There are many beautiful hiking trails all over the US. The Appalachian Trail in Virginia, Chautauqua Trail in Colorado, and Burroughs Mountain Hike in Washington, all come to mind. If you never had an opportunity to go for a hike there, then you should consider booking the next flight over.
But many new aspiring hikers hit these trails and halfway through they realize it is too much for them. Whether it’s the distance, rise in elevation, or difficulty of the terrain, it can make even the most seasoned hiker rethink his choices. This happens mainly due to a lack of research and information gathering.
When you pick a hiking trail, it’s not as simple as just packing up your bag and going on an adventure. In fairness, you can do that but I doubt you will have the best experience. Veteran hikers understand that before going on a hike, they need to pick a hiking trail. And for that, you need various kinds of information which we will be covering in this article.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Hiking Trail
So, before you start packing your gear, here are some important things that you need to consider when choosing a hiking trail:
The first question you must answer when choosing a hiking trail is how long it is. Most popular hiking trails at US National Parks disclose important information like the distance, time, and difficulty level of these trails. You can contact the park authorities or look up the details online. This is an important piece of information to obtain as you need to make sure that you can cover the distance. If you can’t then you should look into other hiking trails.
Similar to distance, you will need to find out how much time it takes for you to complete the hike. Popular hiking trails have an estimated completion time. It can take you longer if you are a beginner hiker and vice versa. Start by asking yourself how much time you can spend. If you can spend only an hour, then go for short hikes. Even if time isn’t that big of a concern for you, you should still look into it as you don’t want to be stranded on a mountain trail when darkness approaches.
The terrain is an important factor to consider when you go hiking as it determines what sort of gear you will need to tackle the trail. If you are hiking across loose sandy surfaces, then you will need to wear boots with proper grip. If you are going for a mountain hike, then you may want to get gloves to protect your hands when you are going climbing up. Also, make sure the trails are well maintained beforehand. That may be a bit difficult to do without actually going there but you can look up reviews online and see what others are saying.
Ideally, if you want to go hiking then you should go during the summertime. Or you can find hiking trails that are accessible year-round. But that doesn’t mean you should never hike in the other seasons. However, with changing seasons come changes in weather and terrain.
For example, if you want to hike during the winter, then you need to be wearing a warm fleece jacket to protect yourself against the cold. Or if you want to hike after heavy rainfall, then you better wear good quality hiking boots with a lot of grips.
Otherwise, there may be a chance of you slipping and hurting yourself. Not only that, but even on days when there is no rain, these trails can still be difficult to move through because of mud. Hence, you need to prepare accordingly for the different seasons.
The difficulty of a hiking trail is generally mentioned at the start. It is determined by how many sharp turns the trail has, how narrow it is, whether are there any difficult obstacles to overcome, whether are there any steep drop-offs, etc. Although there are many factors that can affect the difficulty level, there is no universal standard by which it can be objectively determined.
In most cases, people give their general opinions on how difficult the trail was, which is then used to give a trail grade. So, if you are new, you should probably avoid hard trails. But that does not necessarily mean that an easy trail will be easy for all.
On a more technical note, you should try to find any relevant information about how much elevation a trail has. It is the total meters (or feet) that you will be climbing from the start of the trail to the end. For example, if you find out that you have to climb 100 meters, then descend 30 meters, and finally climb up another 50 meters, the total elevation of the trail is 150 meters. Another important thing to note is how short the trail is. If the trail is only a mile but has a very high elevation gain, then you can deduce that the trail is going to be very steep.
If you are bringing your family and friends to your favorite hiking spot, then you must ensure that it is enjoyable for everybody. Simply put, if you have a group of elderlies and kids accompanying you, then you may want to consider choosing an easy trail. On the other hand, if you are in a group of young enthusiastic hikers or veteran trekkers, then you can tackle some of the more difficult trails. Because at the end of the day, if your hiking experience isn’t fun for everyone then what’s the point?
Popular hiking trails usually have a lot of people all year round. Depending on how much you like hiking with other people, it can make or break your overall experience. If you like to take in the beauty of nature by yourself, then you would want to avoid trails with too many people in them. If you enjoy the presence of others during your travels, then you may want to go for a group hike. It really depends on you and how okay you are with having other people around. To determine that you can check how popular a particular hiking trail is.
Safety And Security
When choosing a hiking trail, you should make sure that it is safe and secure. If need be, ask the park authorities what you need to do in the case of an emergency. Unfamiliar trails can have a lot of challenges that you need to face, so making sure that it is safe should be a priority. You can do this by checking how many staff members are monitoring the trail.
So that in the case of an accident, you know who to call for help. Also not to sound pessimistic, but since you will be hiking with other unknown people, there will always be a risk of someone being there with ill intentions. Hence, be wary of your surroundings when you go for a hike.
Most US National Parks have camping accommodations along with hiking trails. They have on-site campgrounds where you can go set up your tent and sleep under the stars. You can see if these accommodations are available by looking through the park website or calling the park authorities directly. If you do intend to spend the night there, then you will also need to bring your camping gear with you which includes your tent, sleeping bag, food, warm clothes, and any other necessary item you need. If you want to elevate your camping experience, then you can also decorate your campsite using string lights.
Last but not the least, one of the most important reasons why we go hiking is to be among nature and see the beautiful scenery. Most parks have multiple hiking spots that can lead to different locations with different views. So, it is important that you choose the right one. You can check out some photos of the venue online to get a rough idea of where you’ll be going.
Do keep in mind that most parks use photos of their most scenic trails for promotion. So, if you end up on the wrong trail and get disappointed when you realize that the scenery did not live up to your expectations, then there’s not much you could do. Entry to these parks is not free in most cases. So, you better do some research and look into some reviews of what it’s like to hike at your chosen location.
In summary, here are a few things you need to ask yourself when you choose a hiking trail:
- How long will it take to complete the hike?
- How much of a challenge do you want?
- Who are you going with?
- What should you pack?
- What is the weather like?
Once you can answer these questions, it will be pretty easy to prepare yourself. But do not forget the most important thing to do during your hike – having fun. No matter where you go, or who you go with, always focus on having fun on your hikes.
William Arrovo seeks thrills and laughter in everything he comes across. He is a fun loving person with a zest of exploring the breathtaking places around the globe. He feels content in sharing his experiences of travelling to various countries. He is grateful about enriching himself with a myriad of cultures and rejuvenating his soul while staying outdoors.