Hiking is an enjoyable and accessible outdoor activity. An adventure can be had at any level and nearly anywhere. But if you’re new to the activity or are looking to hike outside your local area, how do you find trails?
It’s easy to find your next place to hike if you know what to look for and where to look.
What to Look For
Hiking is enjoyable if the trail meets your needs and is right for your level. One of the first things to look for in a trail description is distance.
If you’re a beginner, there’s no need to worry. It’s possible to find hikes starting at a quarter mile. A good trail description will also let you know if it is a loop or in-and-out.
Elevation gain is another important piece of information to look out for. A mile on flat land is a different experience than a mile steadily climbing. The higher the elevation gain, the more strenuous and difficult a hike will be.
Many trail descriptions also contain the approximate time it takes the average hiker to finish. Along with that, you’ll also want to look for the level of difficulty assigned to the trail.
Difficulty is relative and can vary depending on who is rating the trail, but it’s a great starting point. You’ll be able to get a general idea as to whether or not you’d like to hike the trail. Look for ratings like easy, moderate, difficult, expert, strenuous, etc.
Last, be sure to look for information on where the trailhead is located and what the parking situation is like. You want to make sure it’s easily accessible. If parking is limited, you may want to arrive early in the day.
Where to Look
You might not know where you should look for new trails, but there are actually more tools than ever before.
Apps make a great hiking resource. You don’t want to rely on an app once you’re out there because internet connectivity is usually weak or non-existent. However, for planning, apps are a great resource.
The inclusion of user reviews in many hiking apps is what makes them so useful. With an app, you won’t only find information on elevation gain, distance, and difficulty, you’ll find reviews from others who have experienced the trail before you.
Many users will include helpful tidbits of information like their age and fitness level. They might also include what time of year they went on the hike or how long it took them to complete it versus the time estimate given by the trail sign.
These user reviews can help you decide what hike to go on. Are you planning on taking your mom, and wondering if a trail will be too difficult? Are you going at a trickier time of year like winter? User reviews can help you plan for specific situations.
Blogs and other websites make a great stop as you look for a good trail. Blogs and websites can provide rich detail on specific hikes or specific locations. There is so much information out there. To narrow your search, google the name of the location you’ll be in along with the words “hiking trails.”
Tried and true websites like National Geographic or the National Park Service websites are also great sources for hiking trails. In fact, at just about all of the US National Parks, visitors are given a seasonal guide for that park.
In order to plan before you get there, go to the “publications” section of the webpage for the National Park you’re going to. On that page, you’ll find a link to download the current Visitors Guide.
Within the guide, you’ll find a hiking section. This section contains trail descriptions, time estimates, and difficulty rating. In addition, the guide provides expert tips like how much water you should take per person.
As great as technology is, print books still have much to offer. Lots of information on multiple trails can be found in one book.
With books, you’ll need to be aware of the publish date. Books won’t have up to the minute information on closures or changes. They also won’t include user reviews, though there will be information on difficulty.
One book series popular with hikers, campers, and backpackers is the Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas. It’s known for its detailed maps and recreation (including hiking) guides.
Delorme Gazetteer and Atlas is another popular book series with maps, roads, and trailheads. Meanwhile, you’ll find Falcon Guides has a book series specifically dedicated to hiking.
The best way to find your next hiking trail will probably be a combination of all of the above. There’s a wealth of hiking ideas at your fingertips. Don’t be surprised if you discover a trail you never knew about in your own backyard.
What’s your favorite hiking trail you’ve found recently? Leave a comment below.