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 andscenery. Lush stands of bracken ferns line its 14 miles of trails;blooming azaleas and dogwoods brighten the forest at the 2,000-acrestate park. Combine the Doane Nature, Weir, and French ValleyTrails to hit many of the park's views and highlights on a 3-mileround-trip hike.
WHERE: 35 miles east of Oceanside via State 76, then northon 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
Set amid the world's greatest concentration of highwaterfalls, this classic wooded park is actually quite small but isa fine jumping-off point for great hiking to and around Multnomah,Horsetail, Oneonta, Latourell, and other cataracts in the ColumbiaRiver Gorge.
WHERE: From Portland, take I-84 east to exit 35 and followU.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
The gold seekers who poured through here in 1859 are longgone, but there are still riches at this high, 12,000-acre statepark: a wealth of wildlife (mule deer, black bears, elk) and birds(owls, golden eagles). Among its 35 miles of hiking trails, afavorite is the moderate 1.7-mile Elk Trail; it takes you pastaspen groves and, in summer, meadows jammed with more than 70species of wildflowers.
WHERE: 30 miles west of Denver off State 46.
COST: $5 per car.
CAMPING/LODGING: 131 sites from $10, and 5 cabins and 2yurts 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 SanFrancisco, is one of the best-loved sites in the Bay Area - for thespectacular views from the 2,571-foot East Peak and for trails thatlead into Mill Valley or to the ocean. Amid 6,300 acres of redwoodgroves, oak woodlands, and wildflower fields, hikers comb thelady's slopes - but there's still room to find solitude along the65 miles of trail.
WHERE:From Mill Valley, take State 1 to Panoramic Hwy. andthe Pantoll Ranger Station.
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
This 286-acre park has some 6 miles of easy to moderatetrails that follow Oak Creek's lush riparian corridor or rise tooffer vistas of Cathedral Rock. For a moderate trek, hike upJavelina Trail, across Coyote Ridge, and down the west leg ofEagle'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, andwater are recommended.
CONTACT: (928) 282-6907 or www.pr.state.az.us. - NoraBurba Trulsson