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Choosing the Best Hiking Trail

With countless hiking trails at the tips of our fingers, choosing the best hiking trail may seem like a daunting task. Fear not!

Below, you will easily navigate the ins-and-outs of trail selection and other considerations to ensure your next adventure is not only enjoyable but tailored to your preferences and experience level.

Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or brand new to hiking, I think you’ll benefit from these tips!

✌️ But first – go ahead and download the free version of AllTrails or save 30% on AllTrails+!

Let’s get into it.

This image is a screenshot of the AllTrails app showing where you can search for hiking trails

DRIVE/COMMUTE DISTANCE

Do you want to stay close to home or are you OK with traveling 1-3 hours? Your home-base may determine this for you (what’s close by/not close by), so start by plugging your city into the explore search bar and see what is around you.

DISTANCE OF THE TRAIL

This screenshot of the AllTrails app shows how you can filter your search by difficulty, length, and elevation gain.

A general rule of thumb, if you are a beginner hiker, choosing a 2-3 mile hike is a solid place to start. If you have more trail experience and pending your fitness level, you may opt for a 6-8+ mile hike.

You can filter trails generated when you searched by your city by difficulty level, length, and elevation gain.

TIME ON TRAIL

Knowing how much time you have to hike is important when choosing a trail because the distance will determine how long you will be spending out there and the projected finish time you will tell your safety check-in buddy.

Another general rule of thumb for the estimated time is ~20 minutes per mile (less than 500+ feet elevation, light pack, and not super technical) and ~25-35 minutes per mile (over 500+ feet elevation, moderate to heavy pack, and technical).

Your fitness level and experience will also determine your pace. It is perfectly OK if you aren’t “fast”!

YOU choose your pace and always give yourself plenty of time/sunlight.

TERRAIN AND ELEVATION

Once you find a couple of trails that look good, you can see what the terrain looks like (via photos and other users’ comments) and you can see the elevation gain. You can ALSO see the route type (loop, point to point, out, and back).

For beginner hikers, you may want to find a trail with less than 500ft elevation to start. The terrain will vary from state to state, so be sure to look at the photos, comments, and descriptions to see what the trail offers (rocks, scrambles, roots, valleys, etc.).

This image shows where you can find reviews in the All Trails app to help with choosing the best hiking trail

TIME OF YEAR AND ACCESSIBILITY

Pending where you live, certain trails may not be accessible during certain parts of the year due to snow (for example.) Be sure to read the “reviews” tab to see if other trail users have left comments and ALWAYS check out the trail/park website to be sure you are updated on usage, opening, conditions, and things like permits and passes.

MAP AND NAVIGATION

Each trail will have a map that you can click on to see what the trail/route looks like, the start/end locations, directions to the trailhead, and different layers (satellite, terrain, topographical, etc.). The premium version of AllTrails (AllTrails+) allows you to download maps for offline (no service) navigation and preview the route (SO neat), but if you don’t have the premium version, be sure to bring a hard copy map from the information center, take a photo of the map with your phone, or download a PDF to the files section of your phone. ALWAYS HAVE A MAP WITH YOU.

OTHER RESEARCH

After choosing a trail or two via AllTrails, hop on Google and do a bit more research on the trail to get even more knowledge and information. There has likely been a blog written about the trail or a YouTube video made on it!

The more information you can gather about wildlife, conditions, trail markers (what marks the trail/route), terrain, common weather patterns, other people’s experience, entry/parking, and waypoints… THE BETTER.

GEAR AND THE TEN ESSENTIALS

Need help packing everything you need and nothing you don’t? Download the awesome freebie that I created – The Ultimate Hiking Checklist.

Be sure to always bring The Ten Essentials with you as well! You may not ever use some of them (which is a good thing) but it’s always important to carry them. Also, it’s just good practice to be as prepared as possible and have them as staples in your day pack.

🧡 Also don’t forget, you can start as small/short as you are comfortable with. There is NO minimum requirement/distance to getting started hiking. If a 1-mile hike feels good for you to start, go out and do that 1 mile and BE PROUD.

Meet the author

Bethany Taylor

I’m a PNW-based outdoor educator, adventure athlete, highly-caffeinated creative, all-women adventure trip host, safety advocate, and obsessed dog mom. I am here to help you chase more stoke-filled days outdoors with confidence through education and empowerment.

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