Also river walks, meadow trails, or any easy hike that connects places connected by road.
Walking on often-paved trails that have no particular agenda inherently seems neither exciting nor unique. There they sit, right in the middle of developed everything, offering nothing particularly special. Why on earth would any able-bodied person go to a National Park and proceed to hike on what seems like the most beaten path there could possibly be?
Having me tell you why Rim Trails are great is like having someone try to
tell you that plain vanilla ice cream is better than the double chocolate chunk with caramel swirls. Vanilla ice cream is always the base of something better, so you’re going to with the something better every time. We go to the parks looking for a certain je ne sais quoi that if the mega-popular iconic features or isolated day hikes don’t elicit, why would some lame easy trail be worth your time?
1) Because They’re Surprisingly Underutilized
You would think that easy trails in the heart of a park’s development would be packed, right? Wrong. Since nearly everyone prefers to drive from Point A to Point B, the few people who choose to walk are more or less left to themselves. This is true even when distances are relatively short. From Inspiration Point to Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon is less than a mile, but we saw maybe a dozen other people as we meandered along the rim. Think of it this way: How many people out of 100 would choose to walk to the bank instead of drive, even it’s only a 10 minute walk? Not very many.
2) Because They’re Surprisingly Peaceful
As everyone else is jumping in and out of minivans, tour buses, or RVs, you can see the hurry in their faces. They’ve got places to go, things to see, and a dinner reservation by their hotel to make. One of the best parts of going to a national park is the opportunity to slow...down. Unlike other hikes that have a destination to them, rim trails and river walks afford you a chance to take a breath, stroll, and slowly absorb your park.
3) Because They’re Surprisingly Rewarding
Have you ever walked on street you’ve driven 1000 times and noticed something you’ve never seen before? Of course you have. You’re moving at a fraction of the speed you normally do, so you see things differently. The same is true in the National Parks. As everyone else is blasting through the Park at 45 mph, you’re breathing it in at less than 4. Even though you might be physically looking at the same iconic features, you will see them in a different, more intimate light. The person who has graced every inch of the Grand Canyon from Hermits Rest to the South Kaibab Trailhead knows the wonder better than the person who parks at Mather Point and shuttles to and from the rest. Honestly, there’s just something special about seeing famous landmarks emerge at the end of a trail instead of pulling up them in a vehicle.
4) Because They Can Remove The Stress of Parking at or Shuttling to Iconic Places
This might be the best reason of all. If you’re here looking for ways to make your National Park trip easier and more enjoyable, we cannot impart any better wisdom than using these easy walks to your advantage. If someone told you that you could park a mile down the road, enjoy a gorgeous view the entire time, perhaps see some wildlife, and skip the hassle of fighting for a parking space at a park’s most iconic feature, wouldn’t you do it? The South Rim Trail at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon is the most stress-free way visit both Uncle Tom’s Trail and Artist’s Point. The Pa’rus Trail makes Zion’s Village Area a—wait for it—walk in the park.
5) Because They’re Ideal After a More Strenuous Day Hike
When researching a park I’ve never been to, I look for hikes that are uncrowded, offer a unique perspective, and let me see something that most park visitors never see. Usually, I settle on a few trails in the 6-13 mile range that seem off the beaten path. After spending the mornings conquering these exhausting day hikes, afternoons and evenings call for a more relaxing approach (especially if you plan to do the same thing tomorrow) that I never could hone in on an ideal way to spend. It took me until my 10th National Park visit to discover is that these easy, meandering rim hikes—that I used to think were incredibly lame—actually fit my trail criteria perfectly! You can see famous landmarks in unique, stress-free ways on relaxing trails that most park visitors never bother to use. ← Point of this whole post, not sure why I wrote everything else.
One Caveat: Not All Walks Are Created Equal
Now before you start thinking that every hike the NPS labels as “Easy” is going to be an uncrowded, magical experience, there is a key difference. Some river walks or rim hikes have a specific destination to a specific landmark that will make them extremely popular and nothing like what we’ve described above. Riverwalk Trail in Zion is a perfect example. From the last shuttle stop, this is the only path people can use to see the beginning of The Narrows, which makes it crowded from start to finish. Should there have been one more stop, however, that simply took visitors to the beginning of the Narrows, the Riverwalk Trail would be nearly empty.