Whether scaling a mountain or rounding a bend, nothing beats the sight of water from a hiking trail. These walks offer coastal beauty and the fragrance of sea mist.
Maine: Camden Hills State Park
Hiking is a way of life on the Maine coast―especially in the Camden Hills, a range of low mountains surrounding Camden, Rockport, and Lincolnville, where vistas of the Atlantic Ocean are just a short stroll away. Take the park's Megunticook Trail to Ocean Lookout for a magnificent view of Penobscot Bay and Mount Battie. Call 207/236-3109 during park season or 207/236-0849 off-season, or visit maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/db_search.
British Columbia: Lighthouse Park
Across English Bay from Vancouver, Lighthouse Park offers a coastal wilderness experience in sight of the big city. The West Vancouver Trail leads straight to the shore and down to a rock bluff. Here you can see the 60-foot-tall Point Atkinson Lighthouse. The 5-kilometer route includes several challenging changes in elevation, but at a leisurely pace, you should be able to hike it in a couple of hours. For information, visit http://westvancouver.net/Residents/Level3.aspx?id=11906.
California: Redwood National Park
South of the Oregon border, hikers will discover a flamboyantly scenic trail in Redwood National Park. The Yurok Loop to Hidden Beach explores the lagoon area of the 40-mile Coastal Trail pathway. Cypress, alder, and dense coastal scrub shrouds hikers on their way to views of the shoreline. The beautiful cove of Hidden Beach serves as a turnaround. For information, call 707/465-7306 or visit nps.gov/redw/.
Michigan: Hiawatha National Forest
This easy trail in the Hiawatha National Forest near Mackinac Island leads to a perfect spot for a picnic on a Lake Huron beach. The Upper Peninsula hike doesn't skimp on scenery. You might spy a great blue heron or bald eagles perched nearby. For information, visit fs.fed.us/r9/forests/hiawatha/.
Florida: Canaveral National Seashore
Just north of the Kennedy Space Center, Canaveral National Seashore offers 24 miles of secluded beaches with dunes and lagoons. The Castle Windy Trail leads hikers from the ocean through the coastal hammock and past an ancient Indian midden. No boardwalks or signs detract from the splendor of this mile-long sand trail. For information, call 321/267-1110 or visit nbbd.com/godo/cns/trails.html.
Newfoundland: East Coast Trail
For a hike that's really out there, try Newfoundland's East Coast Trail, crossing the easternmost land in North America. It runs for about 335 miles past towering cliffs and headlands, sea stacks, deep fjords, and a natural wave-driven geyser called the Spout. Intentionally left unspoiled, the trail leads over large rocks and along cliff edges. For information, call 709/738-4453 or visit eastcoasttrail.com.
Alaska: Kachemak Bay State Park
The Emerald Lake Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park, near Homer, covers the highlights of Alaska. The 13-mile round-trip hike climbs 1,650 feet, passes a glacier, and crosses a log bridge. Other park hikes pass below the high-tide line and offer access to glaciers, forested coves, and alpine peaks. For information, call 907/269-8400 or visit acrossalaska.com/kbaypark.html.
New York: Fire Island National Seashore
About an hour east of New York City, hikers can find panoramic vistas, coastal plain ponds, harbor seals, and maritime grasslands. The Sunken Forest Nature Trail is a 1.5 mile boardwalk, but you'll want to focus on the 32 miles of Fire Island beach. Although your eyes will be drawn to the ocean and bay views, remember to look down to see the beach plum and beach heather along the way. For information, call 631/563-4354 or visit nps.gov/fiis/.
Texas: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge
Birders know it. Now you do, too. The Texas coast is a major habitat for migrating birds. For a close view of wildlife, the Cow Trap Trail, about 70 miles south of Houston, lets hikers travel from high to low marsh on a 1.5-mile levee. Flocks of ibis and other wading birds are often on display. But watch out for alligators! They often sun on the banks of Moccasin Pond. For information, call 979/964-3639 or visit fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/texasmidcoast/index.htm.
Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Explore Mississippi's natural coastline on Nature's Way Trail, just 9 miles outside of Biloxi. Reopened after Hurricane Katrina damage, the Davis Bayou route passes snow-white beaches, coastal marshes, and maritime forests on your easy hike through the national seashore. For information, visit nps.gov/archive/guis/extended/MIS/indexMS.htm.