3 Best National Park Hikes for Seniors

Nearly 53 million acres across the United States have been designated as national park lands, all protected by the National Park Service and ready for you to explore on foot. Cross lush forests, learn about awe-inspiring native flora and fauna, and ascend summits as you soak in the best of our national treasures.

Ranging from easy hikes of a quarter-mile to more strenuous elevation hikes of seven miles or more, these spectacular national park hikes offer seniors life-list worthy experiences. Each educational tour boasts photogenic views, the best expert-led lectures, and dramatic appeal you'll want to see for yourself.

1. Hiking Across Three National Parks in the Southwest

For a true Southwest hiking adventure, explore several national parks with diverse ecosystems and historical features, like Fort Davis National Historic Site in Texas, one of the best-preserved military posts in the region. Short hiking trails in the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert boast spectacular views of the military fort and rugged Davis Mountains of West Texas.

At Big Bend National Park, which sits on the border of Texas and Mexico, more than 800,000 acres await your visit with plenty of expansive views. You'll find petroglyphs and pictographs aplenty on the easy Native Americans Trail, while the more moderate hike into Santa Elena Canyon wows with views of dramatic limestone cliffs. Keep your camera handy.

A few hours north, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a scenic treasure just one-tenth the size of Big Bend National Park, yet no less spectacular. Here, a moderate hike to McKittrick Canyon is a must for one of the most beautiful walks in Texas. Cross the border into New Mexico for Carlsbad Caverns National Park, home to an awe-inspiring underground network of caves known for formations like Painted Grotto, Big Room and Iceberg Rock.

Road Scholar Recommends: Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns

2. Trekking Through Mountains & Valleys in Yosemite National Park

From giant sequoia trees to cascading waterfalls to dramatic granite domes and monoliths, California's Yosemite National Park offers a lot spread across nearly 750,000 acres. Yosemite hiking trails criss-cross the park, allowing for rich exploration of our third-oldest national park, a treasure set in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A good starting point for a hike is Mariposa Grove, a cluster of towering giant sequoias just inside the park near the South Entrance. More than 500 mature sequoias flourish here, including the tallest, Grizzly Giant, which stands more than 200 feet tall. Loop trails of varying distances and effort levels are perfect for seniors, allowing you to explore the ecology of the giant sequoias at your own pace.

Make the drive along scenic Glacier Point Road for multiple trailheads boasting short hikes with big payoffs. One to try is Sentinel Dome, a magical trail with spectacular views rivaling Glacier Point, one of the park's most popular observation points. Of course, no tour through Yosemite is complete without a stop in Yosemite Valley for sky-high cliffs and plunging waterfalls.

Road Scholar Recommends: Choose Your Pace: Hiking Yosemite Up Close and Personal

3. Summiting the Jewel of New England, Acadia National Park

Widely-known for breathtaking scenery and seaside appeal, Maine's Mount Desert Island is the second largest island on the eastern seaboard. It's also home to charmingly nautical Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, a natural treasure that stuns with dramatic cliffs, rocky beaches, and granite peaks.

The elevation hike to Gorham Mountain wows with colorful wildflower blooms and rewards with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Cranberry Islands, as well as Otter Point and Sand Beach within the park. Learn from a naturalist throughout your hikes, and at the summit, breathe in the delightful salty air and savor the panoramic payoff. On the way down, sample wild Maine blueberries that grow along the trail and dream of the expert-led lobster-eating class you’ll attend that evening.

The well-traveled South Ridge Trail, while more strenuous, is worth the effort for breathtaking seascape views atop Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the east coast. Ascend through a lush forest of white birch, spruce, and pitch pine trees before vegetation clears and pink granite dominates. From the summit, the views of the Porcupine Islands, Eagle Lake, and Bar Harbor are simply spectacular. You'll be eager to tell your friends when you return home.

Road Scholar Recommends: Hiking in Acadia National Park

Explore our entire collection of educational National Park tours to plan an active hiking adventure through the U.S. National Park system.

Related Products or Services:
Choose Your Pace: Hiking Yosemite Up Close and Personal
Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns
Hiking in Acadia National Park

Related Links:
Yosemite Tours for Seniors: Eight Can't-Miss Experiences
Top 10 National Parks You've Never Heard Of
A Very Special Way Older Americans Can Protect Our National Parks

About the Author
Hailing from London, England, Alexander Morris studied at The School of Oriental and African Studies in his home city. He began his Road Scholar journey 13 years ago designing small programs in the Midwest, learning a great deal about North America in the course of managing and developing unique programming. In his current position as the Director of Strategy and Program Development, his broader International perspective and knowledge is invaluable as he oversees new Road Scholar programming across the globe. Alex espouses the value of an occasional sabbatical to recharge creative batteries, spending four months sailing the Greek Islands prior to joining Road Scholar and more recently spending a year in Costa Rica.

  • So glad to read your recommendation of the Big Bend program; I'm going on it solo next month (October 2019) and can hardly wait! I've done much of the reading and love it already. Hope to see some of you there.

Get our e-newsletter!

Stay in the loop on our new blogs, special offers, new adventures and more.