Hiking is easy enough, right? One foot after the other. It’s just like walking. Sorta… kinda. Even though hiking seems simple, if you’re not careful you can get yourself into trouble. There’s a lot more to choosing your hiking trail than you may think.
And, for that matter, packing your backpack. But I’m not going to get into that here. You can read about it in our ten hiking essentials article.
Tips on choosing your hiking trail
Whether you’re brand new to hiking or have been hiking since you were two, it’s important to not get overly excited and just “wing-it” at the first trail you see — I’ve been known to do this and Jacob always has to reign me in.
As with all outdoor activities, being a prepared and knowledgeable hiker will make your experience outdoors so much more enjoyable.
1. Be Clear With Yourself About Your Fitness + Experience Level
Before you even think about choosing your hiking trail, you need to be real with yourself about your fitness and experience level. It’s easy to get in over your head and we don’t want Search and Rescue coming after you. Jacob and I have chosen a few trails above our skill level and, believe us, those weren’t fun experiences.
I’m a firm believer in pushing yourself, but there’s always a line you don’t want to cross. It’s better to air on the side of caution if you’re unsure of your skill level. Remember, you’re not invincible and as much as you might love nature, it can be pretty damn unforgiving.
Once you’ve figured out your skill level, you can start choosing your hiking trail.
2. Determine the Trail’s Difficulty
Now that you know your skill level, you’ll need to choose your hiking trail based on its difficulty.
Many parks and nature areas have the trail’s difficulty listed at the trailhead. The trails are usually marked as easy, moderate, or strenuous (or something of the sort). If the park doesn’t have posted information, the information is usually readily available online.
If you’re new to hiking, start with the easier trails (such as Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island) and work your way into the harder ones (such as the Enderby Cliffs in BC or Klahhane Ridge in Washington). It’s much more rewarding to complete a hike than to turn back because you’ve gotten yourself into trouble. Remember, you can always come back!
3. Be Aware of the Trail Length + Elevation Change
Now that you know your difficulty level, it’s time to look at the length and elevation change of your trail. We used to only look at trail length, but elevation change can drastically change a 2 km hike from a cake walk to a hike from hell.
The trailhead information will usually give you a trail’s length, but not elevation, as well as approximately how long it takes to hike. The duration is always an approximate, so depending on your skill level it may take you longer or shorter to complete the hike. If the elevation isn’t posted, try checking out Alltrails.com.
Even though a trail might be marked as easy, remember: a 2 km trail is a lot different than 10 km and a 10 m elevation change is a lot different than 200 m. Always plan accordingly and be prepared.
4. Watch out for Trail Hazards + Obstacles
Some trails have natural hazards and obstacles along the way. Logs, rushing water, narrow trails, and steep cliffs are only a few of the things you might have to face.
Always do your research before you start hiking so you know what to expect! As always, if you don’t feel comfortable passing one of these obstacles, don’t. Just turn back. There’s no shame in that. It’s better to keep yourself safe than push yourself past your manageable limit.
5. Choose the Best Trail Views
And finally, once you’ve chosen the hiking trails you can safely go on, it’s time to look at the best part: the view!
We adore choosing hikes with amazing views. Whether it’s a panoramic landscape, lake, waterfall, rocky craig, or plant life, we love it all. There’s beauty in every hike! And unlike some modern art, it’s not hard to find that beauty (c’mon, what’s with a pure blue canvas?).
We hope these tips will help you choose your perfect hiking trail! Have fun out there — and stay safe!
This article contains some affiliate links, which means if you buy something through our links we’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We’re very grateful every time you choose to support us. Thank you!