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Chugach National Forest
Ptarmigan Creek Trail
This 13-mile out-and-back on the Kenai Peninsula tops Soldotna, Alaska resident, Jared Rawlings’s list of favorite hikes. From the trailhead (an hour north of Seward), the path rambles along its namesake creek for three miles to the shores of an aqua-blue finger lake pinched by two 5,000-foot ridges. “In August, Ptarmigan Creek’s crystal-clear waters are jam-packed with red, spawning sockeye salmon,” Rawlings says. Trip ID59334
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge
Golden sand dunes and the deep blues of the Pacific set the backdrop for this 5.6-mile round-trip coastal hike. The route begins where the Santa Maria River flows into the ocean, and then runs south to Mussel Point, a weathered, wave-battered bluff. Scan the hard-packed sand for mule deer, bobcat, and mountain lion tracks, and watch for threatened western snowy plovers (six inches long; pale brown back and white belly), which nest from March through September. Trip ID 623461
Red Rock Canyon
First Creek Trail
Hit the wilderness jackpot just 30 minutes from the Vegas Strip. This 3.7-miler (round-trip) tracks west through piñon pine and cholla cactus to a creekbed bound by sheer, 6,000-foot sandstone walls. Veer right at mile one for a .2-mile out-and-back to a shady grotto. During spring months, a seasonal waterfall pours down the overhanging ledge. Trip ID 934216
Oregon Coast Trail
Ecola State Park to Arch Cape
Don’t have a month to thru-hike the 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail? Sample this 9.5-mile section instead. Starting from Ecola Point, near the park’s southern entrance, hike south on sandy beaches punctuated with craggy headlands and 235-foot Haystack Rock (tufted puffins arrive here in March to nest). Near mile four, look for tide pools at Cannon Beach teeming with starfish, sea anemone, crabs, and sea slugs. Trip ID 732839
Seattle(Print & Go)
Lost Lake to Echo Lake Loop
Mt. Rainier’s snowy, 14,411-foot crown rises less than 20 miles southwest of this 23.3-mile lasso loop—and you’ll get picture-perfect views of it at miles 9.8 and 10.4. Trace the Greenwater River before starting a 17.2-mile counterclockwise circuit that connects Lost, George, and Echo Lakes with open ridgelines overlooking Rainier’s glaciated slopes. backpacker.com/lostlakeTrip ID927063
SEE THIS NOW
GRAY WHALE MIGRATION
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Payoff Propelling bodies more massive than loaded school buses, gray whales complete the longest migration of any mammal. These beasts—whose population hovers around 20,000—begin their 10,000-mile, five-month round-trip in the Bering Sea and loop south to breed in Baja.
Time Point Reyes extends 10 miles into the Pacific, forming a natural speed bump in the 30-mile-wide whale highway that follows 100-foot-deep offshore waters (which provide shelter from predatory orcas). The northward migration peaks in March, when 60 or more whales pass by in a single day.
Place On a calm morning just after a rain, park at the Chimney Rock trailhead (60 miles northwest of San Francisco) for a 1.6-mile out-and-back on a windswept spit of land. Track past showy purple Douglas irises and scan the ocean for spouts and breaches from 600 feet above. nps.gov/pore