3 of the Best Hikes on the American West Coast

July 23, 2019Garland Kennedy
Olympic National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Olympic National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.

The vistas of the American West have inspired people from John Muir to Ansel Adams to venture into the wilderness. Stunning mountains, clear lakes, and rushing trout streams draw all brands of travelers who enjoy spending time outdoors.

Stretching thousands of miles from Southern California to the Aleutian Islands, there are many activities to choose from, including world-class hiking, backpacking, hunting, and fishing.

An outdoors enthusiast can do almost anything in this region. The scenery is awe-inspiring, the distances vast, and the potential for adventure limitless. If a person enjoys being outside, they will enjoy the American West.

The Trader Legend Pole is a ridicule pole. Ridicule poles served to resolve conflicts through peer pressure. The original pole stood in the Kaigani Haida village of Sukkwan. This replica pole was carved by Native carvers during the 1938-1942 CCC project. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Totem Park Trail, Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska

Located in the heart of downtown Sitka, Totem Park offers visitors a beautiful hike saturated with history. A simple loop trail runs through the rainforest beside the sea. Spaced along the trail, Tlingit totem poles stand as silent beacons of cultural memory.

The beauty of the forest combined with the amazing Tlingit art makes this easy hike worthwhile for anyone in Southeast Alaska. And if you’re hiking in August when the blueberries ripen, you can snack as you walk! The main loop trail is wheelchair accessible, so people with disabilities can enjoy the park as well. The Totem Park trail is a solid intro to Sitka, and an interested hiker can continue to the Raptor Center or even hike miles inland on the Indian River Trail.

There’s a historical presence here beyond the totem poles. A small clearing beside the trail marks the location of the Tlingit fort from the 1804 Battle of Sitka. The Tlingit defended this ground against Russian assaults before running low on gunpowder and shot. Near defeat, the Tlingit withdrew into the wilderness and began a long, asymmetric conflict rather than surrender.

Sitka National Historic Park offers beautiful hiking in the temperate rainforest, and the military history of the site adds interest as well.

Bobcat in the Hoh Rain Forest. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington

A solid hike for any fan of “Return of the Jedi,” the Hoh River Trail guides a hiker through Endor — also known as Olympic National Park. The temperate rainforest is an amazing ecosystem, and it’s well preserved here on Washington’s Pacific coast.

Following the course of the Hoh River, this trail runs 17 miles through the woods. Be aware that there are steeper sections, especially near Glacier Meadows at the end of the trail. However, if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, a backpacking trip here is truly amazing.

The peaks of Olympic National Park are one of a kind, and the herds of Roosevelt elk are living, breathing symbols of the American West at its finest.

If a day hike through the forest is what you’re looking for, the first 13 miles of the trail are very mild — most individuals or families can make this trail a day hike. For climbers, this trail is an access point to the route up Mount Olympus, though that is a highly technical climb.

Olympic National Park has many trails, but the Hoh River Trail is a standout for everything from day hikes to mountain-climbing expeditions.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Jennie and Weaver Lakes Loop Trail, Jennie Lakes Wilderness, California

The High Sierras are an American icon, and as such there are a myriad of excellent hiking options in the area. The trail to Jennie and Weaver Lakes is a must-do for any outdoors enthusiast in California. Better yet, this trail is located right outside of Sequoia National Park. That means that you can experience all of the beauty with only a fraction of the crowds.

This loop trail runs about 10 miles all told, and the elevation gain is not too significant. That, combined with the amazing scenery, makes this a hike for almost any age group or skill level.

Since this is the American West, pack in a fly rod to maximize your experience! The fishing in this area is tremendous during the summer, just be sure to read the regulations first.

If a hike or backpacking trip through stunning scenery makes you want to pick up your gear and step out your door, try out the Jennie and Weaver Lakes Trail.

Garland Kennedy
Garland Kennedy

Garland Kennedy is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die. As an avid backpacker and outdoorsman, he has explored wide-open spaces all over North America — from the forests of North Carolina (he’s a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in medieval history) to the mountains of Alaska. His previous bylines include gear reviews on

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