Day Hiking For Beginners

by Ray

Day hiking is a very rewarding experience and can take you to so many amazing outdoor areas. Day hikes ran range from a quick half mile loop all the way to an intense 14 mile hike. The great thing about day hikes are there are so many great hikes to choose from. Going on a day hike can take you from the suburbs to the serene views of nearby forests or mountains in your city. Or if you take a road trip can take you to majestic vistas or views depending on where you live. When we first started day hiking we had no idea how to plan our trip or what to bring, so in today's guide we're going to help you prepare for your upcoming day hike!

Considerations for Picking a Hike

When planning out your day hike, there are a number of things you should consider before you decide on your next outdoor adventure. By thinking about these things before you pick, you'll likely have a much better experience starting off your day hikes. You'll be able to relax more and just enjoy the trail you are on. When we pick our hikes we think about the distance, elevation, difficulty rating, weather, animals, or potential trail closures.

Distance

When you are looking into hikes the first thing you should look at is the distance of the hike. Generally on most hiking websites they will list the distance of the hike in miles. A good rule of thumb to start with is one hour of hiking for every two miles. You can reflect as you finish your hike if you're hiking a bit faster or slower than this pace, but that is a good rule of thumb. By knowing the distance and the time, you can better plan when to start the hike and potentially when you would finish. An example would be if your day hike is four miles, then you would take two hours to complete if you were hiking at two miles an hour.

Elevation

After you find out the distance of your hike, the next important metric to pay attention to is the elevation. Elevation is how high up your trail goes. Trails with less elevation are much easier as they don't require your legs to push you up the mountains or hulls. Trails with more elevation will be more challenging since your legs will be working harder to climb up. Typically most hikes gain in elevation to a viewpoint in the first half and for the second half you are going all downhill. This means the first half of the hike will likely take you longer as it is more strenuous and the second half will be quicker since you're going downhill.

Difficulty Rating

As you are researching hikes for your next trip, pay attention to the difficulty rating. Generally the ratings go from easy, strenuous to very strenuous. This rating will tell you how hard the hike is based on the distance combined with the elevation. Hikes that are very long and require a ton of elevation gain will be rated as very strenuous. These are good measuring sticks to go off of when you are first starting out. Difficulty on the trail is relative as some are more fit than others, but reflect on each hiking trip and see if it was easy or very challenging for you. For example some hikes that are rated as strenuous on the sites we visit were much easier or some hikes that were rated as easy were actually more challenging.

Weather

Once you have your trail distance, elevation, and rating, the next thing you should check is the potential weather on the day of your hike. While weather can change it is good to know at least a general idea of what to expect on the trail. If its going to be hotter then you may want to plan to start earlier so it is cooler. If its going to be cooler then you may want to bring an extra jacket or layer to keep you warm. If you see there is going to be rain then you may want to postpone or bring rain gear. Checking for weather is very important as it will be affecting you the entire time of your hike.

Animals

The next thing to research is if there are any animals on that trail, mainly bears, snakes, moose, or cougars. While these animals are not commonly seen, its good to be aware of them and learn basic safety techniques to help protect yourself in the event that you do have an encounter. There are other animals to look out for so call a local ranger who is knowledgeable about that area. Research into animal safety as you're hiking and consult with a ranger if you are uncertain.

Closures

The last thing you want to watch out for is if there was recently a trail closure. Sometimes the elements get in the way or there is a scheduled trail maintenance. Be sure to check websites or local trip reports for the trail you're interested in to find out if the trail is open. The last thing you want to do is plan a trip and drive out only to find out that the trail is closed. This has happened to us a few times, but since then we have learned our lesson.

Logistics of a day hike

Now that you know the top things to consider when picking a day hike, the next thing you want to do is figure out the logistics of your day hike. The things you want to plan out for your day hike is finding the trail head, telling someone where you are going, what time to start, how much time it is going to take, see if the trail is well marked, or if weather recently affected the trail.

Finding the trail head

The first thing you want to look for is where the trailhead is. Sometimes finding the trailhead is straight forward as there can be a parking lot associated with it. There are other times where the trail is in the middle of nowhere and the trailhead can be a bit trickier to find. We've had a lot of luck by using google maps and searching for the trail name and "trailhead". That way you get the exact location and coordinates of the trailhead.

Tell Someone Where You're Going

You're probably excited for your trip and you know what you want to bring, figured out all the metrics for the hike, but the number one thing you want to do is let someone else know your hiking itinerary. Let them know the day, trailhead, and when you plan on starting and roughly when you plan on finishing. This is for safety reasons in case something goes wrong!

How Much time to Allocate

Once you know the trail distance and difficulty, you can estimate about how much time it will take to hike your hike. A good rule of thumb is one hour per every two miles of hiking. Be sure to estimate time for breaks and food stops. This way you can time when to start your hike so you aren't hiking at the hottest time of the day or you aren't racing against the sun setting!

When to Start

The next thing you want to figure out is what time you should start your hike. Be sure to include in the time it takes to drive to the trailhead and find parking. We generally try to hike in the earlier part of the morning as it is cooler as you are hiking. Then when you are finishing up the hike it starts to warm up. This is more effective so you aren't hiking at the hottest times of the day and the busiest. The earlier you start, the less likely there will be a lot of people on the trail!

Is it well marked

When you're researching your day hike, try to find out if the trail is well established and well marked. You should be able to find feedback from other hikers on the blogs and trip reports. If a trail is well marked it will be easy to follow with signs. If a trail is not well marked then you'd have to get a map and compass to figure out your path to navigate.

Did Weather Recently Affect the Trail

The last thing we check for is to see if any recent weather has affected the hikes. Sometimes there can be a rainstorm that washes down things that block the trail or if its summer time then the raging waterfall you were expecting could just be a trickle. If its winter time then you want to see if there are any roads closed due to snowfall or trails completely buried under the snow.

Hiking Websites we love

Our go-to websites for day hike research are alltrails.com and summitpost.org. These sites are phenomenal with providing hiking distance, elevation and even trip reports. We have been using these sites for years without fail. We use the trip reports to let us know about recent trail conditions. These sites are a fantastic way to learn the ins and outs of a hike before your hike begins!

Finding hikes near you

In order to find hikes near you the best site to use is alltrails.com. Another alternative is to find a local meetup group or facebook group. alltrails.com gives you the ability to find hikes within a certain area and you can sort by difficulty or distance. For meetup groups or facebook groups you can see photos that hikers shared and get more immediate feedback from hikers like you. These groups are a good way to meet other local hikers and get tips on other local trails. This is a great way to meet other hikers and get recommendations of hidden gem hikes!

How we research trails

When we research trails we look at alltrails.com, summitpost.org and read blogs on those specific hikes. By cross referencing these resources we are able to have a better understanding of the hike and trail before we hike. We find out the distance, elevation, and difficulty. From the sites we get the smaller details to watch out for if theres a split in the trail or a very difficult section in the hike. Another thing we do is check instagram hashtags for the hike and you can get the latest pictures of other hikers that have been on the hike you are interested in. This has been key in showing us the current trail conditions for our day hikes!

Need More Tips?

Now that you have your trip planned out and know what to look out for, you may be wondering What hiking snacks to bring on your day hike. We wrote an entire article covering the various snacks you should take on your hike to help boost your energy. We provide a comprehensive list of snacks from trail mix, jerky, energy bars, and much more!

What should I bring on backpacking trips?

if you're planning on a longer backpacking trip then you may be wondering what food to bring for backpacking trips. We wrote a comprehensive article on what hiking food items you should bring on your longer trips.