Tips on Selecting the Perfect Hiking Trail
Hiking is easily one of my favorite pastimes. The connection with the wilderness does something for my soul. This feeling can be somewhat hampered, however, when your feet are bleeding from blisters, your legs are about to give out from exhaustion, and you're panting like every breath is your last. Fortunately, it is quite simple to avoid this by doing your research before hitting the trail.
Where to Go
This is one of my favorite parts of hiking and backpacking trips. Personally, I love hiking in the mountains. The feeling of accomplishment and the great view I get after a grueling climb is amazing. This might not be your cup of tea. When you hike, you will be looking at a lot of the same scenery over and over. Make sure it's something you really like! Whether it's a canyon, the desert, a forest, a glacier, or a lake, if it's outside, there is a trail out there somewhere that will be perfect.
Often National and State Parks and Forests will have better maintained hiking and backpacking trails. This is a great place to start when looking for a trail. Park rangers will also have helpful advice. Make sure you research park rules about hiking and backpacking. Some parks require you take a bear canister if you will be camping over night. Others have designated camping spots that must be reserved in advance.
You would be surprised how many trails are right outside your front door. Hiking websites have search engines that allow you to find trails that are close to home.
Backpacker Magazine Trail Selection Tool
- Backpacker Magazine: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Adventures; Trip Planning Topo Maps, Aerial Photo
Plan and download hikes and trips using GPS, topo maps, street maps, and aerial photography. Read adventure travel stories from Backpacker Magazine.
Duration of Hike
Trails come in all shapes and sizes. No matter where you are, there will be something that suits your needs. After finding your destination, you need to decide is how long your hike will be. Do you want to take a light afternoon stroll or a two week long trek that pits you against the wilderness? Know your limits!! If you haven't hit the gym in years, the wilderness will win! Find a shorter hike with little elevation change. Once again, talking to local park rangers will be a great way to learn about trails. You can also find books that have trail descriptions, including length of the trail, elevation changes, and what types of scenery will be found along the trail.
Checking the elevation change is very important. A four mile hike that changes elevation by a couple thousand feet will be a lot harder than a flat eight mile trail. Once again, knowing your limits can be the difference between an amazing hike and an injury. Also keep in mind, you should plan your hike around the individual who is the slowest.
Also look at other features that will be on the hike like streams or rock outcrops. I made the dangerous mistake once of not paying attention to the many small streams I was crossing as I made my way up a trail. After a few hours of rain, those streams were bigger and swifter. Crossing them on the way back was much more difficult. Paying attention to small details like this will also make or break your hike.
Whether you have an afternoon, a weekend, or a summer, hiking is a great way to spend time. Not only are you working out and enjoying nature, your stress level is guaranteed to go down because most places you head off to won't have cell phone service. I don't know about you, but a forced break from my phone always clears my mind. As you're enjoying nature, make sure to leave no trace. Our National and State Parks and other wilderness areas are a treasure that must be preserved for future generations.
Hikes I Have Enjoyed
- A Hike Down Firehole Meadows Trail in Yellowstone National Park
The trail to Firehole Meadow leads you to a love isolated meadow in the heart of Yellowstone National Park.
- Hiking Down the Grand Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab is a beautiful trail that leads to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It is a difficult trail, so caution and preparation are essential.