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Ladora Lake/Lake Mary Loop – Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colorado

Lake Mary at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Lake Mary at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Location: Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Trail Length: About 2.8 miles, double loop trail around Ladora Lake and Lake Mary

Elevation Gain: Minimal elevation change

Notable Features: An easy and pleasant trail that loops around two lakes in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Be on the lookout for birds, frogs and turtles around the lakes, and there are buffalo and deer roaming the surrounding prairie.

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Cherry Creek Spillway Trail – Aurora, Colorado

Cherry Creek Spillway Trail in Aurora

Cherry Creek Spillway Trail in Aurora

Location: Between Iliff Avenue and East Hampton Avenue in Aurora

Trail Length: About 4.5 miles, in and back trail along a bike/walking path

Elevation Gain: Less than 200 feet

Notable Features: An easy, flat trail that connects up with an entire trail network throughout the Denver area. You’re guaranteed to see prairie dogs, and I once saw a coyote.Just keep an eye out for bikers whizzing down the trail. Despite the name, this section does not have views of Cherry Creek… the name comes from the area being a spillway in case the creek floods.

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Gulf State Park – Orange Beach, Alabama

Lefty the alligator in Gulf State Park

Lefty the alligator in Gulf State Park

Location: Gulf State Park, Alabama

Trail Length: About 1.9 miles, in and back trail

Elevation Gain: Pretty much zero – all at sea level

Notable Features: A relaxing walk through marsh with views of a lake, river and if you’re lucky, an alligator or two.

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Trading Post Trail – Red Rocks, Colorado

Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Park in Morrison, Colorado

Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Park in Morrison, Colorado

Location: At Red Rocks Park near Morrison, Colorado

Trail Length: About 1.5 miles, loop trail

Elevation Gain: About 350 feet

Link: Red Rocks Trading Post Trail on AllTrails.com

Notable Features: An easy trail that starts at one of the most iconic music venues in the world at Red Rocks. The trail starts at the Trading Post and loops around and massive set of the parks namesake red rocks. Check the Red Rocks site for restrictions on event days in the summer.

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Santa Fe Canyon Preserve Trail – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe Canyon Preserve Trail

Santa Fe Canyon Preserve Trail

Location: The Santa Fe Canyon Preserve Trail is maintained by the Nature Conservancy and is located in the foothills east of Santa Fe

Trail Length: About 1.75 miles loop trail

Elevation Gain: Less than 100 feet

Notable Features: An easy, mostly flat trail that circles around Two Mile Reservoir that includes information about the history of the area, including several dams built to create a reservoir to furnish water to the nearby city. You can find the remains of an old dam just off the trail – and also be on the lookout for beavers in Two Mile Reservoir.

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Lake Gulch/Inner Canyon Trails – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Colorado

Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon trails at Castlewood Canyon State Park near Franktown, Colorado - Instagram

Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon trails at Castlewood Canyon State Park near Franktown, Colorado – Instagram

Location: Castlewood Canyon State Park in Franktown, southeast of Denver

Trail Length: My route: 1.8 miles

Elevation Gain: About 200 feet

Link: Lake Gulch Trail on AllTrails.com and Inner Canyon Trail on AllTrails.com

Notable Features: Relatively easy trail through rock formations, some pine trees and a rocky stream.

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Carpinteria Bluffs Trail – Carpinteria, California

View of the train tracks and the Pacific Ocean along the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail

View of the train tracks and the Pacific Ocean along the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail

In the late 1990s, a citizens group came together to purchase the land at Carpinteria Bluffs so it can remain undeveloped. Which is great news for those who visit this wonderful area.

The trail that passes through this open area is wide and well-graded. You can walk from the east end all the way into Carpinteria State Beach, where there are swimming and camping areas. There is a fee to drive in to the beach, but it’s free if you walk in.

The trail also passes through the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Rookery and offers several lookout points to watch the seals basking on the beach or playing in the water.

And finally, this area also has the Carpinteria Tar Pits, located close to the state beach, and is one of only five areas of its type in the world (the more famous La Brea Tar Pits are located a couple hours’ drive south in Los Angeles).

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Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail – Topanga State Park, California

Butterfly on the Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California

Butterfly on the Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California

The Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail, which is part of Topanga State Park, is a relatively flat (300 feet in elevation gain) and easy trail that starts above the town of Pacific Palisades and leads to the waterfall in the name, a trip of about 2.25 miles round trip.

It is a good trail for kids, but watch out for the plentiful patches of poison oak lining the trail, often very close to the walking path. There is a trail junction about half a mile from the trailhead. One path leads to the waterfall, while the other heads to Trippet Ranch and the Musch Trail to Eagle Rock, a steep strenuous hike of about 3.5 miles from this point.

Thanks to California’s ongoing drought, the waterfall was fairly disappointing as of Spring 2016. There is a trickle of water bouncing down the rocks, and at the base are several small pools that contain newts.

This is an out-and-back trail so once you’ve had your fill of the falls, simply turn around and head back to the trailhead via the same route (while continuing to watch out for all that poison oak).

  • Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California
  • Butterfly on the Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California
  • Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California
  • Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California
  • Santa Ynez Waterfall Trail in Topanga State Park, California

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Badwater Basin – Death Valley National Park, California

Badwater Basin - Death Valley

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.

  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley
  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley
  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley
  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley
  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley
  • Badwater Basin - Death Valley

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Children’s Forest Trail – Lake Arrowhead, California

Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California

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.

  • Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California
  • Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California
  • Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California
  • Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California
  • Children's Forest Trail near Running Springs, California

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