Magazine article Sunset

Happy Trails

Magazine article Sunset

Happy Trails

Article excerpt

Not all of California's hiking needs to be strenuous. One of the best ways to see the state--and all its wonders--is through a series of short nature hikes. Not only are these easier for younger hikers; but also they allow visitors to see some of the unique wildlife and plants that call California home.

Starting at the very top of the state, California's North Coast offers some of the most dramatic sights in Sail of the state. In Humboldt County, hikers can walk beneath a canopy of redwoods, stroll through moss-laden Sitka spruce forests, and take in the rugged and ever-changing coastline.

Children will especially love to explore the tidepool ecosystems along the numerous secluded beaches. Many campgrounds in the area offer guided nature tours, but be sure to bring warm clothing, since even in the summer the air is cool and the fog is thick--this type of climate is ideal for the redwoods, which have massive trunks and shallow root systems. For specific campground information, contact the Eureka/Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 346-3482 or visit www.redwoodvisitor.org.

Close to San Francisco, many travelers zoom through the picturesque Napa Valley in an attempt to sample as much of the beauty--and wine--as they can. Still, the best way to really get a taste of the heart of this breathtaking region is on bicycles or on foot. Try taking a climb to the summit of the towering Mt. St. Helena. On clear days, hikers can see as far north as Mts. Shasta and Lassen and as far east as Yosemite.

Further south along the Central California coastline is another great area for family nature hikes. The coastal towns of Cambria, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Maria all provide visitors with a unique mix of California history and culture. While many visitors enjoy taking in Hearst's Castle near San Simeon or the popular Pasa Robles wine country, many other people travel to the Central Coast because of the bevy of outdoor activities available.

Comb the beaches for seashells or travel to Oso Flaco Lake, near Santa Maria--one of a dozen freshwater lakes in the dunes northwest of the town of Guadalupe. Here hikers can visit a marshland, forest, grassland, chaparral, and desert dunes. For more information, contact the Santa Maria Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau at (800) 331-3779 (www.santamaria.com) or contact the City of Mono Bay at (800) 231-0592.

Still further south--and off the coast of Southern California--is California's small island paradise Santa Catalina Island. …

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