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10 Great American Hikes That Should Be on Your Bucket List

Adventure
10 Great American Hikes That Should Be on Your Bucket List

Getting outside is a great form of exercise and a great way to learn about the natural world. It also just makes you feel good. Luckily, there are beautiful natural areas nearby to explore no matter where you live. North America, for one, is home to so much natural beauty that no one person can see it all, but there are certain places that everybody should try to see before they die. Once you've checked out these treasures within the U.S. National Parks, try these hikes:

The Continental Divide Trail

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While many wax poetic about the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail (and for good reason), the lesser known Continental Divide Trail is a real gem, too. Complete all three of the country's longest trails and you will be known as a "triple crowner." It stretches 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada passing through sun-soaked New Mexico, Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, Yellowstone's backcountry in Wyoming and Montana's open wilderness.

The Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The trail climbs up to towering sea cliffs, drops down to lush valleys and all the way down to sea level. Hawaii is home to a large number of endemic species, or species that can only be found there, so the flora and fauna are sure to delight.

John Muir Trail

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This 210-mile trail winds through the High Sierra wilderness. For 160 of those miles, the trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. You will be mostly above 8,000 feet in elevation for the hike, which begins at Yosemite National Park, passes through Inyo National Forest, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and ends at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S.

Cadillac Mountain Trail

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Found in Acadia National Park, the Northeast's only national park, Cadillac Mountain is a must. If you catch the sunrise from the top, you will be the first person to view the sun rising on the East Coast. It's a moderate 4-mile hike to the summit at 1,500 feet. The views from the top, especially at sunrise, are absolutely breathtaking.

Skyline Trail

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This trail in Mount Rainier National Park affords you amazing views of the 14,000-foot volcano, which is the tallest in North America. It takes you as close as you can get to the volcano without technical climbing gear. The entire trail is 5.5 miles long with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Hikers cross through foggy alpine valleys full of wildflowers, take in cascading waterfalls and trek through snowfields. On a clear day, you can even see peaks as far south as Oregon's Mount Hood.

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White Oak Canyon

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This 4.8-mile hike in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a standout because you'll cross wooden footbridges over emerald pools and see six major waterfalls. While Shenandoah's high alpine trails can only be tackled a few months out of the year, this trail is open and accessible all year. Spring brings wildflowers to the open meadows. The trees provide ample shade to avoid the heat of summer. The fall foliage is not to be missed. And there's a certain beautiful serenity to a winter walk.

The Narrows

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The Narrows is the narrowest part of the canyon walls in Zion National Park. The Virgin River cuts through the canyon, creating walls up to 1,000 feet tall and sometimes just twenty feet wide. A hike in the narrows involves actually walking in the river. Depending on the river flow, the water reaches from ankle level to waste deep or more. Hikers take in incredible views of the canyon walls as they trek through the river.

The Lost Coast Trail

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The Lost Coast is the portion of California's north coast that was spared the development that came with building State Route 1 right along the coast in the southern portion of California. The steepness of the coastal mountains and the density of coastal forests made it difficult to build the highway right on the coast, so this part of California has remained more rugged and remote. As a result, the Lost Coast has maintained more of its natural beauty. The Lost Coast Trail is a 24-mile hike starting at Mattole and ending at Black Sands Beach. You will hike through rocky tidal pools, watch sea lions sunbathing on the beach and explore abandoned lighthouses. The hike, which takes about three days, is impassible at times because of the tides, so don't forget a tide chart.

Mount Mitchell Trail

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At nearly 7,000 feet, Mount Mitchell near Asheville, North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and it's not to be missed. It's an 11-mile hike with a 3,600-foot elevation gain, making it one of the toughest climbs in the area. The views from the summit are spectacular in any season. The summit is accessible to vehicles, so if you don't want to share your summit views with a bunch of people, pick a bad weather day or a day when the road is closed.

Half Dome

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The 14 to 16 mile round trip hike is not for the faint of heart. You will be gaining elevation (4,800 feet in total) for most of your hike. But it's well worth the effort. Along the way, you'll take in views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome and views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. It takes most hikers 10 to 12 hours to complete, so an early start is a must. The most famous part of the hike is the metal cables, which make the last 400 feet of the ascent possible. Permits are required and are distributed by a lottery.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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