A guide to hitting the trails for hikers and bikers

Follow these tips for a safe and fun excursion, no matter where you go.
Hiking in green woods
January 22, 2018 10:04 AM

Weeks Before You Go...

Those brand-new hiking shoes that felt amazing when you tried them on might have a few spots that need breaking in. Take those and any new equipment on a moderate test run first, and make sure all of your tried-and-true stuff is in good shape.

Tune the bike; ready your backpack and water vessels; inspect your bike helmet, first-aid kit and bike repair kits for any missing items. All clear? Now pick your destination and see which trails look good.

Mountain Biker on the Alien Run Trail

The Day Before You Go…

Check the weather, do some destination research and rough out an itinerary for the day. If you're in a mountain area that regularly sees afternoon thunderstorms, for example, you might plan your excursion for early morning even if the forecast looks clear. Make sure there haven't been any recent road closures or detours on your trail of choice.

If there's a park ranger or local expert around, ask for tips about where you're going. If not, take the time to look online for specifics about your chosen trail: tricky sections, lunch spots and good places to stop. Give yourself a refresher course on outdoor safety—the U.S. Forest Service has useful page of tips. Finally—did we mention to check the weather?

Things to Bring

The heaviest things you carry should be food and water, according the National Park Service's hiking tips page, which is aimed at Grand Canyon visitors but applicable anywhere. Besides food and water, other (lightweight) musts include:

  • a map
  • sun protection (sunglasses, sunblock, hat)
  • a first-aid kit
  • a repair kit (for bikers)
  • extra clothing layers, including a rain poncho
  • tissues
  • a flashlight, matches or a lighter
  • a personal GPS locator or other signalling device
  • bags for trash (you'll likely be taking some with you)
Hiking in the Coxcomb Mountains

On the Trail

Bring a friend, or three, on your excursion—more eyes on the trail will help everyone navigate and stay alert to hazards, and someone can seek help if there's an emergency. If you're traveling solo (or even if you aren't), be sure someone else knows where you'll be going.

Take frequent breaks for rest, water and snacks. Observe general trail etiquette: Keep noise down; stay to the right and yield to those passing on the left; and give right of way to those on their way up an incline if you're on the way down. Leave everything as you found it, taking trash out with you.

Kids hiking

Now Get Out There

  • Maine's Acadia National Park is a favorite with both hikers and bikers for its 45-mile Carriage Roads, covered in crushed rock.
  • In Virginia, Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding valley are a hiker's haven with an active community of both road and mountain cyclists.
  • In the Midwest, don't miss Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where you can bike or walk the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, boarding the train at points along its scenic railway if you want an easy way back.
  • In Missouri, check out the longest rail trail in the country, the 240-mile Katy Trail across the state.
  • In the West, mountain bikers and hikers alike flock to Moab, Utah and Crested Butte, Colorado, both of which boast miles of trails that happen to cross jaw-dropping scenery.