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Family travel 5: Ultimate hiking adventures

Fall scenery at Jackson Falls at Natchez Trace Parkway. (Marek Uliasz/Dreamstime/TNS)

Plan your getaway around a family hiking adventure. Here are five ideas to consider.

Natchez Trace

Explore wetlands, swamps and hardwood forest, and steep yourselves in history as you hike a section of this National Scenic Trail. The foot trails, totaling more than 60 miles, are divided into five sections, making it easy for families to choose a comfortable distance. The trail runs roughly parallel to the Natchez Trace Parkway scenic motor road, designated one of America’s National Scenic Byways and one of only 31 All-American Roads. The historic trail dates back to the early 1700s when sections were Indian footpaths and animal trails. In the late 1700s through the early 1820s, traders from the Middle Tennessee and Kentucky areas floated their goods down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and then walked or rode horses up the Trace to return home. Today, travelers explore the National Park in their personal vehicles, take time to hike, ride horses and camp along the way. During the fall, visitors enjoy the changing colors of maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees, milder temperatures and overnight accommodations in small towns along the historic travel corridor stretching from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee.

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Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Visit this unique botanical garden — the only one in the world to focus solely on desert plants — to wander the trails where sometimes spiky and colorful plants provide a home for roadrunners, rabbits, lizards and hummingbirds. With 55 of the Garden’s 140 acres hosting 485 rare and endangered plant species, as well as nearly 1000 others, there is plenty to see and learn during an active visit. Plan your nature walk to include multiple discovery trails. Be sure to include the butterfly pavilion, where you’ll learn about the winged creature’s life cycle as well as how they care for and protect the desert environment.

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Babcock State Park, Cliftop, West Virginia

Choose from more than 20 miles of hiking trails as you explore this scenic stretch of West Virginia along the New River Gorge. Expect easy and level loop trails as well as more challenging terrain. Located on 4,127 wooded acres, the park is best known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a re-creation of the original 1890 Cooper’s Mill that once ground grain in the same location. Today, hikers can journey back in time to the days when grinding grain by a rushing stream was typical. The current mill grinds cornmeal that is intermittently available to visitors.

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The Kekekabic, Ely, Minnesota

The full length of the Kekekabic Trail, or the Kek as it is known to local hikers, winds almost 40 miles from Snowbank Road, east of Ely, through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to the famed Gunflint Trail, west of Grand Marais. Take on a family-sized slice of this wild trail to experience rocky outcroppings, pristine lakes, scenic bluffs and eagles soaring overhead. Listen for the rich yodeling of resident loons in the distance.

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Sioux Charley Lake, Nye, Montana

This 6-mile round-trip hike provides a visual feast of nature’s bounty. The initial views include tumbling waterfalls through a canyon-walled section of the Stillwater River known locally as “the washtubs.” The river braids and the canyon widens as hikers move toward the Beartooth Mountain peaks, ambling through forest and meadows dotted with wildflowers of the changing colors of the season. The lake area or intermittent rock outcroppings provide the perfect setting for a family picnic.

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