At Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel, Calif., you can spot seals, sea lions, sea otters, and migrating gray whales (from December to May).
ALSEA FALLS West of Monroe, Ore. "Easy enough for a 2-year-old," promises Sherrie Deaton of Monroe. "Our little girl loves the water, greenery, and ‘little bridges,' or wooden walkways. And at the bottom of Alsea Falls is a perfect swimming hole." www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation.
BEACON ROCK STATE PARK Wash., north of Cascade Locks, Ore. "We felt a surge of accomplishment at the top of this hulking monolith," says Robin Johnson of Stockton, Calif. "The hike looks impossible from near the parking area, but it’s extremely easy—a gentle, switchbacking climb suitable for all ages and most physical conditions—with rich views of the Columbia River valley." www.parks.wa.gov/alpha.asp.
BLACK LOCK POINT Floras Lake State Natural Area, south of Langlois, Ore. "No man-made objects obstruct Mother Nature’s scenery here," writes Christine Moehring of Bandon, Ore. "This easy hike ends in a breathtaking view of the Oregon coast—north to Bandon Dunes and south to Cape Blanco, the westernmost point in the lower 48 states." www.coostrails.com/traildescriptions/blacklock/blacklock.htm.
BOISE RIVER GREENBELT Boise, Idaho. "Our grandkids beg us to take them on a short hike through the woods here," says Carol Hamlin of Boise. "We always see Canada geese and mallards. Along the leaf-strewn path are fallen trees to hop over and even a natural teeter-totter." parks.cityofboise.org.
CAPTAIN JACK’S STRONGHOLD Lava Beds National Monument, Calif. "The rock walls are so high around you here that you feel you’re in a maze," writes Dot Lofstrom of Stockton, Calif. "Our kids had a great time hiding in small cavelike openings in the lava, then jumping out in ambush. With a brilliant blue sky above, rough rock all around, and Mount Shasta to the southwest, this trail provides a wonderful blend of geology, history, and family fun." www.nps.gov/labe.
GRIZZLY PEAK Northeast of Ashland, Ore. "This gently sloping trail a few miles out of town is just high enough in altitude to keep it cooler than in town and free of poison oak and bugs," says Jennifer Nidalmia of Ashland. "There’s a nice meadow picnic stop, and when you get to the peak it’s great views all around." www.oregontrails.com.
HAUL ROAD North of Fort Bragg, Calif. "A great place to exercise or unwind," says Linda Stanton of Fort Bragg. "A three-mile paved path takes you alongside the Pacific Ocean, over an old railroad trestle, to MacKerricher State Park. You’ll meet dog walkers, bikers, runners, strollers, and people on horses and in wheelchairs—but no cars. Lots of wildlife, too." www.mcn.org/1/mendoparks.
HIDDEN LAKE North of Leavenworth, Wash. "A well-engineered three-quarter-mile trail leads into a stand of old-growth cedar," writes Marianne Bennett of Leavenworth. "At the lake, dangle your feet in the chill alpine water while enjoying views of Nason Ridge above. A bit of boulder hopping at the lake’s east end will take you to a small but lovely waterfall." www.leavenworth.org/modules/pages/?pageid=214.
IAO VALLEY STATE PARK West of Wailuku, Maui. "Mark Twain called this place of stunning beauty and tranquillity ‘the Yosemite of the Pacific,’ " says Kanoe Hardin of Lahaina. "Walk along the stream and stare up in awe at the deep green cliffs. And be sure to glimpse Iao Needle rising 1,200 feet above the valley." www.hawaiiweb.com/maui/html/sites.
LAKE MARIE Snowy Range Scenic Byway, west of Laramie, Wyo. "Find views of the dramatic granite headwalls of Medicine Bow Peak along the paved, handicapped-accessible trail beside this alpine lake," writes Elsa Partan of Laramie. "The wildflowers near the mountain pass are just beautiful in July and August." www.byways.org/explore/byways/2054.
MIKE MILLER PARK South of Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport, Ore. "One of the best-kept secrets of the Oregon coast," writes Eileen Flory of Seal Rock, Ore. "It’s a pocket of old-growth forest with an easy, mile-long trail around a pond and through spruces. Mosses, ferns, and fungi all contribute to a surprise primordial experience that’s just a stone’s throw from Highway 101." www.co.lincoln.or.us/lcparks.
POINT LOBOS STATE RESERVE Carmel, Calif. "You can’t go wrong when you’re surrounded by forest and ocean," says Renate Sullivan of Atwater, Calif. "The South Shore, Lace Lichen, and Cypress Grove trails are easy to walk and lovely, as is the area around Whaler’s Cove. Great wildlife viewing is an added pleasure." www.pt-lobos.parks.state.ca.us.
TENNESSEE VALLEY Mill Valley, Calif. "Wonderful," promises Zorica Gojkovic of Mill Valley. "It’s just over a mile and a half to the ocean on a flat trail with gorgeous hills along the way. When you get there, you get a view of the entire ocean, with flying pelicans and other wildlife dashing about, eating, making noises." www.nps.gov/goga.
UPPER McCLOUD RIVER TRAIL East of McCloud, Calif. "Truly one of those don’t-miss hikes," writes Linda Holden of Mount Shasta, Calif. "There aren’t many places where you can stroll along a pristine river on an easy trail through magnificent forests and incredible rock formations, view three gorgeous waterfalls in less than two miles, and not break a sweat." www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity/recreation/smmu.
VIRGIN RIVER CANYON Zion National Park, Utah. "The Zion Narrows trail is unequaled in novelty and beauty," says Robin Johnson of Stockton, Calif. "Suspense builds as you round each bend in thigh-high currents between sheer 2,000-foot cliffs stained white, yellow, black, and brown. It’s both exciting and memorable." www.nps.gov/zion.
WAHCLELLA FALLS East of Bonneville Dam, Ore. "A delightful 1.8-mile round-trip hike leads to a view of a spectacular 350-foot double-plunge into a splash pool," writes Al Hewitt of Portland. "Monumental boulders, vertical basalt cliffs with hanging gardens, and dipping waterbirds make this a great place for an awesome picture." www.fs.fed.us/r6/columbia/trails/trail_436.htm.
WILLAMETTE MISSION STATE PARK North of Salem, Ore. "Come for the history but enjoy the miles of trails that wind along the Willamette River through hazelnut and walnut orchards," writes Cindy Hunt of Keizer, Ore. "The park has a landing for the Wheatland Ferry, the first to take covered wagons across the Willamette." www.oregonstateparks.org/park_139.php.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK Calif. "The Valley Floor Loop, lightly used, offers solitude in the most beautiful place in the West," says Dana Marble of Coarsegold, Calif. "The trail, at about 4,000 feet, is level and is best in the spring, when the waterfalls are roaring and snow is still visible on the high mountains." www.nps.gov/yose.
Photography by Nancy Hoyt Belcher
This article was first published in May 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.