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  • Writer's pictureElderberry 1

Finding Trails

When I first started hiking sort of regularly the internet was in its infancy and beepers were still a thing so if you wanted to find somewhere to go hiking it meant maps. Like actual paper maps, or possibly a guidebook to area hikes. (Both of these are still great ways to find hikes and I still use them both) As a new hiker, the downside was that I wasn't always able to match paper to terrain. I'm sure that there were map reading classes I could have taken at the local community college or tried to find a hiking club, but finding stuff before google was a whole other level of commitment and I was just looking for something to do that wasn't grad school, so frankly the thought never occurred to me. Which is how I soon ended up knocking on somebody's back door, exhausted and disheveled, having walked close to twenty miles through the woods without the faintest clue where I was (may my gratitude for the ride she gave me back to my car be eternal).

I like delightful surprises on hikes, but not knowing how to get back to your car is an undelightful surprise, so the development of apps to help you (and me, since I clearly need the help) find trails and navigate them is a boon. There are quite a few apps out there that can help with planning ahead of time and with some experimenting you can figure out which ones work best for you.

Some that you might test out:

This is by no means a comprehensive list-- there are lots of apps out there, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and style. Some are more useful in some circumstances (Komoot is great for international trails, especially in Europe, for example), while others may be more suited to other circumstances (On X Backcountry has a very strong platform for backcountry skiing routes). The most important things to consider are how comfortable you are with the platform-- does it make sense to you? Do you find it easy to navigate? Does it give you the information that you're looking for?-- and how rich the information is for the way you're engaging with the outdoors.

I use AllTrails pretty regularly as a planning tool, particularly for finding established trails. Trail descriptions give you the basics on what you are getting into, including how long it is, how much elevation gain, and what kind of trail (out and back, loop, point to point):

You also get a map and pictures that others have taken to help you decide if this is the trail you're looking for. You can also get a profile of the trail, which can give some context to the initial information-- 1217 ft gain is pretty mellow if it's spread evenly over 6.1 miles, but if it all happens in half a mile and the rest is flat, that's a very different experience. I've definitely changed my mind about a trail after looking at the profile.

There is also a section where folks leave reviews of the trails. It's hard to predict whether your experience will line up with theirs, so it's good to take the more subjective parts of reviews with a grain of salt-- you may love something someone else hated and vice versa (I planned a loop hike for us in the Presidentials based on the glowing reviews only to discover that the second half was an exposed rock wall that others had loved sliding down, but that I found terrifying), but the reviews do often include information that can be critical to deciding if this is your hike-- is there scrambling? Is there a scree field? Is there exposure? And in the case of recent reviews it can help you decide if this is your hike today-- muddy, buggy, still snowbound or icy might mean you save that one for later in the season.

One of the most important parts of planning is to have a good sense of your limits, both overall and for the day you're going out. The days where you're in your element and ready to do a high elevation climb and other days where a couple miles in the flats is enough. And there are also things that I know are just not my thing-- I don't enjoy sliding down rock walls (I know now), so if that's in the description, I just pass. That isn't my hike. But there are so many other hikes that could be mine. And with a little pre-planning you'll find yourself on the perfect hike for you.

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