So, you decided to go hiking for the first time. Not one of those short bush walks either, a real overnight hike out into the wilderness somewhere. But that’s the big question, where?
Finding a hike is fairly easy. The world is a big place and there are many beautiful wonders. And no doubt, there are some near where you live and someone has walked there. When choosing your first hike, take the following things into consideration:
- It shouldn’t be too difficult.
- Length doesn’t matter, a shorter hike will give you a feel for hiking, while a longer hike will teach you more.
- A popular hike is usually, but not always, better organised and better marked.
- Hiking closer to civilisation is better should something go wrong.
- It should have camp sites with toilet facilities and available water.
- You should do your first hike with a group or at least with one other person.
- Get as much information as you can before you go.
Here are some ways to find a hike in your local community:
- Join a hiking group
- Your local hiking and adventure store should have a list of groups in your area. The more focused the store, the more likely they will know of groups.
- Meetup.com is a good site to meet other hikers as there are many hiking groups listed, and no it’s not a dating site. Make an account – it’s free – and search for a group in your local area. You should get plenty of feedback from other members about what would be a good hike. You might even find someone to hike with if you don’t have anyone else.
- Your local hiking or adventure store
- While a large warehouse store might not have much information beyond a small library of books or maps, a smaller more focused store generally can give a lot of advice about the hikes in the local area, gear required and suitability. They will also have a similar small library of books and maps.
- Government websites
- The Queensland State Government in Australia has set up many hikes around the state and information is found here: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/experiences/great-walks/ The site provides a lot of information to help with the planning of your hike. Your State, Provincial or Local government might also have a similar sites. The hikes listed are often better set up than many other hikes, and are perfect starting points for ongoing hiking.
- National Park Ranger Stations
- Most national park rangers have a vast knowledge of the hikes within their region and especially the park they are working in. Contacting them via email should garner plentiful information on current conditions and trouble spots in the park, they might even be able to sell maps and other guides. Many national park ranger stations will often collect entry fees (depending on the park) and they can sometimes sell overpriced equipment and food.
The various books about hikes tend to fall into three categories:
- Hiking books about experiences on a certain hike. The Appalachian Trail, for example, has a lot of personal experience stories written about it. While this will give details of experiences on the hike, they often don’t give details about the hike.
- Trail books about specific hikes. These are the most useful books as they are a complete look at just one long hike, or several moderate length hikes in the same area. These are useful if you are happy to do a 6-20 day hike for your first hike, and usually contain complete maps, details of camps/huts, side trails and many other details. For many, a hike of this length is too long for a first experience. An example of a book that falls under this category: John Chapman’s Larapinta Trail
- Regional bush-walking/trail books. There are few books written about a specific 3 day hike as it would not be feasible to print. However, there are books that compile collections of short hikes and bush walks for specific regions. To make them worth printing, they tend to have a plethora of hikes, but details about the hikes can be vague and out of date depending on when the book was published. They make good starting points, but should not necessarily be used as the definitive guide about each hike. Books that fall into this category include: Backpacker’s Britain Northern Scotland and Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Central Andes.
If you are travelling in a foreign country you can find information here:
- Your hostel or hotel
- If the region you are travelling is renowned for its hiking, such as Nepal, Patagonia or Peru; your local hostel or hotel might be the perfect place to find information. They may also hire equipment for the hikes, sell transport tickets to the trail head and may even have maps of the region for sale. They will likely be able to point you to the best source of information on the particular hikes, tour agencies and guides if they don’t.
- Tour Agencies
- The agencies in the region you are travelling should provide any information you might need, including maps, transport tickets, information on current conditions, park fees and other advice. Most speak english if you are in a country where the native population doesn’t. While some may hire out equipment for the hikes, many don’t.
- Hiking or Adventure stores
- If you are in a non-english speaking country and don’t speak the native tongue, these stores only be useful for providing gas and other equipment. But in the rare occasional where the owner speaks english or you speak the native language, they can be a useful resource. Often in poorer countries, they are primarily interested in sales and don’t know much about the hikes in the areas.
- National Park offices
- Many national park offices have full information about the park they are. While they don’t always sell or hire gear for the hikes, they usually collect the fees associated with hiking in the park and can provide maps and condition reports.
- Local Guides
- In many countries, you are unable to hike without an experienced local guide. This is usually a tourism initiative to bring money into the local economy, but are there to prevent hikers from getting lost or for the hiker’s safety in difficult terrain. The local guides are a fountain of information about the surrounding area and the trail, but many don’t speak english. Often booking a guide is expensive, but it has its benefits. Your guide and porter (if he has one) will carry most of your equipment, prepare the campsites and even prepare your meals.
Information is the tool of the wise,
The Lone Trail Wanderer