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Five Marvelous Hikes for Nature Viewing/Photography in Northern California

1. Feather Falls Scenic Trail. A 9-mile loop trail in the Plumas National Forest, located 25 miles east of Oroville and 90 miles north of Sacramento, that is moderate-to-strenuous, but well worth the hike, as you will have incredible views of Frey Creek, Bald Rock Dome, Bald Rock Canyon, and the 410-foot waterfall, Feather Falls (one of the tallest year-round waterfall in the U.S.), with the Fall River plunging down a sheer granite cliff, as well as a hike through tall stands of cedar and ponderosa pine trees. Find the trailhead at the Feather Falls Campground from Oroville: Oro Dam Blvd to Olive Highway (for five miles), to Forbestown Road for about 7 miles; turn on Lumpkin Road and continue about 12 miles to the turn off; it is another 1.5 miles to the parking area. As you head to the falls, it's best to take the upper loop, and depending on the season, you may need to take it back if the lower loop is flooded from spring rains. For those not afraid of heights, you can actually climb to the top of the falls and watch the water plunging downward. Other trees you'll see along the hike include maple, dogwood, madrone, and California nutmeg, as well as some fruit trees left over from an old homestead. There are also a few swimming holes along the trail. Open year-round (though spring is best if you love wildflowers); allow 4-6 hours to complete the entire loop.

2. Fern Canyon Trail. This fairly short (2-mile RT) trail is located in the 14,000-acre Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, off Highway 101 about 2.5 miles north of Orick, and about 50 miles north of Eureka, and a coastal sanctuary for old-growth Coast Redwood Trees -- and is a must-hike to experience the fortress-like 50-feet high walls of ferns. Park at the Fern Canyon Day Use Parking Area north of Gold Bluffs Beach Campground and head for the California Coastal Trail, and then the turnoff for Fern Canyon. Seven different spices of ferns thrive in the canyon, including the five-finger fern, which is common in redwood forests, as well as deer, lady, sword, and chain ferns. If you're lucky, you may encounter marbled murrelets (related to puffins), which nest in old-growth redwoods. If you are up for more, the park has 75 miles of marked trails. While near the state and national redwood parks, be sure to consider these other trails as well: Drury-Chaney Loop (2.4-mile trail at north end of Humboldt Redwoods Park; Yurok Loop and Hidden Beach Trail (2.25-mile trail in Redwoods National Park; Woodland Trail (1.25 mile loop in Richardson Grove Redwoods Park); Stout Memorial Grove Trail (.55-mile hike in Jedediah Smith redwoods Park). Other nearby state parks include Patrick's Point and Del Norte Coast Redwoods Parks.

3. Hammond Trail. This 5.5-mile trail is a section of the Coastal Trail that stretches from the Arcata Bottoms at Mad River Beach northward to Clam Beach County Park and the Mad River Bridge in McKinleyville, on the north-west coast of California, about 140 miles west-northwest of Redding, and follows the Mad River until just past the mouth at the Pacific Ocean. A great hike for birders, as well folks who enjoy trees and wild berries, as well as ocean views and whale-watching -- and named the "best place to walk, jog, or bike" in Humboldt County. Be sure to take note of the Hammond Trail Bridge, which was originally built in 1905 (as part of the Humboldt Northern Railway), and replaced with a steel truss bridge in 1942, and from which you might catch glimpse of seals and sea otters, as well as water fowl. Other nearby trails include -- to the north Parker Creek, Trinidad State Beach Loop Trail (and Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse), Patrick's Point Trail; and to the south, Arcata Community Forest trails.

4. Heart Lake Trail (via Castle Lake). One of the premier hikes (and only about 2-miles RT) in the Mount Shasta region, with views of Mount Shasta, Black Butte, and the Klamath Mountains, located in north-central California in the Castle Crags Wilderness of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, just north of Dunsmuir, about 60 miles north of Redding. From I-5 (exit 73B), head west on West Lake Road (which becomes Hatchery Lane), then south on Old Stage Coach Road, staying to the right onto WA Barr Road. Consider stopping at Siskiyou Lake, a manmade reservoir on the Sacramento River, for a hike (along the 7-mile loop trail around the lake) or picnic. After the Box Canyon Dam, proceed south on Castle Lake Road until you reach the parking area bordering Castle Lake, a large alpine lake surrounded by pines and granite cliffs. Find the Castle Lake trailhead and follow for about a half mile until the turnoff for Heart Lake. Follow the trail up to Heart Lake, so-named because it is a small, heart-shaped lake. Add to your hike by continuing on from Heart Lake up to Castle Peak (about 3 miles and more than 1,000 ft. of elevation) and/or on your return hike take the 1-mile hike to a third lake, Little Castle Lake. Best to hike from mid-May through October. While in the area, definitely consider a stop at Mossbrae Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls in California, which can be accessed via a mile-long trail along the Union Pacific Railroad, which is technically trespassing; park on the north side of Dunsmuir Avenue, near Shasta Retreat.

5. Prairie Creek Trail. A 4-mile loop trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, in northwest California, near the town of Orick, about 50 miles north of Eureka. Start at the park visitor center, and follow the trail north into the redwoods, along the crystal-clear Prairie Creek (being sure to watch for salmon and steelhead); be sure to take the short spur leading to the Corkscrew Tree, a single tree with numerous trunk reiterations (called a fairy ring). With more than 70 miles of trails just in this park, you might also want to consider the James Irvine Trail, a 9-mile (RT) trail that goes all the way to the beach at Fern Canyon, and the Rhododendron Trail, a 6-mile trail that is best in mid-spring to early summer for viewing red and pink blooms. The 14,000-acre state park is a sanctuary for old-growth Coast Redwood trees, and part of a jointly managed set of state and national parks protecting the redwoods. While in the area, consider stopping at Trees of Mystery, a fee-based tourist attraction with unique trees, tree sculptures, a 35-foot tall Paul Bunyan, a gondola tramway, and several trails.


Bonus: Rail-Trails Highlights: California has 123 Rail-Trails totaling about 1,025 miles. Take a hike or bike ride on the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, one of the most scenic in Northern California, located in Lassen County, about 100 miles east of Redding, in northeast California, along the railbed of the old Fernley and Lassen Railroad line, which was used for logging. This 25.4-mile trail is located east of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges, carving through the Susan River Canyon, and starts in Westwood at the Mason Station Trailhead (off County Road 101) and ends in Susanville at the Susanville Depot (on Richmond Road). The surface of the trail varies from dirt to gravel -- and you'll cross the Susan River 12 times on bridges and trestles. There are also two tunnels. Check out Susanville Ranch Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and/or one of several nearby lakes (including Eagle, Honey, and Almanor).

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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