Hiking brings all the benefits of being out of doors. Exercise, sunshine and fresh air for the body and stimulation for the mind. Even for those with only a basic knowledge of nature, there are an endless number of plants, animals and insects to learn about. The geology of an area and the natural environments the trail passes through are fascinating and can make for a lifetime of study. All these benefits and more await on the hiking trail.
For the inexperienced or seasoned hiker, day hikes can be a welcome break from the hectic pace of life in the modern world. A day hike is short enough to be accomplished in an afternoon or long enough to fill an entire day. The intention is to be done and off the trail by evening, so camping gear and excessive supplies are not necessary. The hiker is unburdened and free to spend a few hours of enjoyment. Preparations are not as involved as a hiking trip that requires overnight camping. Some planning does need to be done to avoid problems.
The first consideration when planning a hike should be to match the conditions of the trail with the hiker’s physical abilities. Use a trail guide, search online for difficulty ratings, or ask an experienced hiker about the difficulty. Abrupt changes in elevation make for a more difficult route that only those in good physical condition should attempt. Topographic maps that show elevation changes are available for all of the United States and can be a tremendous resource for the hiker.
Finding hiking paths can be as simple as going to the nearest state or local park. Trail maps may be available from the park office. These show distances, difficulty and scenic features along the path. If individual maps aren’t available a large map may be posted at the trailhead. Most parks have well marked routes indicating direction and distance.
Before hitting the trail, hikers benefit from having a basic understanding of what plants should be avoided. Know poisonous plants in the area so that they can be avoided. Everyone should know poison ivy and poison oak. Paths through damp areas may pass through stands of stinging nettles. Knowing what to look for can help the hiker avoid uncomfortable or painful encounters.
A backpack with bottled water, simple first aid, sunscreen and maps is wise even on a short hike. Brief preparation will assure that the day hike is an enjoyable experience.