11 Hikes to Stay Cool During the Dog Days of Summer

·3 min read

Backpacker

We’re officially in the back half of summer, the days when the temperatures rise even as the sun begins to set earlier, enveloping many hiking areas in a sweaty, sweltering blanket of heat. When the rocks along the trail begin to get too hot to touch and your thermometer starts reaching for its third digit, you’d be forgiven for leaving your backpack on the shelf and settling into the couch to binge bad TV. But we know you won’t. That’s not you.

Instead of battling the summer heat, dodge it: Find a trail where elevation, shade, cool water, latitude, or cave ceilings (yep) stand between you and the burning sun. These 12 destinations will have you wishing summer never ended. --The Editors

Zion National Park, UT

Zion Narrows
Larry Lamsa

The Narrows, 16 miles

One of the most bucket-listed hikes in the national parks is also a prime spot for avoiding Utah's scorching summer heat. The slot canyon extends 16 miles, though many will select portions based on their skill level. No matter where you go, one thing’s for sure: You will get wet.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA

prairie creek redwoods
Juri Knauth

Fern Canyon Loop Trail, 1 mile

You won't need much time to hike this flat, short loop hidden among the redwoods of Humboldt County. The path follows shallow Home Creek, where towering canyon walls saturated with ferns keep the heat out.

Shenandoah National Park, VA

bridge
Katy Cain/Shenandoah National Park

Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail, 10 miles

Six waterfalls populate this moderately difficult out-and-back, which takes hikers through into a rocky gorge in the heart of Shenandoah. Bonus: Swimming holes line the path.

Kachemak Bay State Park, AK

grewingk glacier
Dave Bezaire

Glacier Lake Trail to Humpy Creek, 18 miles

The easiest way to cool off in the summer months: chase ice. Spend four days rambling past calving ice, crystal-clear and cold Alaskan lakes, and up into the alpine on this journey to the shores of Kachemak Bay.

Burgess Falls State Natural Area, TN

Burgess Falls
James Tatum

River Trail/Service Loop, 1.5 miles

Waterfalls up to 136 feet high adorn this moderately strenuous trail along and into a sheer limestone gorge, meaning there's plenty of opportunity for a cool down spray from above.

Lake Tahoe, CA

rubicon trail
Ray Bouknight

Rubicon Trail to Rubicon Point, 10.6 miles

Summer is the time to enjoy Tahoe's perpetually cool water. This moderately difficult trail has plenty of waterside sections, and the tall canopy of the surrounding forest keeps the sun from beating down.

Sedona, AZ

west fork
Larry Lane

West Fork Trail, 6.6 miles (or extend up to 14)

There's no heat like Arizona heat, so in summer, the water-heavy West Fork Trail is very welcome. The first 3 miles are easy, with plenty of stream crossings. After that, be prepared to wade, and maybe swim, down the stream.

Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

None
None

Deep Gap Trail, 4.3 miles

Situated in a microclimate that keeps it cooler than the surrounding area, the Deep Gap trail can stay fresh even during heat waves. Thank the high altitude, which grants hikers spectacular views of the Black Mountains.

Santa Barbara, CA

refugio beach
Ashley

Refugio to El Capitan, 2.5 miles

The great thing about beach hikes is that cooling off in the ocean isn't just possible--it's encouraged. This easy hike from Refugio to El Capitan has beaches, tidepools, and lots of rocky outcroppings. Pro tip: Take a look at the tidal schedules first.

Pattison State Park, WI

Big Manitou Falls
Doug Kerr

Big Manitou Falls River Trail, .75 mile

Get a ground-level view of Wisconsin's tallest waterfall, a 165-foot cascade carved into sandstone and basalt, with a short, downhill hike along the Black River. Keep an eye out for one of the park's rarer residents, the tiny vertigo land snail.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

mammoth cave
Niagara66

Mammoth Cave Wild Cave Tour, 5 miles

You'll need to book a tour guide for this excursion, but it's worth it: the temperatures underground hover around 54 fahrenheit year-round. And then there's the architecture: the Wild Cave Tour gives visitors 6 hours of messy, scrambling fun well beneath the earth's surface.

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