If you’re wondering whether now is the time to start planning a hike, consider the many benefits of getting out and trekking some trails. After all, hiking is fun, healthy and it’s often free. And unless you’re preparing to hike Mount Everest, you shouldn’t have to invest in too much new gear either.
Thanks to the pandemic, there’s been a renewed interest in the outdoors, including hiking, biking and camping. If you’re nervous about hiking by yourself, you can head for more popular trails or even join organized group hikes that may be offered in your area through REI, Meetup or Eventbrite.
Choosing the destination
For those who aren’t lucky enough to have a national park in their backyard, local city, county and state parks are an excellent place to start searching for potential hiking trails. National recreation areas and national forests often have tons of trails that also tend to be less crowded.
If you’re set on finding excellent hikes in national parks, consider what else you may appreciate about the parks aside from the hiking. If you’re looking for incredible fall foliage, you may want to head to Acadia National Park in Maine. If mountains are your goal, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Glacier National Park in Montana would be excellent choices.
Think about your overall goals of the trip, since great hiking could be part of a larger vacation that includes different activities. You also don’t necessarily need to choose between outdoorsy fun and urban adventures as many large cities are also near excellent trails. This way, you can visit museums and world-class restaurants one day and walk through forests and mountains the next. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are known for glitz and glam, but both have tremendous hiking opportunities within about an hour’s drive. Atlanta is only 90 minutes from the start of the Appalachian Trail.
As you plan, technology can guide you in choosing a trail and while hiking. Kirkland Shave, certified hiking guide, former Park Ranger and now the program creator and co-owner of British Columbia’s Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat, explains that “our phones are excellent tools for on the trail, especially when they are in airplane mode.” He suggests apps like AllTrails or Gaia GPS that “let you download maps while online at home that still work with the phone’s GPS when off-grid or in airplane mode.”
Not only does AllTrails allow you to use the app offline, but it lets you search trails in your area and includes helpful information like distance, elevation and difficulty level, along with reviews and photos. These user comments give a good sense of how crowded (or uncrowded) the trail is and current mud or snow conditions. AllTrails also tags hikes to indicate whether it is wheelchair-friendly, dog-friendly (on a leash, of course!) and if it’s known for something special like wildflowers, waterfalls or birdwatching.
Gaia GPS is great for more advanced hikers who may want to pull segments from different trails and roads to plot their own route. Once you’re on your hike, several apps can enhance your experience, like Merlin, which identifies birds based on how they look or sound, and iNaturalist, which helps identify plants and animals you encounter.