When summer finally rolls around, there’s nothing better than throwing the essentials in your pack, lacing up your boots, and setting off on one of your favorite trails.
Lately, though, our favorite trails have seen more traffic. Hiking continues to become a more popular activity, and why shouldn’t it? It’s fun, it’s (often) free, and it’s good for you.
But there are some potential downsides to a popular activity - especially one that takes place on public lands. Maybe you’re getting tired of packed trailheads and throngs of other hikers. And those overflowing trash cans can’t be good for the local wildlife. Sure, it’s great that everyone else is enjoying the outdoors, but it’s not always fun to share your favorite trails.
It may not be possible to find complete solitude at that once-unknown lake or that hard-to-reach peak - but there are some measures you can take to enjoy a little more quiet on the trail.
Read on for tips about how to avoid the crowds while hiking - and how to help others have a peaceful experience on the trail.
One of the most important considerations when planning a hike is when you’ll go. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, be strategic about when you head to the trail.
Choosing where to hike is even more important than choosing when to hike. Unless you have a bucket-list destination or favorite trail you’re dying to explore, it helps to have an open mind when planning your next adventure. Choosing places that don’t top everyone else’s list is an easy way to gain a little solitude.
First, open any guide books you might have on your shelf.
These days, we’re used to a quick internet search finding us the best trails in our area. But often, that top-rated hike you found after a 2-second Google search is the same top-rated hike that everybody else found. So you can expect that trailhead to be a little nutty.
Instead, dust off those old guidebooks and see what’s there. Old favorites get overshadowed by newer, more Instagrammable ones, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less special.
Next, consider lesser-known areas.
We all know what kind of iconic landscapes exist in our National Parks, and that’s because we always hear about them. And for that reason, they tend to be busy. Rather than those jam-packed trails in a well-known national park, are there National Forest trails nearby?
Often, National Forests are just as beautiful as the parks - but they’re usually less crowded. National forests can even contain Wilderness Areas - places managed without any permanent human presence. These are some of the most quiet, gorgeous, and memorable places to hike - so don’t overlook them!
Of course, federal public lands aren’t the only places to hike - we often forget the underrated wild in our own backyards. Check out nearby state parks, county parks, and even city parks for lesser-known but equally worthwhile trails.
Sometimes we only have an hour or two for a quick jaunt in the woods, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Any time in nature is well worth the effort. But if you’re itching for solitude and have more time to spare, think about striking out on an extended trek.
Keep in mind this simple pattern: The farther you hike, the less people you’ll see. If you’re feeling adventurous and can spare a whole day, choose a longer trail to get away from the crowds.
Depending on your level of adventure and skill, you can find even more solitude by camping out in the backcountry.
Backpacking lets you sleep under the stars, cook outdoors, and experience the sounds of nature away from civilization. It also lets you cover more ground over a longer period of time - or get an early start to a backcountry destination.
Backpacking takes a lot of planning and preparation, so do your research and head out with an experienced friend.
Enjoying a quiet, cared-for trail - whether on a day hike or while backpacking - is a true privilege. And while there are a lot of things you can do to find solitude in the woods, there are also things you should do to help make other visitors’ experiences equally special.
The best way to enhance everyone’s outdoor experience is to get familiar with Leave No Trace (LNT) practices. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has come up with 7 principles for outdoor enthusiasts to follow while spending time in nature.
The goal of these 7 principles - and the rest of this organization’s mission - is to teach people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. When you’re on the trail, do your part by adhering to LNT’s 7 principles:
Follow these principles - and share them with friends - to contribute to healthier, more beautiful trails.
Hitting the trails during the summer is one of the best ways to enjoy this carefree season. But we’re not the only ones who think so. We hope these tips help you find a little peace, solitude, and inspiration as you head out on your next adventure.
What tips did we miss? Let us know how you navigate your favorite much-loved trails by dropping a comment below.
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Emily is a copywriter based in northern Michigan. She's happiest outdoors, whether she's hiking, skiing, paddling, or swimming. As a writer, she loves working with companies that inspire all people to get outside. When she's not writing or playing outdoors, you can find her cooking, reading, or hanging out with family and friends. Find more of her writing here.
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