By Janelle Smith, Recreation.gov
A view from San Gabriel Peak from the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument overlooking Los Angeles, California (Mark Garcia, Share the Experience)
Throw a few supplies in a day pack, rendezvous with your nature-loving friends and get yourself to a trailhead for an outdoor adventure everyone will enjoy. Here are 12 places to hike a short distance from 12 major cities that offer excellent trail conditions, diverse landscapes and spectacular views.
Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest
A great place to hike and a short distance from Phoenix (Sue Cullumber, Share the Experience)
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.
Backbone Trail System, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and California State Parks
Quality single track trail within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (Pauline Brownell, Share the Experience)
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 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.
Point Reyes National Seashore, National Park Service
Hiking along the coast rewards with expansive views. (Lauren Buchholtz, Share the Experience)
In about an hour—and some change—from San Francisco the Point Reyes National Seashoreoffers 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 a hike 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.
Mount Galbraith Park, Jefferson County Parks
View of downtown Denver from Mount Galbraith Park. (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 Viewing Trails, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
A sunrise view of the refuge. (Jack Garr, Share the Experience)
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 trailsfrom ¼ 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.
Amicalola State Park to Springer Mountain, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest
Taking in the view on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. (Ken Donaldson, Share the Experience)
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 pringer Mountain Trailhead on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest which is the end, or the beginning, of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm Trail, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Trails throughout Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore often end at the beach. (David Phillips, Share the Experience)
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.
Weldon Spring Conservation Area, Missouri Department of Conservation
Plenty of biking trails with views for the entire family. (Department of Conservation)
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.
Cranberry Lake Preserve, Westchester County Department of Parks and Recreation and Conservation
Entrance to Cranberry Lake Preserve.
Take your pick from 6.5 miles (10.4 km) of color-coded trails (PDF) within the Cranberry Lake Preserve http://parks.westchestergov.com/cranberry-lake, 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.
Cottonwood-Black Creek Hiking Trail, Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands
A group of friends on a sunset stroll on the Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands. (Chris Sheffield, Share the Experience)
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.
Bells Canyon Trail, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
A view from a mountain peak overlooking the valley below on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. (David Lunt, Share the Experience)
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 Bells 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 Bells Canyon Reservoir with views of the Salt Lake Valley at various points along the way.
Lake Serene, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
The calm, still waters of Lake Serene. (James Riley, Share the Experience)
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