Unusual National Park Hikes
The national parks hold a treasure trove of amazing hiking opportunities. However, a few of these hikes are so unusual, that you will never stop talking about them!
Have you ever hiked through a river where the river itself was the trail?
Hiked up the side of a mountain by climbing metal ladder rungs?
Hiked the rocky rim of an uninhabited island?
Let’s explore our top 3 most unusual national park hikes.
#3 The Narrows – Zion National Park
The Narrows hike in Zion is an exhilarating experience, both from the scenery and the water temperature. The actual hike IS the river. You walk against the current through the freezing cold Virgin River through a gorgeous slot canyon.
The park shuttle drops you off to begin a 1-mile paved trail to reach the start of The Narrows. This part of the trail is easy and scenic, running alongside the river.
The paved trail ends and it is time to get wet! On the day of our visit, we actually had no intentions of hiking through the river.
When we made it to the river, we were floored by the beauty of the canyon and decided to just go for it! I quickly realized though how unprepared we were for this hike.
The water was freezing and it was hard to walk against the river current. Holding onto Sissy who was 7 at the time, was a challenge. None of our items were waterproofed.
The rocks were slippery and since you can’t see through the water, it was easy to trip or fall into spaces between the rocks. At one point my foot slipped down in between two rocks and I had a moment of panic trying to yank it free. Luckily I was wearing my hiking shoes and didn’t hurt my foot.
We hiked through the water for about 90 minutes and decided to head back. Our legs and feet were numb and it was a lot of hard work to keep our balance.
The Narrows hike is about 16 miles but the views are breathtaking for any distance of the hike you complete. What an adventure!
The Narrows Hike – Know Before You Go
We hadn’t planned to hike The Narrows and pretty much did everything wrong! It is an adventure we will always remember though. Here are the things you can do to be prepared for this unusual hike.
1) Zion Park Shuttle:
Exploring Zion requires riding the park shuttle. Research how far in advance you need to reserve your shuttle ticket.
2) Limited Internet:
Zion has extremely limited internet availability. Grab a paper copy of maps, shuttle schedules, and check the weather before you head into the park.
It is important to have the right footwear to protect your feet and ankles in The Narrows. If you don’t have good hiking shoes, there are rentals for hiking boots, hiking poles, and waterproofing bags before you enter the park.
4) Flash Flood Safety:
Slot canyons carry a risk of drowning due to flash flooding. Small amounts of rain can quickly turn deadly. Check the forecast and water level at the visitor center before entering The Narrows. There is no internet to check the weather once on the hike.
Adventure Tip: Have a backup hiking plan in case the river conditions or the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you aren’t afraid of heights, Angel’s Landing is another epic unusual hike in Zion.
#2 The Beehive – Acadia National Park
Our hiking path just got a lot narrower as we head to the number 2 most unusual national park hike, The Beehive.
Acadia National Park has a hiking experience not available in any other national park. It offers a hybrid to hiking and rock climbing called ladder trails.
The Beehive trail takes you up the side of the mountain by hiking narrow rock ledges and climbing up iron rungs anchored into the rock. If you aren’t afraid of heights, this is nature’s playground at its best!
It’s called The Beehive because of the rounded shape of the granite dome. Tourists may seem like bees on the hive in peak season too because this is a very popular hike.
The hike is short but strenuous. The excitement of climbing the iron rungs and the ocean view from the top makes it all completely worth it.
The Beehive Hike – Know Before You Go
This hike has some serious fall risks involved due to the narrow ledges and climbing the iron rungs. People have died hiking ladder trails in Acadia. There is a warning sign at the trailhead.
The sign almost says it all, but here are a few more things to know:
1) The Trail Is One-Way:
This is designed to be a one-way trail. There isn’t room for people to turn around and go back the other way, especially when the trail is crowded. So commit to the trail and go for it.
2) Not A Trail For Young Children:
This isn’t a great hiking trail for young kids. Not only is the fall risk a problem, but the spans of length between ledges and rungs are sometimes a challenge even for shorter adults. Just something to consider.
Wear hiking shoes with great traction. Loose rock and slick metal can really work against you if you don’t have the right shoes.
If conditions are wet, there are other amazing hiking options to explore in Acadia instead.
Adventure Tip: The Precipice Trail in Acadia is another unusual thrilling ladder trail. It is longer and more challenging than The Beehive.
The Precipice Trail is closed from late spring until mid-August to protect the endangered nesting peregrine falcons. If you visit during the fall, definitely check out this unique trail.
#1 Santa Cruz Island – Channel Islands National Park
Ever dream of having an island to yourself to explore for the day? Channel Islands National Park gives you that unique experience.
The Channel Islands sit just off the coast of California but you will feel worlds away on this trip.
Part of the exciting experience is the boat ride getting there. A pod of dolphins splashed in the waves at the back of the boat. We also saw a whale for the first time on this boat trip.
Your adventure begins by boarding the Island Explorer boat in Ventura, CA. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to reach Santa Cruz Island.
The boat holds a mix of day-trippers and campers. Most of our boat was filled with campers which left us pretty much alone on the hiking trails that day. Sissy gets motion sickness and was really excited to arrive on the island.
We spent our day trip focusing on hiking part of the north rim of the island. We hiked the cliff rim portion of the Cavern Point Loop Trail, the North Bluff Trail, and ended at Potato Harbor.
While the entire hike was beautiful, our favorite viewpoint during the hike was Potato Harbor.
On our return hike to the harbor, we completed the inland portion of the Cavern Point Loop Trail. The wildflowers were in full bloom and we got the thrill of seeing one of the rare island foxes. What a spectacular day of adventuring!
Channel Islands Hiking – Know Before You Go
This is a trip that requires a little more research and planning. Here are a few things to consider.
1) Boat Schedules:
There are 5 islands available to visitors via Island Packer Cruises. Some of the islands are only available during certain months of the year or certain days of the week. Be sure to research boat schedules when planning your trip.
2) Gear Requirements On Boat:
Camping is available by reservation however, there is a different boat fee for campers with gear. Check the current gear limits and fees. You may take a kayak on the boat and there is a fee according to the length.
3) Feet May Get Wet During Boat Boarding:
Boat boarding can vary depending on tide conditions and which island you visit. Sometimes the boat may be boarded by using a skiff from the beach to the boat and your feet may get wet.
Other times boat boarding may require climbing a metal ladder that spans from the dock to the boat.
4) There Is No Transportation On The Islands:
Once you arrive on the islands, there is no ground transportation. Bikes are not allowed. You can bring a kayak however the seas can be very rough. Check conditions if you wish to kayak.
Adventure Tip: Bring motion sickness medication if you are prone to seasickness. Riding on the outdoor boat deck reduces seasickness and makes it easier to search for dolphins and whales.
Early spring is a great time to visit to view wildflower blooms and migrating gray whales. Summer and fall are great times to visit for calmer waters to enjoy kayaking and diving.
Have you been on any of these unusual national park hikes? Please leave me a comment! I would love to hear about your experiences.
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Enjoy your adventure detour!
Scott and Van of The Adventure Detour are travel writers focusing on RV travel, family outdoor travel, national parks travel, and hiking. They have been full-time RV living and traveling across the US since 2015. In 8 years of full-time RVing, they have visited 38 national parks so far with the ultimate goal to see them all. They work as digital nomads while roadschooling their daughter nicknamed Sissy. On the way to all 50 states, they have visited and hiked through 42 states so far. The travel bucket list is forever growing!