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Family travel five: Take a hike on the wild side

                                Crowds of visitors on the wooden walkways at the Midway Geyser Basin walk through the steam clouds around the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park on July 23, 2015.
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Crowds of visitors on the wooden walkways at the Midway Geyser Basin walk through the steam clouds around the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park on July 23, 2015.

Take a hike — and take the whole family with you.

Here are five scenic destinations where you’ll find fresh air and fun.

Shenandoah National Park, Va.

More than 500 miles of trails snake through this national park in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, just 75 miles from Washington, D.C. Access family-friendly trails via Skyline Drive, a historic National Scenic Byway that traverses the park. The highway also offers dozens of scenic overlooks, making it easy to stop and appreciate the region’s natural beauty. Within 200,000 acres of protected lands, visitors can choose from hikes that feature waterfalls, wooded hollows and wildflowers. Be on the lookout for songbirds, deer and the occasional black bear. The 3.5-mile Lewis Springs Fall Loop is popular with families and offers scenic views and waterfalls.

Contact: nps.gov/shen/index.htm

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Historic Park, Md.

Once a lifeline for those who lived and worked along the Potomac River, the C&O Canal is now a pathway for steeping in our rich history while enjoying the surrounding natural beauty. From April through November, families can learn more about life in the 1870s aboard a boat pulled by mules. Presenters in period clothing provide a glimpse into a time gone by for the people living, working and floating on the canal. Your crew will also learn how locks were used to navigate the waterway and how coal and agriculture products floated their way to markets. In the same area, consider interpretive trails, and the popular Billy Goat trail. Be on the lookout for herons, hawks and bald eagles along the Potomac River.

Contact: nps.gov/choh/index.htm

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Calif.

Known for its geothermal attractions, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers hikers all three types of our national trails: scenic, historic and recreation. Seventeen miles of the Pacific Coast Trail also passes through the park. Visitors can explore amid lush forests, high mountain lakes and scenic meadows. Venture along the Boiling Springs Lake trail to observe mud pots, incense cedar, ponderosa pine and colorful wildflowers. Thanks to the steam vents under the lake, the lake’s water temperature remains at about 125 degrees.

Contact: nps.gov/lavo/planyourvisit/hiking_boiling_springs_lake.htm

Death Valley National Park, Calif.

Visit this dramatic desert landscape to explore colorful canyons, volcanic vistas, amazing sand dunes and the low-lying swaths of desert at Badwater Basin. A waterfall seems an unlikely destination in the Mojave Desert but Darwin Falls, in the park’s Panamint Springs area, delivers. The modest cascade flows year-round, tumbling down a mossy rock face to a grotto. As always, be sure to take plenty of water on this 2-mile desert hike.

Contact: oasisatdeathvalley.com; nps.gov/deva/index.htm

Yellowstone National Park, Montana and Wyoming

Within this wonderland’s 2.2 million acres, hiking options are plentiful. To begin, stop by a ranger station for important information about trail conditions and possible area closures. Consider the family-friendly hikes in the Upper Geyser Basin and Midway Geyser Basin areas, home to remarkable hydrothermal features including Old Faithful, Sapphire Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring. The 4.5-mile (there and back) Lone Star Geyser trail, which follows an old service road aside the Firehole River, is a scenic option. Time it right and you’ll catch the 45-foot-high eruption that emits from a 12-foot cone approximately every three hours. Yellowstone is grizzly country so carry bear spray and review “bear aware” precautions.

Contact: visitmt.com; nps.gov/yell/index.htm

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