I’ve been an avid nature photographer for close to 45 years, and I’ve always been a fan of the zoom lens. Zoom lenses allow you to not only bring distant objects near, they can also provide a way to frame the shot the way you prefer instead of cropping it later with software.
Recently on the trail I was reminded about how important zoom capability can be when I spotted a hummingbird landing on a branch at the top of a tree. Despite the fact that the hummingbird was small (naturally) and the tree was some distance away (see photo), I was able to use the 30x zoom on my little point-and-shoot camera (at the moment the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40), to zoom in on the little thing and get some shots that made it look like I could reach out and touch it (see second photo). Neither photograph has been cropped.
If you are interested in achieving this kind of capability, these kinds of cameras are referred to as “super zooms”. Super zoom cameras come in all kinds of configurations, from general consumer kinds of cameras to “prosumer” to expensive professional rigs. As a hiker, you will most likely want a compact “point-and-shoot” camera that you can slip into a back pocket. If you are in the market for such a camera, here is a good web site outlining some of your best options.