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Within about an hour east of Phoenix, you will encounter the hauntingly beautiful and rugged mountains of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Winter months offer the best time to explore the many miles of trails. The First Water(PDF) or Peralta (PDF) trailheads offer the closest access from Phoenix. Come prepared for rough terrain, breathtaking views and tales of lost gold mines.
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The 65-mile (104 km) Backbone Trail System traverses the length of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and intersects state, private and federal lands along the way. Biting off the entire trail might be too much at once, so pick a section and enjoy the diversity of this incredible landscape overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Use this map (PDF) to select an access point. The nearest trailhead to Los Angeles, and the beginning of the trail, is at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, just about 30 minutes from the city. Point Mugu State Park marks the end of the trail.
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In about an hour—and some change—from San Francisco the Point Reyes National Seashore offers more than 150 miles (240 km) of trails to explore this coastal beauty. We could not pick just one trail, so take a look at this Trail Guide and Suggested Hikes to find one that satisfies your distance and scenery desires. Consider the Chimney Rock Trail (1.6 miles/2.5 km) for jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean and Drakes Bay with opportunities to spot migrating whales from January to May.
Jefferson County Parks
Mount Galbraith Park features 5 miles (8 km) of hiker-only trails with challenging and rewarding terrain. Within 45 minutes (or less) of Denver, these steep, rocky trails ascend to panoramic views of Golden, Denver, Golden Gate Canyon and beyond. This is a great area to hike and experience the Rocky Mountains without the preparation of an expedition into this majestic mountain range.
Wildlife Refuge (FWS)
In less than one hour northeast of Orlando, you will discover the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where checking out the wildlife is an experience to remember. There are six hiking trails from ½ mile (.8 km) up to 5 miles (8 km) that allow you to view and photograph 300 species of birds, alligators, manatees, turtles and so much more. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset and is located adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center and along the Canaveral National Seashore. These driving directions and GPS coordinates will help you navigate your way to the area.
Although it is about an hour and a half from Atlanta, the spectacular Amicalola Falls at Amicalola State Park make the drive, and the hike, time well spent. If you choose to climb the stairs, a series of steps and decks lead one mile (1.6 km) to the top of the falls. From here, you can hike another 7.5 miles (12 km) to reach Springer Mountain Trailhead on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forestwhich is the end, or the beginning, of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
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Within an hour of Chicago, and across the state line, you will discover the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where about a dozen trails offer a variety of experiences. The Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm Trail features natural landscapes and historic sites with two loops for a 30-minute hike, or up to a few hours, depending on your route. The Bailly Homestead is a National Historic Landmark and provides a glimpse into the life of settlers in the mid to late 1800s. The Chellberg Farm is a living history and working farm, complete with re-enactments of farm life during the turn of the century. Boardwalks provide access to wetlands and ravine crossings; sand, dirt and bark covered trails cross through grassy meadows and provide access to all who visit.
In a little more than 30 minutes west of St. Louis you will arrive at Weldon Spring Conservation Area where the pedestrian-only Lewis and Clark Trails offer a variety of terrain and great scenery. This area map (PDF) provides an overview and directions to the trailhead. You have a few choices with these trails; do the 5.3 mile (8.5 km) Clark Trail loop, or continue on to complete the 8.2-mile (13.2 km) Lewis Trail loop, or reduce the distance and do an out-and-back at whatever distance feels right. The trails reward the effort with “million-dollar views” of the Missouri River.
Take your pick from 6.5 miles (10.4 km) of color-coded trails (PDF) within the Cranberry Lake Preserve, just a little over an hour from New York City (give or take for traffic). The Purple Loop is a self-guided historical journey using an interpretive brochure to guide the way. The Red Loop takes you around the entire park and the Blue Loop circles a lake and a pond. The Yellow Loop provides great scenery and the Orange trails connect them all. Check for park hours and directionsprior to making the trip.
The Cottonwood-Black Creek Hiking Trail, in the Caddo-Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) National Grasslands, is located a little over an hour northwest of Dallas/Fort Worth. This 4-mile (6.4 km) trail connects the Black Creek and Cottonwood lakes and crosses through hardwoods, plenty of grasslands and acres of wildlife habitat. This is a great hike with dogs with access to plenty of water at the lakes and along the trail as it follows Black Creek.
This is an out-and-back hike in Bells Canyon within an hour of Salt Lake City that offers great views whatever length you choose. At a half mile you are rewarded with the scenic Bell Canyon Reservoir where you can either turn around or continue on to the first of a series of waterfalls at about the 2 mile (3.2 km) mark. Beyond this area, the trail gets much steeper and challenging and ascends to the Upper Bell Canyon Reservoir with views of the Salt Lake Valley at various points along the way. This trail description and directions provides great detail to help guide your way.
Forest (Christine Lanphear/
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The hike to Lake Serene is worth a little extra driving time, with the trailhead located about an hour and half northeast of Seattle. Dramatic Bridal Falls, Lake Serene and the impressive spires of Mt. Index provide a scenic backdrop to this loop trail. This is a strenuous, rocky trail and may be done as an out-and-back after the 1/2-mile (.8 km) hike to the falls if you do not want to complete the entire loop. This trail description and rating provides some helpful information for planning your trip.