Hiking

The West's Best State Parks

PALOMAR MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Near Escondido, California

While Palomar Mountain is best known for its observatory, many people are drawn to its namesake state park for hiking and scenery. Lush stands of bracken ferns line its 14 miles of trails; blooming azaleas and dogwoods brighten the forest at the 2,000-acre state park. Combine the Doane Nature, Weir, and French Valley Trails to hit many of the park's views and highlights on a 3-mile round-trip hike.

WHERE: 35 miles east of Oceanside via State 76, then north on County Rd. S6 to State Park Rd.; follow the signs.

WHEN: Year-round; best May-Oct. COST: $2 per car.

CAMPING: 31 sites from $12; (800) 444-7275.

CONTACT: (760) 742-3462 - M.J.

AINSWORTH STATE PARK
Near Portland

Set amid the world's greatest concentration of high waterfalls, this classic wooded park is actually quite small but is a fine jumping-off point for great hiking to and around Multnomah, Horsetail, Oneonta, Latourell, and other cataracts in the Columbia River Gorge.

WHERE: From Portland, take I-84 east to exit 35 and follow U.S. 30 west.

WHEN: Year-round; winters can be wet and icy.

COST: Free; $5 to use nearby forest service trails.

CAMPING: 45 sites from $13.

CONTACT: (800) 551-6949 or www.oregonstateparks.org. - B.H.

GOLDEN GATE CANYON STATE PARK
Near Denver

The gold seekers who poured through here in 1859 are long gone, but there are still riches at this high, 12,000-acre state park: a wealth of wildlife (mule deer, black bears, elk) and birds (owls, golden eagles). Among its 35 miles of hiking trails, a favorite is the moderate 1.7-mile Elk Trail; it takes you past aspen groves and, in summer, meadows jammed with more than 70 species of wildflowers.

WHERE: 30 miles west of Denver off State 46.

WHEN: Year-round.

COST: $5 per car.

CAMPING/LODGING: 131 sites from $10, and 5 cabins and 2 yurts from $40; (800) 678-2267 or (303) 470-1144.

CONTACT: (303) 582-3707 or www.parks.state.co.us. - L.J.F.

MT. TAMALPAIS STATE PARK
Near Mill Valley, California

The Sleeping Lady, Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, is one of the best-loved sites in the Bay Area - for the spectacular views from the 2,571-foot East Peak and for trails that lead into Mill Valley or to the ocean. Amid 6,300 acres of redwood groves, oak woodlands, and wildflower fields, hikers comb the lady's slopes - but there's still room to find solitude along the 65 miles of trail.

WHERE:From Mill Valley, take State 1 to Panoramic Hwy. and the Pantoll Ranger Station.

WHEN: Year-round.

COST: $2 per car.

CAMPING/LODGING: 22 sites from $7 and 10 cabins from $15; (800) 444-7275.

CONTACT: (415) 388-2070 or www.parks.ca.gov. - L.T.

RED ROCK STATE PARK
Sedona, Arizona

This 286-acre park has some 6 miles of easy to moderate trails that follow Oak Creek's lush riparian corridor or rise to offer vistas of Cathedral Rock. For a moderate trek, hike up Javelina Trail, across Coyote Ridge, and down the west leg of Eagle's Nest Trail. It's 4 miles of red rock views.

WHERE: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona.

WHEN: Year-round; summer can be hot.

COST: $5 per car.

FYI: Ridgeline trails have little shade. Sunscreen, hat, and water are recommended.

CONTACT: (928) 282-6907 or www.pr.state.az.us. - Nora Burba Trulsson