Explore the Great Outdoors
Getting outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and taking in stunning views are just some of the benefits of a good hike. But when it comes to location, what matters most to me is “does it have water?”
It’s great to get exercise and even kick it up a notch with a bit more strenuous activity but, when there’s water involved, it’s that much better. It’s the prize at the end of a journey.
We are blessed to have many beautiful places in the U.S. that provide opportunities to trek along and witness Mother Nature at its best. Stunning waterfalls, sparkling lakes, spectacular shorelines, and even wandering mountain streams.
So, let’s get on that hiking gear, and a backpack, and head off to some places that offer perfect hikes you’ll long remember.
Eagle Lake Trail, Lake Tahoe
A 1.8 mile, moderate to mildly difficult trail located near Lake Tahoe in California’s Emerald Bay offers spectacular forest, lake, and far-reaching views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra high country.
As the name implies, the area is a great place to see eagles, osprey, pelicans, and great blue herons. The trail meanders through pine and sage-covered forest leading from the south shore of the second largest natural lake in California. The trail ends at Eagle Lake, one incredibly stunning crystalline body of water surrounded by mountains.
Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla
Well-maintained easily walkable trails at Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve in San Diego County provides the perfect hiking experience for all ages, especially families with younger children.
Razor Point Trail rambles through coastal sage scrub and wildflowers with dramatic views of sculptured sandstone gorges, gnarled vegetation, and majestic Torrey Pines unique to this region. A 2/3-mile trek ends at the Yucca Point Overlook where hikers are treated to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean atop lofty cliffs with miles of gorgeous coastal beaches.
Glacier National Park, Montana
With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise for truly adventurous visitors who love the quiet solitude of backcountry wilderness. This crown of the continent as it’s often called is located in northwestern Montana. Encompassing more than one million acres of terrain with glacial-carved mountain peaks and valleys, and cascading waterfalls, this national park also sports 25 active glaciers that move with the thawing and melting of the seasons.
“Going-to-the-Sun Road” is an epic 50-mile trek providing some of the most amazing views of Big Sky Country. But hikers don’t have to walk 50 miles to create awe-inspiring memories. There are numerous trails ranging from easy to challenging. Our favorite—Iceberg Lake, a 9.6-mile trek leading to a cobalt-blue alpine lake tucked beneath jagged cliffs and filled with its namesake chunks of ice.
Makawehi Lithified Cliffs, Kauai
Hiking the magnificent Na Pali Coast is one of the most challenging hikes of the Hawaiian Islands. On our last trip to Kauai however, this area was dangerously slippery due to recent storms. But thanks to the locals, we were introduced to an off-the-beaten-path gem that’s now one of our favorites.
The coastal hike which begins in South Shore Poipu meanders through a quiet, pine-needled forest. The path leads to commanding views of the churning Pacific waters from vantage points overlooking the edge of craggy multi-hued cliffs. Magnificent coves and sheltered bays along the coastline appear like a perfect painting. On our return trip, we even discovered a sacred ancient Hawaiian burial site.
Nakalele Blowhole, Maui
The path is rocky and steep at times, a cross between hiking and mountain climbing, but it’s so worth it to see Maui’s magnificent natural geyser-like phenomenon, the Nakalele Blowhole. When tide and surf are high, hikers are treated to an amazing show. The powerful blowhole is caused by the ocean undercutting the shore forcing seawater up through a large hole in the lava shelf.
The thunderous, vertical, rainbow-clad marvel blasts water as high as one hundred feet into the air. As an added treat, the area also touts another volcanic anomaly, a heart-shaped hole formed in the middle of the craggy rock framing a stunning coastal tropical scene.
Great Falls of the Potomac
I remember the first time I saw the Great Falls, a mere 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. It was one of those gems only the locals really know about. Part of the U.S. National Park Service, it is here that the Potomac River builds up speed as rushing water plunges downward through a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows into narrow Mather Gorge.
Visitors can access the falls on the 4-mile Billy Goat Trail hike from the nearby state of Maryland, or from the Virginia side. Either way, hikers are treated to roaring cascading rapids, with a 76-foot drop in elevation over a distance of less than a mile. It’s utterly fantastic!
Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
Located on a coastal patch of Maine not far from Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain sits at an elevation of 1,532-feet, the highest point along the Atlantic Coast.
While most of the East Coast shoreline features low sandy beaches and tidal flats, Cadillac Mountain is a hiker’s dream due to the awe-inspiring 360-degree views from its granite summit.
Upper McCord Creek Falls, Oregon
An easy 2.2-mile round trip within the famous Columbia River Gorge in Oregon leads to a stunning and secluded 64-foot set of double waterfalls. There’s a reasonable amount of climbing to the site and a ledge section with sturdy handrails, but the hike isn’t strenuous. The trail is well-maintained, and the dramatic waterfalls tumbling into a mossy basalt grotto are a sight to see.
Waterfall lovers like us can combine the hike with one to lower Elowah Falls, a tall, narrow 213-foot cascade. The entire hike to both sets of falls is only three miles, and so worth it.
Nugget Falls Trail, Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau, Alaska offers a myriad of hiking around the glacier and stunning Tongass National Forest. As an added bonus, hikers are often treated to sightings of the local wildlife with bald eagles, sockeye salmon, and black bears.
With more than 700 miles of trails, outdoor enthusiasts can choose to explore dense forests, lovely flower-filled meadows, swampy bogs, or fascinating caves. We love the Nugget Falls trail that provides incredible views at the base of the waterfall along with other amazing mountain and glacier vistas along the relatively easy two-mile trek.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel-by-the-Sea
Considered the “crown jewel” of California’s 280 state parks, Point Lobos was once called the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” This Central California reserve also happens to be one of the richest marine habitats of the state.
Drivers along this spectacular coast of Pacific Coast Highway can’t help but pull off to see some of the most magnificent ocean views imaginable. But this picture-perfect area drive is worth much more than a stop. Easy trails for less experienced hikers and families make this an immensely popular outdoor activity.
The natural preserve not only provides commanding vistas along the trails, but much to the delight of outdoor lovers, harbor seals and playful sea otters frolic in their natural habitat while migrating gray whales cruise along its shores from December to May.
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