From the Field: Central

Our trail scouts' top local hikes
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Our trail scouts' top local hikes

Upper Canyon Trail, Caprock Canyons SP, TX

Donald Beard, Quitaque, TX

Trace the north and south prongs of the Little Red River through 800-foot-deep red rock canyons on this nine-mile loop. There you might see curved-horned, hairy-chested aoudad, which look a little like bighorn sheep. In late September in the more lush South Prong section, look for cottonwoods turning yellow and blooming Maximilian sunflower, a bushy variety that flowers all along its six-foot stalk. “We’ve had some good rains, so we’re going to have a bunch of them this year,” says Beard. Trip ID1035732

“Scan cliff edges for the park’s 100 or so aoudad, North African sheep introduced in the 1950s.”

Godwin Hill Loop, Konza Prairie Natural Area, KS

Jerry Freeze, Wamego, KS

Follow this six-mile loop through an 8,600-acre tract of rare tallgrass prairie at its peak height and color. “In September, the native grasses fade to tan and gold,” Freeze says. “The sumac leaves and heads turn red, and sunflowers are blooming.” Traipse past eight-foot-tall big bluestem grasses and rustle up the occasional prairie chicken on the first half of the hike, then close the loop through a riparian area home to quail and wrens. Trip ID8353

“The best view is about a mile in, overlooking the Flint Hills.”

Ice Age Trail, Bald Bluff to Stone Elephant, Kettle Moraine SF, WI

Mike Holmes, Darien, WI

Undulate over glacier-carved topography on this 4.3-mile out-and-back to the Stone Elephant, a car-size boulder said to have held spiritual significance to early Native Americans. At .2 mile, look for a marker where not-yet-presidents Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor camped as soldiers during the Black Hawk War in 1832; climb another .3 mile to 1,030-foot Bald Bluff, with expansive views of surrounding farmland. Turn back at the rock. Trip ID345339

“The Stone Elephant may have served as a sacrificial site.”

Pioneer and Dry Creek Loop, Wild River SP, MN

Steffan Fay, Wyoming, MN

Sixty miles northeast of Minneapolis, this park follows 18 pristine miles of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, home to foxes, snapping turtles, and habitats ranging from pristine river to restored prairie. Sample all of its highlights by connecting this three-mile loop through meadows and oak savannahs (listen for grouse, a chicken-like bird whose territorial wing-thumping “sounds like a rattlesnake,” Fay says) to the 3.5-mile Deer Creek Loop paralleling the river. Near the water, look for eagles soaring overhead. Trip ID1715953

“It’s just far enough out of town to feel like an escape.”

Algonquin-Chippewa Trail, Negwegon State Park, MI

Nate Buelow, Novi, MI

Enjoy Upper Peninsula shoreline scenery and solitude close to home on this 8.8-mile loop along a remote section of Lake Huron, 2.5 hours from Saginaw. Hike two miles to Pewabic campsite, Buelow’s favorite of the lakeside sites (registration required, 989-724-5126). “It’s set back from the trail, right on the beach,” he says. “You hear the waves crashing on the shore.” Day two, continue .5 mile to a rocky, narrow causeway with views back to your campsite, then close the loop through an oak-maple forest. Trip ID 1658868

“You’ll wake up to a fantastic sunrise over Lake Huron.”