Have you ever set out on a trail, hoping for a peaceful hike, only to find it packed with people? Speaking from personal experience, it sucks and I’m going to tell you how to circumvent that scenario so let’s jump right into that:
Start your hike early (we’re talking before sunrise):
Starting your hike before sunrise can transform your experience from one of dodging fellow hikers to having the path all to yourself. Let’s explore why early morning is the prime time for solitude seekers.
I’m sure you’ve felt that special something that comes with being one of the first to greet the day. It’s not just about the quiet – it’s about witnessing the forest come alive, the mist lifting from the valleys, and the first calls of birds starting their day. The benefits of early morning hikes go beyond just avoiding crowds; they offer a rare opportunity to connect with nature in its most pristine state.
So, here’s what you need to do: Lay your clothes out the night before, prep your backpack, and set that alarm. But it’s not just about an early start; keep an eye on the weather, inform somebody about your trail plans, and pack a headlamp or flashlight. Ensuring you’re prepared will make your predawn start smooth and enjoyable.
Now, waking up before the sun does come with its responsibility. It’s crucial to be aware of the increased risks such as reduced visibility and the likelihood of encountering wildlife. Understanding the trail, the terrain, and any local wildlife activity prior to setting out can keep you safe during your dawn adventure (go with other people if you can).
This isn’t just about personal benefits – there are broader implications. By avoiding peak hours, you’re also helping to reduce trail wear and tear and minimizing your environmental impact. It’s a win-win.
You might love the popular hiking trails, but so does everyone else. That’s why hitting the trails during less busy times can make all the difference. It’s not just about avoiding weekends or holidays; even the hour of the day can turn a crowded trek into a peaceful walk.
In case you’re wondering, weekdays are a non-negotiable for low-traffic trails, especially if you’re near urban areas. Starting your hike when others are typically at work, say mid-morning or early afternoon, often means you get to enjoy a more tranquil environment.
Seasonal shuffling can also play to your advantage. If you’re willing to embrace the off-season, you might find out that chilly mornings in fall or crisp days in the late winter offer stunning views, fewer people, and a unique hiking experience.
There’s also a charm in discovering less frequented trails during peak seasons. When summer crowds flock to the famous spots, that’s your cue to turn in the opposite direction. It might take extra research or a willingness to drive a bit further, but the solitude you’ll find is often well worth the effort. So how do you do this? Simple:
- Decide where you want to go (let’s say it’s a national park)
- Research when the busiest seasons are
- Don’t go during the busiest seasons, go when it’s far less busy (typically when it’s cold)
- Go on more difficult/longer trails. The more difficult/longer it is, the less people will venture that far
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: some of the best hiking experiences come from trails that are off the mainstream radar. You’re going to find out about how to uncover these hidden gems and enjoy a peaceful hike, away from the crowds.
Now what is a big publisher when it comes to trails? It’s those well-known, heavily promoted pathways that are all over social media and travel blogs. But just don’t focus too much on these obvious choices. Instead, choose something that resonates with you and isn’t packed with people.
So here’s a picture of some of these lesser-known paths: they’re often just as beautiful and offer an even more intimate experience with nature. The key to finding these spots? Research. This site provides a bunch of info on that, and so do many others.
Here’s a few examples and tips:
- Let’s take an extremely popular place for hiking: Utah and the Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah
- It just so happens that there’s amazing Utah state parks all around these 5 national parks and other spots like the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument which are far less packed and I’ve been to so many places around here, and rarely ran into 5 or more people during a day hike (during different seasons too)
- Another great way to find off the beaten trails is to avoid the large parking lots and places with tons of cars. The more open and obvious a trailhead is, the more likely it’s going to be crowded (unless you go there super early). Try to find trailheads that have less reviews but are listed on Google maps as they can also lead to incredible hikes.
- Leveraging local knowledge is like striking gold. Stop by a nearby ranger station or outdoor retailer, and chat up the staff. These folks are likely to share some personal favorites that aren’t on every tourist’s itinerary. I shoot for the latter; nothing beats personal recommendations.
Because these trails aren’t as popular, there’s a good chance you’ll have large swathes of wilderness to yourself. That’s terrific for your peace of mind, but remember, it comes with responsibility. Your safety is crucial, so always let someone know where you’re going, take a good map, and pack the essential gear (snacks, water, change of clothes, protection from wildlife and juice for your electronic items).
Mindful hiking: Getting the most out of your trips
Besides the tips stated above, enjoying the hike is itself a skill that takes time to learn. For many it comes naturally, but for others, very often avoiding crowds or perhaps overplanning and thinking too much keeps you too busy in your mind to actually enjoy the moment. Here’s a few tips I have to share with to help avoid it:
- Go with friends (people who you get along with on hikes)
- If you run into other hikers, greet them with a smile and a wave
- Choose hikes with diverse landscapes and gems (like waterfalls)
- Plan a post hike trip to a great restaurant overlook a beautiful area
- When you find a great spot on your hike, stop and enjoy the moment vs just continuing to the next section of the trail
These are all tips I’ve come to appreciate over my many years hiking alone and with others and it has made each and every new hike I do (or redo) unforgettable. It really is simple to do once you get used to it, but something that is too often overlooked by many people.
Finishing up and getting back to the main point of this post, it’s totally worth it to follow the tips I shared above if you want to avoid crowds when hiking but even if you do end up running into many people, don’t let it bother you. Think of it as a safer hiking experience and plan for another following these tips. Believe me there are tons of trails and places around the world which 99% of hikers do not know about.