Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Golden Canyon Trail is possibly the most well-traveled of any in Death Valley National Park – and for good reason.
Take a trip down this trail as the sunlight hits the surrounding cliffs, including the amazing Red Cathedral formation, and it’s obvious how the canyon was named.
The trail itself is well-marked and easy to follow and the in-and-out trail to Red Cathedral is about 3 miles round-trip. Add 4 miles if you decide to take the Gower Gulch loop to the south.
The Golden Canyon Trail occasionally drops into a sandy wash or over boulders so good footwear is essential. And just in case you need to be reminded: Probably steer clear of any Death Valley hiking during the sweltering summer months.
Salt flats at Badwater Basin, lowest elevation in the U.S., in Death Valley National Park, California
You won’t get any lower than this. Not in North America, anyway.
Badwater Basin is an open expanse of sand and salt flats 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point on North America. And if you want to know exactly how low you are, scan the rock cliff to the east until you see the sign reading “Sea Level” bolted at the appropriate height.
It is desolate – but far from empty. Given its extreme status, this is one of the most visited spots in the vast Death Valley National Park, where temperatures can reach 130 degrees in the summer. Winter brings more tolerable temps, but the air chills dramatically once the sun goes down.
The salt flats stretch far into the basin, so visitors can walk around at their own pace and direction. And the basin is almost perfectly flat so there is no elevation gain from the bottom of this side of the Earth.
The Dogwood Trail, inside the campground of the same name, is just long enough and just steep enough to rate this a moderate (instead of easy) trail.
The trail itself is well maintained and winds through patches of pine and dogwood trees. It starts near campsite 69 and, depending on which route you take, ends up near the main highway (you can walk back to the campground on the road) or behind the restrooms near campsite 90 (this is the shorter route).
The campground is only open in the summer, and the November 1 date I was there was the last day of the season. The campground itself is perfect for a weekend getaway into the mountains. The restrooms are clean and functional, and the sites are spread out nicely with lots of trees providing privacy from the neighbors.
Children’s Forest Trail near Running Springs, California
The Children’s Forest Trail can be done as an easy one-mile loop of the interpretive nature trail after driving down Keller Peak Road to the parking lot. Or for those seeking a tougher challenge, start at the visitor’s center off Highway 18 and hike 4.5 miles to the same nature loop, with a return trip of another 4.5 miles.
The area contains a wide variety of trees (manzanita, chaparral and pines dominate) and animals, squirrels, deer, birds and bears (although you’re not likely to spot any of the latter). The nature trail gives a decent, although somewhat distant, view of a nearby reservoir, and it is a great place to take kids for a quick walk in nature.
The Kishwaukee River south of Rockford has great kayaking for people of all skill levels. I went with my sister, her husband and their two boys. The almost 9-mile length was a little long for the younger one, but with a current that keeps you moving in the right direction, it seems shorter. And there are plenty of sandbars to take snack breaks.
We put in at Baumann Park in Cherry Valley and ended at Atwood Park in New Milford. You need to leave a car at Atwood or arrange to have someone pick you up there.
My sister’s family has done this kayak several times, and she says the water level has varied considerably. When I went with them, she said it was much lower than her previous trips. We had to hop out of our kayaks and drag them a couple of times when the river was too shallow, but it was manageable and only happened two or three times.
Time lapse video of the Kishwaukee River:
San Antonio Creek Trail, located in Tucker’s Grove Park, and as the name suggests, follows the creek of the same name for about 1.75 miles until the route ends at the northern trailhead at Highway 154.
The creek is currently dry thanks to the extreme drought in pretty much all of California, but it’s still a worthwhile trek through an oak woodland. The notable highlight is the large dam about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and this point offers a break in the trees and a great view of the surrounding area.
This a great hike for kids or beginners as the elevation gain is very gradual and you can turn back at any time. As always in the area, watch out for poison oak if you venture off the trail.
Parma Park sits in the hills above the famous American Riviera section of Santa Barbara but is easily accessible and provides great views, including a little slice of Pacific Ocean around Montecito.
Parma has about five miles of trail winding through 200 acres wedged between two creeks, both of which are probably dry until the state’s historic drought passes. The trail shown below passes through oak and chaparral forest and rises steadily about 400 feet after turning north to the highest point, where there is a picnic table, dedication marker, and equestrian hitch for horses. There are still charred trees and stumps from the Tea Fire in November 2008 that burned most of the park.
There is very little shade once you start to climb the hill at the eastern point of the trail, including at the picnic table at the top, but with sunblock, proper clothing and enough water, this should be a good hike for both kids and adults in reasonably good shape.
Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park, Alaska
The Savage River Loop Trail is a flat, relatively easy trail – and my favorite spot (that I’ve encountered so far) in amazing Denali National Park.
The trail starts at the parking lot – and dropoff point for the Savage River Shuttle bus – and parallels the river for about a mile until it crosses the river on a wooden bridge, then heads back to the starting point on the opposite side. A simple trail, but it is beautiful. You’re never far from the river, which starts as a wide, briaded river at the beginning, then narrows into a well-defined channel further along the trail. Looking around, you’ll see mostly treeless terrain that juts up into rocky hills. Purple lupines and pink fireweed line the trail during the summer.
Lots of birds frequent this area, and you’re almost guaranteed to see small wildlife, mostly squirrels. You may even get lucky and spy a moose or a Dall sheep.
When 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.
This is not a public trail and can only be accessed when staying on a property through Airbnb. Your accommodations will be an incredible yurt run by a local dog musher.
The trail starts at the back of her property and is an easy and straightforward 1.5 miles of flat path through a birch forest. It loops through the woods and ends back at the driveway of the property.
I was there in early July when a mosquito net hat was as necessary as pants. The trail, according to the property owner, was “a little damp.”