10 great hikes of the West

10 great hikes of the West
Take a seven-mile hike along forested canyons to the Heart of Rocks Trail and come face to face with odd-shaped boulders named Punch and Judy, Kissing Rocks and the massively impressive Balanced Rock. (Tom Politeo)

See those glossy outdoors photos on your desktop calendar? It's time to get into the picture. These hikes take you there, from red rocks to rain forests, from cliff dwellings to vernal pools. Complete all of them and you complete a picture of the West — so don't forget your camera.

Chiricahua National Monument, Ariz.:


Volcanic rock pillars line up like rows of terra-cotta warriors in this under-visited parkland in the southeastern corner of the Grand Canyon state. Take a seven-mile hike along forested canyons to the Heart of Rocks Trail and come face to face with odd-shaped boulders named Punch and Judy, Kissing Rocks and the massively impressive Balanced Rock. Info: (520) 824-3560, Ext. 302;

Hoh Rain Forest, Wash.:

Springy paths wind through a dense, shaggy green canopy straight out of

Dr. Seuss

. Start with easy loops about a mile each — the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail — in the forest that can get up to 170 inches of rain a year. Then hike part of the 17-mile trail into the Hoh River Valley to catch a glimpse of elk and other wildlife in these remarkably verdant woods. Bring an umbrella. Info: (360) 565-3130,

Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif.:

You could spend days wandering this quiet finger of land north of

San Francisco

that tapers to Drakes Head Bay and its famous lighthouse. Start at the point's west side and spend a day hiking the Bear Valley Trail to the incomparable Arch Rock overlook for wide-screen views of spectacularly carved coastline and the mighty Pacific. Info: (415) 464-5100,

Long Lake, Eastern Sierra, Calif.:

High-altitude lakes are the hallmark of the Sierra. The lake, a glassy body of water fringed with wildflowers in late summer, sits two well-marked miles from the South Lake Trailhead (9,800 feet) near Bishop. Press on a few more miles and you come to equally scenic Saddlerock Lake just below Bishop Pass. Um, did we mention the awesome peaks? Info: (873) 760-2500,

Arches National Park, Utah:

Once upon a time, the road into this red-rock kingdom, made famous by the ranger ramblings of Edward Abbey, wasn't paved. It's well-used now, but don't let that deter you from hiking the seven-mile loop from Devil's Garden for close encounters with a dozen arches, including Tunnel, Landscape and Double O. Bonus points: Save time for a ranger-led spin through the slick-rock canyons of Fiery Furnace. Info: (435) 719-2299,

Santa Rosa Plateau, Southern California:

Now you see it, now you don't; that's the seasonal trick of vernal pools, a fancy name for big puddles that fill with rainwater in winter and dry up in summer. Go to the Santa Rosa Plateau (near Murrieta) in spring after it rains, grab a map at the visitor center, start at the Granite Loop and wind your way along impressive oak-lined hills and grasslands that end at a wooden boardwalk along the shallow vernal pools where curlews hang out in the chilly months. Info: (951) 677-6951,

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Northern California:

It's the solitude, stupid. That's what sets these old-growth redwood skyscrapers along the Smith River apart from more trafficked groves farther south. Cross the seasonal bridge, take the easy half-mile loop through the densely packed trees at Stout Grove, hike 2.6 miles on the Mill Creek Trail — and do the loop again on the way out. Info:

(707) 458-3496,

Panamint Dunes, Death Valley, Calif.:

There are no trails and barely any roads to the pristine and endlessly photographed sand dunes in Death Valley. Drive five miles on an unmarked dirt road and slog three miles in deep sand to reach the crest of these rippled beauties. Stay awhile to watch shadows and light play on this "Lawrence of Arabia" backdrop. Info: (760) 786-3200,

Ecola State Park, Northern Ore.:

With a few manmade exceptions, this coastal haven of sitkas, spruce and ferns doesn't look much different from the way it did when Lewis and Clark passed through. Take the three-mile Clatsop Loop Trail to heights of 800 feet above the ocean to follow in their footsteps. Add a few extra miles along the coast for views of endless cliff-to-sea beaches and the landmark Haystack Rock in nearby Cannon Beach. Info: (800) 551-6949,

Bandelier National Monument, N.M.:

Ancestral Pueblo dwellings built high into walls of soft volcanic rock called tuff line a mile-long trail in the park. After examining these early homes by way of wooden ladders, leave the crowds and hike 2 1/2 miles each way on the Falls Trail to the Rio Grande to discover why these cliff dwellers chose this glorious spot to build their homes. Info: (505) 672-3861, Ext. 517,