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by Allen J. Sheinman | August 17, 2012
The list


If you're holding a meeting or event this fall
anywhere near one of the designated National Wildlife Refuges noted below, you couldn't ask for a nicer group activity than a hike (trail maps can be found at the refuge websites). The price is right (as in "free").

AlabamaTrail: Pine Beach Trail, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/bonsecour)
Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty level: Moderate; sandy terrain
Wildlife to watch for: Bobcats, coyotes, red fox, osprey, shorebirds
Note: This popular trail, near the mouth of Mobile Bay, begins in a coastal forest and passes a saltwater lagoon on one side and a freshwater lake on the other. It proceeds south through small, rolling dunes to a great vista of the Gulf of Mexico.

CaliforniaTrail: Tidelands Trail, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/desfbay)
Length: 1.8 miles (with up to 6 miles of optional add-ons)
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Shorebirds, including western sandpipers and black-neck stilts; waterfowl such as northern shovelers and ruddy ducks
Note: This figure-eight trail passes through several types of habitat and offers great views of the bay.

FloridaTrail: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail (fws.gov/saintmarks)
Length: 40 mostly flat miles; go as far as you like
Difficulty level: Easy
Wildlife to look for: Alligators, night herons, black bears, raccoons, turkey, deer, owls, woodpeckers, waterfowl
Note: Along the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida, this trail winds through dense stands of leafy trees and a salt marsh wilderness; bring bug spray.

MinnesotaTrail: Bluff Trail, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/midwest/minnesotavalley)
Length: 7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
Wildlife to watch for: Waterfowl, songbirds, woodpeckers, bald eagles, wetland birds such as egrets and herons
Note: This trail offers surprising solitude for a place within two miles of Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport; the hilly terrain skirts the base of the bluffs along the Minnesota River.

New HampshireTrail: Wapack Trail, Wapack National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/wapack)
Length: 4 miles one way
Difficulty level: Moderate to challenging, with elevation of 900 feet in less than a mile
Wildlife to watch for: Migrating hawks, eagles and other raptors, bobcat, moose, black bear, deer
Note: About 25 miles south of Manchester, N.H., this trail heads south to the peak of North Pack Monadnock -- and some breathtaking fall vistas.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service