle by the designated time and is free.

2. Ricketts Glen Fall Trail

Ricketts Glen Fall
  • Location: Benton, Pennsylvania
  • Park Size: Ricketts Glen State Park contains 13.050 acres of land.
  • Duration of hike: About 6-8 hours depending on how long you stop at each waterfall to take pictures or rest
  • Length:
    • The full loop is 7.2 miles if you hike the upper and lower portions.
    • Take the 3.2 mile loop on Highland Trail, Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen sides of the trail to see most of the waterfalls.
  • Elevation: The highest elevation in the park is Mohawk Falls at 2,165 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Cost: Free
  • Pets: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash at all times.
  • Who: Dogs and hikers with all experience levels
  • What you’ll need: Sturdy hiking boots or sneakers, and water and snacks.
  • What to expect:
    • 21 waterfalls with the tallest waterfall standing at 94 feet
    • Rock stairs and some steep portions, slippery areas due to mist from the falls and moss
  • Regulations: Sandals are prohibited.
  • Parking/Access: 3 parking lots for fall trail access:
    • Lake Rose is at the end of the dirt road across from the campground and provides the closest access (5-10 minutes), but fills up quickly during peak times.
    • Beach Parking Lot #2 is at the beach. Leave the lot and walk down the Cabin Road (first road just outside of the lot), past a park gate, and onto a section of trail to the first intersection where you go right (15-20 minute access).
    • The parking lots on PA 118 are 1.5 miles from the first waterfall upstream on the Falls Trail, but allow a good view of old growth trees.”

3. Katahdin Knife’s Edge Trail

Katahdin Knife’s Edge Trail
  • Location: Millinocket, Maine
  • Park Size: Baxter State Park is made up of 200,000 acres.
  • Duration of hike:
    • 1-2 hours for Knife’s Edge Trail alone which is at the peak
    • Entire Katahdin hike will take about 8-12 hours
  • Length:
    • Knife’s Edge Trail is 1.1 mile rock scramble and is notorious for only being a few feet wide in some areas.
    • Entire Hunt Trail up the Katahdin Mountain is about 5 miles one-way
  • Elevation: 5,267 feet
  • Elevation gain: about 4000 ft
  • Difficulty: Extremely strenuous
  • Cost: Register at one of the two gatehouses coming in. There will be an entrance fee if you do not have Maine plates on your vehicle.
  • Pets: not dog or pet friendly
  • Who: experienced hikers
  • What you’ll need: water and food, hiking boots or proper footwear, hiking poles
  • What to expect:
    • Be prepared for heights, sheer cliffs that plummet 1,500 feet from either side of the trail into the Great Basin floor.
    • Part of the trail will only be a couple feet wide
    • No water on trail
    • Unexpected weather changes and extremely dangerous conditions if it rains
  • Parking:
    • Trailhead parking lots including Roaring Brook Campground, Abol Campground, or Katahdin Stream Campground
    • If you are day-hiking you may want to save your parking spot with a reservation.
  • Access:
    • Access can be found at the Roaring Brook Campground which is an hour from your vehicle on the opposite side of the mountain. There is no shuttle service.
    • You will end your hike at Roaring Brook Campground if you hike the Knife’s Edge from the Hunt or Abol Trails.

4. Precipice Trail (Loop)

Precipice Trail
  • Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
  • Park Size: Acadia National Park is 49, 052 acres.
  • Duration of hike:
    • 1.5-2.5 hours for the Precipice Trail to summit of Champlain Mountain
    • 3-5 hours to complete the entire loop
  • Length:
    • 1 mile for the Precipice Trail to summit of Champlain Mountain
    • 2.6 miles to complete the entire loop
  • Elevation: 1,058 feet
  • Difficulty: Extremely strenuous
  • Cost: annual entrance fee is $50, seven-day entrance pass is $25 for a private vehicle, $20 for a motorcycle, and $12 for an individual (can be purchased online)
  • Pets: no dogs or pet permitted
  • Who:
    • Experienced hikers
    • not recommended for small children, for people with a fear of heights, or for anyone in wet weather
  • What you’ll need:
    • Food and water
    • Sturdy hiking boots or sneakers
  • What to expect:
    • Rungs and ladders stapled into rock walls
    • Boulders, granite stairs
    • Sheer cliffs
    • Rocky and rugged trails
    • Rise over 1,000 feet in 0.9 miles
  • Regulations:
    • The trail can be closed late spring through mid-August because endangered peregrine falcons return to the area during that time.
  • Parking:
    • limited parking in the summer months from 9 am – 3 pm
    • Island Explorer Shuttle is free and available to hikers
  • Access:
    • Precipice Trail parking lot is about 2 miles from the one-way Park Loop Road
    • Champlain Mountain sites on the easter edge of the park. Use Highway 3 to go south and then look for the intersection with the one way Park Loop Road which will take you to the trailheads.

5. Franconia Ridge Loop

Franconia Ridge Loop
  • Location: Lincoln, New Hampshire
  • Park Size: Franconia Notch State Park is 6,692 acres.
  • Duration of hike: about 7 hours
  • Length: 8.6 miles
  • Elevation: increases about 3,500 feet in just 4 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging but not too strenuous
  • Cost:
    • Entrance fee is Adults $12.00;
    • Children (6-11) $8.00
    • and 5 & under is free.
  • Pets: Pet friendly, but the leash cannot exceed 6 feet in length for safety purposes
  • Who: Hikers of all levels
  • What you’ll need:
    • food and water
    • sturdy hiking shoes
  • What to expect:
    • According to REI’s Hiking Project, you will encounter the second highest range of peaks in the White Mountains and multiple waterfalls.
    • Ridge encompasses 4 four-thousand footers: Mount Lafayette (5249 ft) Mount Lincoln (5,089 ft), Mount Liberty (4,459 ft) and Mount Flume (4,328 feet)
    • What is a four-thousand footer? A group of 48 mountains in New Hampshire at least 4k feet above sea level.
    • After hiking the Francis Ridge Loop you’ll be able to say you’ve hiked a few of New Hampshire’s 4,000 -foot peaks in one day.
    • 360 degree views of the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness, views of Vermont and even New York State weather-permitting.
  • Parking:
    • Limited parking options within the park
    • Most parking is for people visiting attractions in the park
    • Main parking areas including Flume Gorge, Lafayette Place CG, Aerial Tramway, and Echo Lake Beach are for paying guests only.
    • Flume Gorge has some limited hiker parking
  • Access:
    • Use the Trailhead Parking/Lafayette Place Campground to access the trail.
    • Falling Waters is a 3.2 mile direct route to the Franconia Ridge Trail.


Experts agree that inactive adults partake in less than 150 minutes of walking or moderately intense physical activity each week and children engage in less than 60 minutes of strenuous physical exercise each day. Sedentary, indoor lifestyles and minimal exercise are quite common in the United States in both adults and children. Studies show that this new and consistent lifestyle results in health issues that are potentially lethal.

Now that you are aware that a lack of outdoor exposure and increasing sedentary lifestyles are dangerous for your well-being, start making time for self-care. Plan a weekend or day-trip to one of these unique hiking trails along the East Coast to increase your well-being and quality of life today.

Your prescription for hiking will always have unlimited refills.