Hiking Basics

“Oh, the places you’ll go!” (Dr. Seuss)

Some of my favorite places to spend time are the National Parks of the west. Whether it be Zion or Arches, the Tetons or Yellowstone, these are where you will find some of the most breathtaking views in the world. Some of these views are accessible by a quick walk after parking your car, but the most worthwhile ones are discovered only after hopping onto the beaten path. In other words, finding the real gems of God’s creations can only be done through what many refer to as hiking.

I started participating in short hikes with my family when I was very young, so I thank my parents for introducing me to the beauties which are out there. I must digress that I was not always agreeable to join in these expeditions at first, but looking back these experiences are what sparked my love of hiking.

There are a lot of ways that people go hiking, each which varying levels of comfort and ease. I mentioned National Parks earlier, which provide incredible access to incredible places. For those who aren’t comfortable with rough, dirt trails, these parks often have different short boardwalks which can be followed. These also usually have informative signs which provide wonderful insights into the history, geology, or geography of the area. I have always enjoyed these shorter walks for the ease of access, especially if I don’t have much time.

What really gets those in love with the outdoors excited though are longer hikes, often to visit a destination that can be reached in no other way. Whether the journey takes you to a hidden waterfall, pristine mountain lake, or breathtaking peak, the thrill is the same. These destination hikes are often more difficult and can take more planning to accomplish, especially if they are more than a few miles.

Planning for your hikes is really where it all starts, and it takes a little more than just deciding a location, though that is certainly important too. A few resources which I enjoy using for the initial decision making, and for learning about where I’d like to go are alltrails.com and hikingproject.com. These websites provide some great info about lots of different trails near you, such as length and difficulty, as well as contain comments from actual people on their experiences hiking.

So you’ve decided where you want to go, now it’s time to hop in the car and drive off to the trailhead, right? Well, not quite. Especially if you haven’t gone hiking very often, it’s very important to check the weather, learn a little about your destination, and possibly even find someone to come with you who has ideally hiked the trail before. The last thing you want to happen is to be stranded at a fork in the trail in the rain.

One experience which I had with this was when I was a Boy Scout working on the Hiking Merit Badge. One of the requirements for this award is to complete a 20-mile day hike. My troop and I had arrived at the trailhead for Union Falls in Yellowstone National Park the night before our hike and camped nearby so we could get an early start in the morning. We were excited to accomplish this hike and anticipated the daunting task which lay before us. When we arrived that evening, the weather was cloudy, but we weren’t expected any foul weather to befall us. Sadly, our expectations did not prepare us for the reality which came upon our small troop of scouts. The wind started as the sun began to set, and the skies slowly let rain precipitate on our tents after we had retired for the night.

In the morning we shuffled out of our tents with our rain jackets on as we desperately hoped for the rain to stop. It didn’t, but we were determined to return home successfully from our expedition. So we set forth into the now marshy Yellowstone backcountry. After hours of trudging through the flooded trails which we were told would lead us to our destination (after several miles a few of us began to doubt that we would ever make it to the waterfall, let alone back to our vehicles alive), we finally did it. We had accomplished what we had set out to do! We may have been cold, wet, and quite frankly miserable, but it was finished. The moral of the story: avoid at all costs doing your first hike anywhere in the rain. That’s not to say that you should never hike in intemperate weather, there are times when that can be enjoyable, just make sure to be ready for it.

I love hiking and hope that many others will be able to develop a similar love of being in the wilderness away from the burdens and business of everyday life. Being able to slow down and enjoy the beauties all around us can be powerful medicine for the ailments we face today.