Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places

Central Cascades, Washington

The Trail: Washouts can sometimes lead to breakthroughs. When the sole road into the historic mining village of Monte Cristo (now a ghost town) washed out in 1980, the Forest Service let it "go wild" and revert to trail. The road is smooth and mostly flat (300-foot elevation gain), with rugged Cascade peaks on all sides. Popular among mountain bikers, this fat-tire highway is also gaining favor among hiking parents, who find it a memorable but gentle backcountry introduction for children of all ages. First-time overnighters should either walk the four scenic miles along the South Fork of the Sauk River to a string of excellent riverside campsites or camp in the newly established shelter near the old village.

Things To Do: Trout fishing in the river can be decent (out-of-staters and anyone 15 and older need a state license), and kids enjoy exploring the ghost town. Three nearby trails climb into a spectacular alpine valley: Gothic Basin (six miles round-trip); Poodle Dog Pass and Silver Lake (3.5 miles); and Glacier Basin (five steep, rugged miles). Check with the Forest Service to verify trail conditions; flooding is not uncommon, and snow can last until late summer.

Local Wisdom: These day hikes are among the best bang-for-the-mileage-buck in the Cascades, but they head straight up and are rocky in places. Small children are happier poking around the valley.

The Way There: From Seattle (about 90 minutes away), follow I-5 north to exit 194. Drive six miles east on U.S. 2 to Washington 9 (near Snohomish) and follow it north to Washington 92. Turn right and head eight miles east to Granite Falls. At the end of town, turn left on the Mountain Loop Highway and drive 11 miles to the Forest Service's Verlot Public Service Center (maps and info available), and another 19.5 miles to the parking area at Barlow Pass. Trail permits are not required.

Resources: For trail and road conditions, call the Verlot Public Service Center at 360-691-7791. Green Trails map No. 111, Sloan Peak, is a good topo; so is the Darrington Ranger District map ($3). Pacific Northwest Hiking ($18.95, Foghorn Press) describes this and dozens of other nearby trails.
--Ron C. Judd

Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia

The Trail: The Lightning Lakes chain--four lakes strung along a beautiful, eight-mile-long Cascade Mountain valley--provide plenty of ooh, just enough aah, and (most important for parents) nary an ugh. Many families use this pleasant, mostly flat (325-foot elevation gain) valley trail for a half-day hike around Lightning Lake to Flash Lake (3.5 miles), where gargantuan peaks loom in the distance. For a three-day backpacking trip, continue on to Strike Lake, and then hike another half-mile west to the Strike Lake camp, about five miles in. Things to do: Strike Lake is a noted trout producer, and you should have time after setting up camp to fish. The next day, hike two miles west to Thunder Lake, a quiet, almost eerie setting of barren mountains and lush lowlands.

Local Wisdom: Thunder Lake is a steep-sided valley with rock-avalanche danger and is occasionally closed. Don't go too early in the season; snow often lingers until well into May.

The Way There: From Vancouver, B.C., follow Highway 1 east about 93 miles to Hope. Continue east about 43 miles on Highway 3 to Manning Park Lodge in Manning Provincial Park. Just beyond, turn south on Gibson Pass Road and go about two miles, forking left where the signs indicate the Lightning Lake Day Use Area. Follow the trail from the parking lot around either side of Lightning Lake.

Resources: For hiking maps and trail information, contact B.C. Parks Visitor Information Center (604-840-8836). Kanala Wilderness Adventures (604-674-2774) in Clearwater, B.C., is a local outfitter

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, southwestern Montana

The Trail: From a distance, the Bitterroot Range of the Rockies is a seemingly impenetrable wall of 9,000-foot peaks dividing Idaho from Montana. But up close, the canyons and valleys that slither between the peaks can be downright inviting. Blodgett Canyon is especially gentle for first-timers, but the surrounding terrain-nearly vertical canyon walls-is macho enough to make even young campers feel like they've really been somewhere. Your chances of meeting up with deer, elk, and moose increases the farther you head into the canyon. And because good camping areas are found every few miles on this 15-mile lowland trail, hikers can head upstream until someone poops out, then set up camp.

Things To Do: Partner up for back rubs. Necks will be craning throughout the entire hike through Blodgett, where canyon walls jut straight up as high as 3,000 feet. Keep an eye out for mountain goats on the upper ridges and waterfalls cascading from the top. If wall-gazing gets old, you can cast a line for rainbow trout in Blodgett Creek.
Local wisdom: This trail gets a fair amount of horse use. Yield to them and nod appreciatively: Horse groups help maintain the trail.

The Way There: From Missoula, drive about 48 miles south on U.S. 93 through the Bitterroot Valley toward Hamilton. Two miles north of Hamilton, turn west on the county road just before the Bitterroot River crossing. Proceed one-half mile west, 1.8 miles south, and about three more miles west to the trailhead (the way is well-signed after you turn off U.S. 93). No permits are required.

Resources: For trail information, contact the Bitterroot National Forest's Stevensville Ranger District at 406-777-5461. The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Map, available from National Forest offices, is a good choice. The best topographic map is the Printz Ridge USGS quad.


The Trail: Amid towering old-growth hemlocks and white pines along a 12-mile loop from Lake of the Clouds, you're likely to spot black bears, eagles, peregrine falcons, blue herons, cranes, and foxes. July and August are best for camping: The insects subside somewhat after the Fourth of July, and blueberries and thimbleberries are ripe for picking. From the Lake of the Clouds parking lot, hike three-quarters of a mile to the lake. From here, the North Mirror Lake Trail climbs steeply for a half-mile (you can reverse the loop to descend, rather than climb, this section) and then flattens out. Mirror Lake (four miles from Lake of the Clouds) lies in the heart of the wilderness, surrounded by rugged bluffs and tall pines. The 50-plus backcountry campsites are first-come, first-served. Head back to Lake of the Clouds via the Correction Line Trail and the Big Carp River Trail. Use binoculars to scope out peregrine falcons in the cliffs.

Things To Do: On a side trail, hike two miles south of Mirror Lake to Summit Peak and its observation tower. Go waterfall-hunting (there are more than 90 in the park, many uncharted; check at the visitors center for leads).

Local Wisdom: Remember your bear-avoidance techniques: Hang your food at some distance from your campsite and allow no food in your tents. Check with rangers about park conditions. Windstorms often cause substantial blowdowns, and water levels vary with melt-off and rain.

The Way There: The park is two and a half hours from Marquette, Michigan. Take U.S. 41, which turns into Michigan 28, to Bruce Crossing; then head north on U.S. 45 to Ontonagon. From there, drive west 14 miles on Michigan 64 to the park's visitor center; continue another seven miles on Michigan 107 to the Lake of the Clouds parking area. Permits ($6 per night) are required for backcountry camping (one to four persons). Register at the visitor center (10 A.M.-6 P.M.) or at park headquarters after hours; call 906-885-5275.

Resources: A detailed map is available from the park ($2.95); USGS quads for the Mirror Lake loop are Government Peak, Carp River, and Tiebel Creek. Get The Porkies Companion, by Bob Sprague and Mike Rafferty ($11.95), at park headquarters.
--Debra Shore

Area Wilderness, Minnesota

The Trail: Remember Blueberries for Sal, the children's classic by Robert McCloskey? Your biggest challenge on the Angleworm Trail-an easy 2.5-mile approach on an old fire trail and a nine-mile loop around Angleworm Lake-is likely to be dragging your kids (or spouse) away from the abundant native blueberries ripe in late July and August. A few stream crossings along the way involve some hopping and skipping, and on the northern end you'll pass through a stand of 80- to 100-year-old red and white pines. Plan to spend two nights and three days doing the loop. The permit system limits the number of campers, so you'll enjoy relative solitude and can choose among the eight designated campsites around the lake, or make your own campsite farther away from the trail.

Things To Do: Cast for northerns in Angleworm Lake or walleye in nearby Home Lake (state fishing license required). Look for the remnants of an old sawmill camp at one of the designated campsites along the lakeshore.

Local Wisdom: Don't leave any valuables in your car (there have been break-ins at the trailhead parking lot).

The Way There: From Duluth, take U.S. 53 to Minnesota 169. The trailhead is 17 miles north of Ely, off County Road 644.

Resources: Reserve in advance by calling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Reservation Service at 800-745-3399 ($9 reservation fee; maximum group size is nine). You can pick up permits the day before your trip at the Ely permit station (218-365-7681), where you can also purchase a detailed map of the Superior National Forest ($3.20).
-- D.S.

Buffalo National River, northwest Arkansas

The Trail: It's a two-day, 10.8-mile round-trip to Hemmed-In Hollow, with the highest waterfall (175 feet) between the Appalachians and Rockies, via the Center Point Trailhead. The trail climbs and edges a high bluff, then enters the hills and sculpted side hollows, forests, and meadows of the Ponca Wilderness Area. Frequent overlooks offer broad panoramic views of the Ozarks and the Buffalo River valley. At Hemmed-In Hollow, the free-leaping waterfall spills over the lip of the bluff, straight down to the narrow canyon's rocky floor. You can explore around, behind, and below the falls, but be careful: The rocks are slippery. Camping is allowed anywhere at least 100 feet from the trail or river, but not around Hemmed-In Hollow itself. Backcountry permits aren't required, but it's a good idea to apprise rangers of your plans.

Things To Do: This is a good place to teach your kids to use a map and compass, as intersecting trails can sometimes become confusing. Budding naturalists can spot armadillos, roadrunners, and tarantulas coexisting with white-tailed deer, bobcats, mink, beavers, elks, and black bears. Smallmouth bass is the game fish of choice (state fishing license required).

Local Wisdom: To reach Hemmed-In Hollow you'll hike 1,300 feet down to the river--the trip out is unexpectedly steep, especially for kids under ten. For a real appreciation of the area's heritage, sign up for a full-day "Ecotour," led by Ozark Ecotours ($40 including lunch; call 501-446-5898).

The Way There: Hemmed-In Hollow is a three-hour drive northwest of Little Rock. The trailhead is on Arkansas 43, 22.5 miles south of park headquarters in Harrison.

Resources: Get the Trails Illustrated Topo Map "Buffalo National River: West Half" ($6) from the Buffalo National River (501-741-5443); also Buffalo River Hiking Trails, by Tim Ernst ($14.95; 800-838-4453).
-- Larry Rice

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

The Trail: This 3.1-mile trail leads through red spruce and balsam fir to Lonesome Lake, a shallow tarn at 2,734 feet and the site of the Appalachian Mountain Club's most family-friendly hut. The trail departs from The Basin, a deep granite pothole carved by the Pemigewasset River. After crossing a tricky log bridge near the half-mile mark, you come to Kinsman Falls and, a half-mile farther, the fiercer Rocky Glen Falls. The trek takes three to four hours, even with young children. The hut sleeps 44 in two bunkhouses; there's no camping except for the Lafayette Campground, which isn't far from the trailhead.

Things To Do: If you have older kids, you might make the four-hour round-trip to the summit of 4,100-foot Cannon Mountain (and bask in superiority watching the sandal-footed tourists disembark from the tramway). Work your way back to the hut via Kinsman Ridge to Kinsman Pond (about 6.5 miles). Young kids enjoy circumnavigating the lake on a well-marked, boggy trail. At the hut, naturalists sometimes conduct family nature walks, pointing out chipmunks, red squirrels, black ducks, and abandoned beaver dams.

Local Wisdom: Black flies can be nasty from late May through July; protect yourself with long pants, long sleeves, bandannas, and hats.

The Way There: From Boston, about two and a half hours away, take I-93 north to Lincoln, New Hampshire, south of Franconia Notch. Just north of mile marker 106, exit at the sign for The Basin and follow signs to the parking lot.

Resources: For hut reservations (strongly recommended), call the Appalachian Mountain Club at 603-466-2727 (nonmember rate, $57-$62 per night; members, $50-$55; children, $18-$25). Find the trail on USGS Franconia and Lincoln maps. Good reference books are Best Hikes with Children in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, by Cynthia C. Lewis and Thomas J. Lewis ($12.95, The Mountaineers), and High Huts of the White Mountains, by William E. Reifsnyder ($10.95, Appalachian Mountain Club Books).
--Meg Lukens Noonan

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Northern California

The Trail: The sprawling lava plains, jutting cinder cones, and remarkably clear waters around Mount Lassen are like a living laboratory. This route, a moderate (1,000-foot elevation gain) 13.5-mile loop from Butte Lake, circles the lake, then turns south on a gentle six-mile walk through light forest and grasslands to Snag Lake, where good camping is found near Grassy Creek. The loop then swings north, with great views of Prospect Peak, Cinder Cone, and the Fantastic Lava Beds. On the six-mile journey back, the trail passes west of the spectacular Painted Dunes.

Things To Do: Trout fishing is good in both Butte and Snag Lakes, and the short (one mile round-trip), steep side trip to the summit of Cinder Cone (6,907 feet) on the trek home is a real winner.

Local Wisdom: Black bears are sometimes seen along the route, so either hang your food or use bear-proof containers.

The Way There: From Redding, follow California 44 east 72 miles to gravel Butte Lake Road. Turn south and proceed 6.5 miles to the park entrance station ($5 per carload). Just beyond, bear left and proceed a short distance to the parking lot on the lake's north shore. Free backcountry permits (required for campers) are available at Visitor Contact stations or the Hat Creek Valley Information Center in Old Station.

Resources: Trail maps ($3.95) and information are available from Lassen Volcanic National Park (916-595-4444). The USGS topographic quad is Prospect Peak. A good route description is found in The Hiker's Guide to California ($14.95, Falcon Press).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, western North Dakota

The Trail: This is the wilderness that thrilled President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago. Beginning from the Squaw Creek Campground, the 16-mile prairie path climbs from Little Missouri River bottomland up through the Achenbach Hills, drops to the river again, climbs to eroded clay buttes dotted with juniper and sagebrush, and returns along the river bottom to the campground. This is one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S., so odds are you'll have the backcountry to yourselves. The best campsites lie along the river, tucked beneath gnarled old cottonwoods where Teddy himself probably bedded down. Get free backcountry permits at the visitor center. Because of fire danger, camp stoves are required.

Things To Do: Set everyone down atop Sperati Point (about 9.5 miles from the trailhead) and scan the broken prairie for glimpses of deer, bison, pronghorn, coyotes, prairie dogs, and golden eagles. Take a star chart and maybe even a small telescope-on a clear night you can see stars 1,500 light-years away.

Local Wisdom: There are two spots where you'll have to ford the sluggish Little Mo; check with rangers about water levels before starting out. Stay well clear of bison--they can outrun a horse and are dangerous when provoked--and watch out for rattlesnakes.

The Way There: The park is 170 miles west of Bismarck. Take the Belfield exit on I-94 and go north on U.S. 85 for 60 miles to the North Unit Visitor Center. The trailhead is at the southern end of Squaw Creek Campground, five miles west of the visitor center.

Resources: Books and maps may be purchased from the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association in Medora, west of Belfield on I-94; you'll want the North Unit USGS topo map. For more information, call the North Unit Visitor Center at 701-842-2333.

Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

The Trail: The trail from Iron Gate Campground to Mora Flats is an easy three miles, and there are numerous places to camp in the partially open grassy river flats stretching along the Río Mora. Set up base camp here (minimum 200 feet from the river) and explore the area on day hikes, or continue in a 15-mile loop to Beatty's Flats and Hamilton Mesa. The route involves several stream crossings and a steep climb to Hamilton Mesa, but the combination of cascading streams, broad grassy meadows, and spectacular views of the Truchas Peaks and Santa Barbara Divide makes this a great place to introduce children to backcountry camping. (Children as young as eight can do it, but 11 is optimal.)

Things To Do: For horseback rides into the Pecos Wilderness across Hamilton Mesa, contact Huie Ley at the Terrero General Store and Riding Stable, 12 miles north of Pecos ($45-$70 per person; call 505-757-6193 to reserve).

Local Wisdom: Beware the afternoon thunderstorms--often accompanied by large hailstones--in July and August. It's best to get up early and do the bulk of your hiking in the sunny morning hours.

The Way There: Drive 23 miles east of Santa Fe on I-25 to Pecos, then take New Mexico 63 north. Travel about 4.5 miles north of Terrero to Forest Road 223 (rough and rocky, but accessible in good weather) and continue another four miles to reach Iron Gate Campground.

Resources: The Santa Fe National Forest map ($4) is available from the Pecos Ranger District office (505-757-6121); the USGS topo maps are the Pecos Falls, Elk Mountain, and Cowles quads. Trail Guide to Geology of the Upper Pecos is indispensable; also helpful is the Trail Guide to the Pecos Wilderness, produced by the Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association. Both are available in Santa Fe bookstores and district ranger offices.
--D. S.

Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

The trail: To introduce your family to Rocky Mountain highs, hike from Monarch Lake about four miles along the leafy green Cascade Creek Trail, then follow the Buchanan Pass Trail and set up base camp about three-quarters of a mile farther, in an open area of small meadows and ponds. Then spend several days exploring the alpine lakes, waterfalls, and beaver ponds along the adjoining trails. A permit for the Buchanan Travel Zone lets you camp anywhere as long as you're at least 100 feet from a lake, stream, or trail.

Things To Do: Hike up the Buchanan Pass Trail to Fox Park (four miles from the trailhead) to see wildflowers blanketing a meadow in a glacier-carved valley. Climb another two miles and 1,400 feet to Buchanan Pass for views of Sawtooth Mountain and the Middle St. Vrain Valley to the east. Or follow the Gourd Lake turnoff (two and a quarter miles from the trailhead) and hike 2.7 miles up to a lake (elevation 10,800 feet) in a natural amphitheater. Hike around the lake, explore its spurs, and check out the rainbows and cutthroats that fill it. Cascade Falls lies along the Cascade Creek Trail, about a mile past the trail junction with the Buchanan Pass Trail. It's another four miles to Crater Lake and a spectacular view of Lone Eagle Peak.

Local Wisdom: Remember to acclimate yourselves to the altitude; this hike starts at 8,300 feet.

The Way There: Follow I-70 west from Denver. Exit at U.S. 40 (the Winter Park exit) and head north toward Granby. Follow U.S. 34 north six miles to County Road 6, an unimproved road. Drive nine miles to the parking area at Monarch Lake. Permits ($5 reservation fee) are required for overnight camping June 1-September 15; contact the Sulphur Ranger District at 970-887-4100.

Resources: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest maps are available at Sulphur or Boulder Ranger District offices. Use USGS Monarch Lake, Isolation Peak quads, and the Trails Illustrated Indian Peaks Wilderness map ($8.95).
--D. S.

Adirondack Park, New York

the trail: Children always want what's biggest and best. An 18-mile out-and-back hike on the Phelps Trail takes them to New York's highest peak, 5,344-foot Mount Marcy. The first day is an easy to moderate climb of 3.5 miles, from the Garden parking area in Keene Valley, through thick forests and across several streams to Johns Brook Lodge. There, families can overnight in bunk rooms or lean-tos, or pitch tents near the trail. Head up Mount Marcy early the next morning; it's a moderate to steep 5.5-mile, 3,000-foot climb.

Things To Do: The 360-degree panorama of unbroken forest and mountain peaks from Mount Marcy leaves no doubt that you're inside the greatest public wilderness this side of the Mississippi. Plan on spending at least an hour on the rocky dome, helping your children pick out other peaks with a map and binoculars. The next day, climb one of the less-trafficked mountains: Johns Brook Lodge sits at the hub of a trail system fanning out to peaks such as Gothics, Saddleback, and the Wolfjaws; you can make day hikes for a week without running out of mountains.

Local Wisdom: Make your ascent of Marcy on a less crowded weekday. You'll need to arrive at the small Garden trailhead parking area before 9 A.M. to find a spot. If it's full, park in Keene, 1.6 miles away .

The Way There: From Albany and points south take I-87, the Adirondack Northway, to exit 30. Follow New York 73 north for 11 miles to Keene Valley and turn left in town at Adirondack Park's wooden sign that directs you to the trailhead. Parties of ten and under do not need a permit to camp overnight. Lean-tos are made available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are required for bunks at rustic (no electricity) John Brook Lodge (Age 12 and up, $41; under 12, $18.50, including breakfast and dinner.

Resources: For Johns Brook Lodge reservations and information, contact the Adirondack Mountain Club's Adirondack Loj at 518-523-3441. The essential guide and map to the area is the club's Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region ($18 for both). To order, call 800-395-8080.
--Thurston Clarke

Mammoth Cave National Park, south-central Kentucky

TheTrail: Visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park come primarily to tour the longest cave system in the world, with more than 350 miles of known passageways. By contrast, the park's surface world is one few people explore. This is a mistake, because the pit-marked, rolling terrain harbors one of the largest virgin forests in Kentucky, as well as 70 miles of hiking trails. The eight-mile Good Spring Loop Trail, a moderate two-day route, winds up and down oak-covered ridges, along pebbly stream beds, and through breezeless hollows laced with small caves and waterfalls. Scattered sinkholes and limestone outcroppings help kids understand theworlds both above and below ground. There are three campsites, all with a nearby water source; backcountry permits (free) are required for all overnight trips.

Things To Do: At night, the ghostly hollows echoing with the call of whippoorwills and owls make a perfect setting for scary campfire tales. When you're done exploring the surface, go underground. Some 13 ranger-guided cave trips cover 14 miles of trails. If you only have time for one, try the three-and-a-half-hour "Introduction to Caving" tour-you'll crawl, climb, and walk along passageways off the usual tour routes. Helmets and lights are provided by the park; you furnish knee- pads and gloves that you don't mind getting slimed. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 for children eight to 15; call Destinet at 800-967-2283.

Local Wisdom: At the trailhead, visit the Good Spring Church cemetery, where the weathered tombstones attest to the hard life on the frontier-many died young. Raccoons can be a problem here if your camp isn't clean.

The Way There: The park is 95 miles south of Louisville. Exit I-65 at Park City or Cave City, two and five miles, respectively, from the park entrance. Get your backcountry permit at the visitor center, cross the Green River by ferry, and then drive about three miles to the trailhead.

Resources: Mammoth Cave National Park (502-758-2328) has maps, publications, and guidebooks

Haleakala National Park, Maui

The Trail: The Hawaiian Islands are famous as repositories of rare and unique life-forms and landscapes, but Maui's Haleakala Crater--7.5 miles long, 2.5 miles wide, and 3,000 feet deep--is unlike any other place on earth. Throughout the crater, you'll see interesting adaptations like Hawaiian snow, a lichen that was the first plant to grow on lava and begin the process of breaking down the rocks to soil. With older kids, enter via the Sliding Sands Trail on the crater rim at 9,800 feet. The first day is the most strenuous: The trail plunges more than 3,000 feet, and if you can't get reservations for the cabin at Kapalaoa, it's a ten-mile hike to the campground at Paliku (permit required; first-come, first-served). But, once there, you can stay two nights and explore this least-visited side of the crater. Hike out via the Halemauu Trail--it's much easier. From Paliku it's 7.5 miles to the campsite at Holua; from there you've only got another four miles to the parking lot at Halemauu. With smaller children, it's best to do this hike as an in-and-out from the Halemauu parking lot; the daily mileage is lower, with less-drastic elevation changes.

Things To Do: From the tropical oasis of Paliku, hike to Kawilinau (formerly called the Bottomless Pit), a 65-foot-deep spatter vent, and take note of Pele's Paint Pot, a natural mosaic of colored ash and lava. Near Holua you can walk the Silversword Loop, one of the best growing areas of the threatened silversword. A beautiful succulent that's native only to Haleakala Crater, it grows for years before shooting up a beautiful purple flower--then it dies.

Local Wisdom: You'll need warm sleeping bags (night temperatures drop into the 30s or 40s) and sturdy hiking shoes, as the hard, ropy lava here can destroy sandals or tennies. You'll also need a good tent with a fly, as rain falls heavily in places.

The Way There: From the airport at Kahului, it's 40 miles and 10,000 vertical feet to the rim of the crater along the Haleakala Highway; just follow the Haleakala signs. Check in at park headquarters for permits; then head for the trailhead, which starts farther up the road at the Visitor Center.

Resources: For maps and trail information, or to enter the lottery for the backcountry cabins (three months in advance), contact Haleakala National Park at 808-572-9306. Permits are required for all overnight stays, and visitors are limited to three nights in the crater per month, or two nights at any one campsite.
--Andrew Rice

Los Padres National Forest
Central California

The Trail: Tell your kids you're taking them to a new school, then surprise them with this: The Lower Manzana Trail wanders along Manzana Creek through a canyon of meadows, sandstone narrows, and deep pools, leading to an abandoned schoolhouse in a former pioneer community that flourished here from the 1880s until just after the turn of the century. This 16-mile, fairly level round-trip is a perfect three-day, first-time trip for kids. The San Rafael Mountains are steep and brushy and covered with prickly chaparral, so most activities here center on the creek. Spend one night in the primitive campsites at Potrero Camp (one mile) or Coldwater Camp (3.5 miles), and at least one at Manzana Schoolhouse Camp (eight miles).

ThingsTo Do: Trout can be found along the entire route, but the best fishing is upstream in the headwaters at Manzana Narrows (California fishing license required). Occasional pools are head-deep and perfect for cold-water plunges.

Local Wisdom: Manzana Creek is heaven until late June or early July, when deerflies and horseflies show up. Also, watch out for poison oak and rattlesnakes, which emerge in the summer months.

The way there: To reach the trailhead, take California 154 to Armor Ranch Road, approximately 20 miles north of Santa Barbara. Take a right and proceed until the road turns into Happy Canyon Road. Head into the forest as the road becomes Sunset Valley Road, which dead-ends at the trailhead. Leave your car at Nira Campground (no permit required).

Resources: Contact the Santa Barbara Ranger District Office (805-967-3481) or the Los Padres National Forest Supervisor's Office (805-683-6711). An excellent annotated map is the "San Rafael Wilderness and Vicinity Recreational Map," available at either ranger station.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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