Happy National Trails Day!
“Every trail beckons adventure and has a story to share with any person willing to discover it…”
– American Hiking Society
I love a good hiking trail. Luckily, I live in an area where I can squeeze in a quick hike after work or plan on an all-day excursion up a nearby mountain. My favorite thing about hiking is coming across the reminders of a bygone era. I love wandering along old stone walls, walking into overgrown apple orchards, or discovering abandoned cellar holes. When I worked for the National Park Service, these hikes would lead me along decomposed Civil War entrenchments, abandoned homesteads, or ancient seashells washed up on the shore. I love hiking because these trails are like a museum: they are windows into a greater narrative.
In honor of National Trails Day, here are my three tips for anyone looking for fun and safe adventures on any trail they come across!
- Be Prepared
A hike can be a huge success or a miserable experience all based on how prepared you are for the adventure ahead.
Know where you’re going: Look at a map before you hike. How long is the trail? Will there be any elevation change? Be sure to bring a map along. Yes, an actual, physical map! While a GPS is great, there are still times when I am out of service and need an old-school map to direct me. Maps are small and light thus making them easy to carry!
Bring water: I cannot stress this enough. You might be surprised by how many people I come across on the trail with little to no water. Water gives us energy, it cools us down on those hot days, and keeps us hydrated. To make it convenient, I love bringing my hydration pack on the trail. There is no such thing as bringing too much water!
Stay protected from the sun and bugs, naturally: Getting sunburned hurts, and bug bites are super annoying. I always wear my favorite ball cap plus a sun mask to cover my neck, a shirt that covers my shoulders (bring on that farmer’s tan!), and sunscreen and bug protection. There are plenty of great options to choose from – no surprise my favorite pick is from Badger!
- Leave No Trace
We are a guest on every trail we traverse. Here are some tips on how to leave no trace on National Trails Day and beyond.
Stay on the trail: I am a super curious hiker and constantly want to veer off the trail to explore my surroundings. However, staying on the trail “reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape” (www.lnt.org). While I am all for creating our own paths in life, we can easily preserve these precious ecosystems and historic sites by simply staying on the designated trail.
Pack out your trash: By now, this may sound like a no-brainer. However, almost every time I am on a trail I find wrappers, tissues, empty bottles and fruit skins (even though biodegradable, items such as apple cores and banana peels are not native to most natural environments and in turn cause feeding issues with native wildlife). Take a small bag with you to carry out your trash or other trash you may come across. A little bit of litter pick-up goes a long way!
Leave what you find: It is super tempting to take home a memento of your hike: a pebble, flowers, or even historical artifacts (arrowheads, anyone?). While it may not seem like a big deal to take just one little rock, it adds up to noticeable change when everyone takes just one piece of nature. By leaving nature how you found it, you are preserving history, the ecosystem, and the enjoyment of future hikers (including yourself!).
- Have Fun!
Sit and listen: I used to be the kind of hiker that once I started, I wouldn’t stop until I got to where I was going. Often that meant I was out of breath and had a great view of my feet the entire time. There was so much that I missed! I now slow my pace and am intentional about stopping along the way.
Try this on your next hike: Find a comfortable place along the way and just sit. What do you hear? What wildlife starts to stir now that you aren’t moving? What other things do you now notice? To help guide my observation, I like to bring snacks to enjoy at an overlook, a sketchbook and pencil to draw my surroundings, and a camera to see things with a new eye.
Imagine what came before: Trails connect us to so much life. They connect us from point A to point B. They are gateways to unique ecosystems. And they provide a path to stories that came before and are yet to be written. I love imagining what life might have looked like on these trails long ago. What might it have been like for the first human to view this site for the first time? What species have once called it home? Who will get to enjoy this space 100 years from now? Imagining these stories helps me to feel like I’m part of a greater narrative.
Discover new things: Choose a new path. Hike with new friends at a National Trails Day event. Hike at a different time of day or even a different time of year. Get out in the rain! Challenge yourself to find something new on a path you love.
There is always something new to discover when exploring a trail. It’s just up to you to notice.
Where will you hike on National Trails Day? Take the pledge here and share your trail-adventuring tips below!