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Mount Sanitas Loop Trail – Boulder, Colorado

View of Boulder from the peak of the Mount Sanitas Trail

View of Boulder from the peak of the Mount Sanitas Trail

Location: Off Mapleton Avenue, just west of Boulder

Trail Length: About 3.0 miles, loop trail that includes the Mount Sanitas, East Ridge and Sanitas Valley trails

Elevation Gain: Almost 1,300 feet

Notable Features: A strenuous trail that is very popular with the locals. Expect to share the trail with a lot of people and dogs, especially on the weekends. The peak offers great views of Boulder as well as the mountains to the west, and the descent down the East Ridge Trail is very steep and sometimes hard to follow (just follow the crowd). Once you reach the bottom, the Sanitas Valley Trail is a wide gravel path back to the trailhead.

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Rattlesnake Canyon Trail – Santa Barbara, California

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail near Santa Barbara, California

View of the cloud-covered Pacific Ocean from Rattlesnake Canyon Trail near Santa Barbara, California

Location: Foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara

Trail Length: 5.1 miles, out and back

Elevation Gain: About 1600 feet

Link: Rattlesnake Canyon Trail on AllTrails.com

Notable Features: Fairly strenuous trail heading up to Gibraltar Road. Some shade near the bottom of the trail, but exposed near the top. A good workout with great views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara.

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Estes Cone Trail – Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Cone Trail near Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Cone Trail near Estes Park, Colorado

Location: Edge of Rocky Mountain National Park south of Estes Park

Trail Length: 6.2 miles, out and back

Elevation Gain: About 1600 feet

Link: Estes Cone Trail on AllTrails.com

Notable Features: Moderate trail at high elevation through forest for first half of trail. Second half is more strenuous and climbs to Estes Cone for a great view of the surrounding area.

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Angel Rocks Trail near Fairbanks, Alaska

Angel Rocks TrailWhen I asked a local what trail I should try first in the Chena River State Recreation Area, her response was immediate: Angel Rocks Trail.

The trail begins with a wide graded path meandering along the amazing Chena River for about 3/4 of a mile. Then the trail climbs a steep 800 feet over the next mile to a granite rock formation, the Angel Rocks. Keep an eye out for a spur trail just past the one mile from the trailhead for a spot to fill up with crystal clear, cold, drinkable water.

After reaching the top at around 1800 feet above sea level, you’ll have great views of the surrounding wilderness. At the top, you have three choices. Go back the way you came or continue on the Angel Rocks loop back to the original trailhead (the downgrade is very steep in places), which is shown in my map and is about 3.5 miles in total distance. Your third option is to continue another 6.5 miles to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, which has a natural hot springs lake and a few dining options. Best to have a second car waiting for you there unless you want to relax and then reverse the same route back to the original trailhead.

  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Chena River on the Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Birch trees on the Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Chena River on the Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Chena River on the Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Chena River on the Angel Rocks Trail east of Fairbanks, Alaska

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Inspiration Point – Santa Barbara, California

View from Inspiration PointThe hike up to Inspiration Point is one of the most popular in Santa Barbara due to the amazing views of the city, Pacific Ocean and the distant Channel Islands.

My route took me up the Tunnel Trail to the Jesusita Trail up to the point. At around 5 miles round-trip with an 800-1000 foot elevation gain (depending how far from the trailhead you have to park), it is a moderately strenuous hike, but the views are more than worth the effort.

As one of the more popular trails in the area, expect to share the path with hikers of all ages, dogs and mountain bikers.

  • Trail to Inspiration Point
  • View from Inspiration Point
  • View from Inspiration Point
  • Near Inspiration Point
  • Trail to Inspiration Point
  • Burned manzanita near Inspiration Point
  • View from Inspiration Point
  • Near Inspiration Point
  • Trail marker to Inspiration Point

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Kalalau Trail – Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

View of the Na Pali Coast

View of the Na Pali Coast

The Kalalau Trail is often considered one of the most scenic and challenging hikes in all of Hawaii.

Starting at the end of the Kuhio Highway on Kauai’s north shore, the Kalalau Trail goes up and down ridges for 11 miles across the otherwise impassable Na Pali Coast.

The trail immediately goes up and within 1/4 mile, you come across a great viewpoint of Ke’e Beach near the start of the trail.

The trail climbs steadily until you reach about 600 feet in elevation, providing amazing views as you look west to the imposing Na Pali Coast. After reaching the top of this first ridge, the trail descends into the Hanakapi’ai Valley until you cross over a stream and see the wide-open Hanakapi’ai Beach stretching out in front of you, about 2 miles from the trailhead.

Hanakapi’ai Beach is the farthest I could get in the time I had, but the Kalalau Trail continues for 9 more miles up and down Na Pali’s ridges. The trail is part of Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and starting in 2012 camping permits are required for anyone venturing past Hanakoa Valley, 6 miles in from the trailhead. There’s also a 2+ mile spur trail south from Hanakapi’ai Beach to a 300-foot waterfall.

  • View of Ke'e Beach
  • View of the Na Pali Coast
  • Red dirt of the Kalalau Trail
  • Entering Hanakapi'ai Valley
  • Stream at Hanakapi'ai Beach
  • Rock formations at Hanakapi'ai Beach
  • Hanakapi'ai Beach
  • Hanakapi'ai Beach
  • Looking down at Hanakapi'ai Beach
  • View of the Na Pali Coast

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Skyline Trail – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

View of the peak of Mount Rainier.

View of the peak of Mount Rainier.

Skyline Trail is probably the most popular trail in Mount Rainier National Park – and it’s not an easy one! The trail begins at the popular Paradise Jackson Visitors Center at around 5,400 feet of elevation on the south slope of Mount Rainier. And the Skyline Trail just goes up from there… it’s called the Skyline Trail – what did you expect?

Head toward the peak by following signs for the Skyline Trail – as you get higher, you’ll get a great view of the Nisqually Glacier to the west. The river valley it spawns can be seen as it spirals down toward the park entrance. The dense pine forest at Paradise will give way to a tundra-like terrain with fewer trees as you gain elevation. Eventually, there will be signs to point you to Pebble Creek (at 7200′ and about 2.2 miles from Paradise) or Panorama Point (at 6800′). I made it as high as Pebble Creek and if you want to head higher toward Camp Muir (at over 10,000′ of elevation), you should make sure you know the unmarked way.

You can pick several trails to return: the way you came (which I did on the second day), from Panorama Point via the Golden Gate Trail (the one I took on my first day), or swing further east on the Skyline.

  • View of the peak of Mount Rainier.
  • Valley below Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Waterfall from the Nisqually Glacier as seen from the Skyline Trail.
  • Marmot on the Skyline Trail.
  • Skyline Trail with the Tatoosh Range in the distance.
  • Wildflowers with Mount Rainier in the background.
  • Pebble Creek at 7200' elevation.
  • Pebble Creek at 7200' elevation with Mount Rainier's peak in the background.
  • Me at Pebble Creek at 7200' elevation.
  • Pebble Creek at 7200' elevation.

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Mount San Jacinto Peak – Palm Springs, California

Me at the 10,834-foot peak of Mount San Jacinto.

Me at the 10,834-foot peak of Mount San Jacinto.

The trek to the peak of Mount San Jacinto is one of the more strenuous hikes in the area – and worth every bit of effort it takes to navigation 11 miles round-trip with a 2,300 elevation gain.

As you’re heading out from the mountain station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, make sure to stop first at the ranger station and fill out a free permit for hiking in the wilderness areas of Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Once you’re on your way, the hike can be broken down into three parts:

– Tram station to Round Valley: The initial portion is about 2.5 miles long with a modest 700-foot elevation gain. You’ll keep bumping into (and crossing over) a stream with varying levels of water depending on the season. You’ll travel past large boulders and Jeffrey pines until you see a meadow to the north, your signal that you’re almost at Round Valley. There are pit toilets and a nearby campground with a spigot for washing (or boiling before drinking). Round Valley is about 9,100 feet above sea level.

– Round Valley to Wellman’s Divide: This is a steep incline, the most difficult stretch of the hike in my opinion. It has the same 700-foot elevation as the first segment but over only a one-mile distance. It’s a beautiful trail through thick pine forest with plenty of boulders to rest on if you need to catch your breath in the increasingly thin air. Once you arrive at the lookout with great views to the southwest; you may even be able to see Palomar Observatory. Now you’re just a bit under 10,000 feet above sea level – around 9,700.

– Wellman’s Divide to the Peak: Continue following signs at Wellman’s pointing to the peak. The tree cover will get thinner (as will the air), and as you switchback up the final ridge, you can look east and see both the open Round Valley meadow and the mountain tram station. You’ll go mostly up for about 2 miles until you crest the ridge and make your way across a brief flatter area until you see a stone house, used for rangers and emergencies. At this point, the trail ends, but to reach the peak, you’ll go boulder-hopping up to the very top, where a sign marks the 10,834-foot-high peak, the second-highest mountain (next to Mount San Gorgonio, viewable to the north) in southern California.

Take your time, take some photos and enjoy the beautiful 360-degree views at the peak before heading back the same way you came up. It’s a memorable journey, and you’ll earn bragging rights for conquering Mount San Jacinto… And I’ll brag: I’ve done it 5 times!

  • Mount San Jacinto
  • Round Valley meadow
  • Round Valley
  • Wellman's Divide
  • Mount San Jacinto peak
  • Mount San Jacinto peak
  • Mount San Jacinto peak
  • Mount San Jacinto peak
  • Round Valley
  • Mount San Jacinto peak

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Araby Trail – Palm Springs, California

View of Bob Hope's house from the Araby Trail.

View of Bob Hope’s house from the Araby Trail.

The Araby Trail in Palm Springs is a moderate-to-strenuous hike up to the first ridge of the Santa Rosa Mountains. You’ll gain 1,000 feet of elevation in about 2 miles, and once at the top of the Araby, you can connect to the Santa Rosa’s impressive network of trails via the Burns, Garstin and Clara Burgess trails.

The most notable feature of this trail is that it skirts just behind the Bob Hope House, an iconic Palm Springs landmark. And it gets close: You can look into the house’s patio and front windows from the trail’s nearest point. Mind the “No Trespassing” signs as the property (which as of Dec. 2012 is for sale) reportedly has armed security guards.

  • Murray Peak pokes over a ridge as seen from the Araby Trail in Palm Springs.
  • Araby Trail in Palm Springs.
  • Looking up at Bob Hope's house from the Araby Trail.
  • Looking up at Bob Hope's house from the Araby Trail.
  • View of Bob Hope's house from the Araby Trail.
  • View of Palm Springs from the Araby Trail.
  • Araby Trail junction with Berns and Garstin trails.
  • View of Palm Springs from the Araby Trail.
  • Araby Trail in Palm Springs.
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