|Devil's Den State Park, Arkansas|
Understanding how to plan a day, and most importantly what you are capable of tackling in a given amount of time is important. More than once I've come across a pair of hikers who are in way over their heads. They're four miles from the trail head, didn't bring water, have no idea where they are or what is going on. These kind of experiences can be scary and unpleasant, so it important to have a rough idea of what you can tackle in a day so that you can do what you're going to enjoy.
The big thing that most people don't know is how long it takes to hike, and how far a mile really is. You might go quicker then this, but with stops to enjoy the scenery, taking breaks and such, a half hour a mile is a good rule of thumb. If you are hiking in a fairly flat area, most people can hike several miles no problem, but if there is a lot of elevation change it can become challenging quickly if you aren't used to it. Sometimes pushing yourself this way can be really enjoyable, but if you have small children with you, or aren't ready for it, it can be an unpleasant challenge. So assess your own abilities, hiking can be a great way to get in better shape, but that is a gradual process.
Most trails will have maps online, or at the trail head that give you basic information about how long the trail is, and often a rating of difficulty. Checking out this information beforehand can help you pick a trail that matches your abilities. I prefer taking loop trails so that there is always something new to see and explore. I also like trails that have one or more 'high points' that is designated bits of scenery where you can stop. Often hikes to overlooks, tops of mountains, and waterfalls are set up this way.
Once you are at the trail head and before you head out take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, look at the map, find your place on it and look at where you are going to be hiking. Find out what will mark the trail, often the trail will be clear since it is heavily used, but in some places it may be posts in the ground or marks on trees that show you the way. Its always a good idea to have a map with you, and if there aren't paper ones for you to take, snap a picture on your phone.
What to Bring
|This is about all you need to enjoy an afternoon hike.|
Dressing for the weather is also important, so check the weather before your hike. Wearing layers is often the best idea so you can add/remove them as necessary. Even if the sun is shining bringing a rain coat is always a good idea, they can block the wind and the rain and keep you warm if the weather changes quickly. During the summer make sure to wear sun block, when you're hiking sun burn can creep up on you so be careful. You do NOT need fancy clothes to spend a day out hiking, what you have already is more then sufficient. Wear shoes that give you good footing, like tennis shoes or hiking boots. No flip-flops or loose sandals, they can result in a twisted ankle.Throw on some clothes you don't mind getting dirty, grab a jacket appropriate for the weather, toss your water bottle and a snack in a backpack and you are good to go!
Taking photos of your hike is a great way to help you look more closely at what you see and its a great way to share your adventures with your friends and encourage them to come along next time. So grab your camera or use your phone and document the cool thing you find!
On The Trail
Many people like planning things to the minute, this is often unrealistic when you are outdoors. Let the day guide you. Hiking is not a competition, and its way more enjoyable to take things at your own pace, be respectful of other hikers and let them pass if they are hiking faster then you. If you find a sunny beach along the trail and want to spend the afternoon there, do it! If it starts to rain and you want to call it an early day, that is fine too.
Hiking is a great, cheap way to get out in the sunshine, stretch your legs and explore a new place. Once you get away from the trail head you never know what you might find,so get out there and explore and come back and tell us what you find!