Gloria has been an avid hiker all of her life. In the Rocky Mountains, Hawaii, California, and even abroad in Europe, she finds the gems.
Let's get started...
First step is to figure out a general idea of where you want to hike and how long of an adventure you want. Plan out how long you actually want the total adventure to be, from driving to the trailhead, hiking, to driving home.
For example: If you only have 8 hours to spend on the adventure, 2 hours of that is driving, that leaves 6 hours for hiking. If you only have a 10 minute drive to the trail head, that leaves almost all 8 hours to hike.
Hikes require looking at several aspects to determine how long they will take: distance, elevation gain, trail conditions, and your physical fitness. Googling the hike will usually help tell you all of those things but you have to estimate how healthy you are for the hike. If you aren't sure...start with a one- or two-mile gentle hike and see how that goes.
First Way to Find an Epic Hike
Now that you know how long you have for a hike, it's time to do your initial research to just get an idea of what the highlights are of the area.
Google! Using google is the best way to get started. Google 'hikes in _____" to just get a general idea of what types of hikes appear to be popular in the area. Sometimes the results surprise you...For example, if you are in the desert, you may be surprised to find there are hikes to waterfalls and rivers!
Now you can narrow down your search after you have an idea of what hikes are in the area and what land features you are interested in seeing. Do you want to go to a viewpoint, an uphill hike? Go through a valley along a river? Or go hike a loop trail to lakes? Once you know what type of hike you want, google exactly that! "River hikes in _______" or "Loop trail to lakes in _______".
This sounds like a no brainer to use google, but by starting with a broad search then narrowing it down can lead you to awesome hikes that may have only been discovered via other people's blogs! I usually just open a bunch of tabs off of a google search result that interest me, then browse through each tab to see what catches your eye.
Check trail conditions and think about the time of year
Second way: AllTrails App
Your google search may take you to a lot of hikes on the app called AllTrails.
All Trails is an amazing app with TONS of hikes on it...like almost any hike that exists on it that is legal to hike. Which makes it totally overwhelming, even with its useful search filters for types of hikes. That's why I like to use google first, then use AllTrails to look at hikes I already found on google.
AllTrails provides up to date reviews for most of the hikes on there including trail conditions and photos from other hikers. It also has GPS systems that you can use even without phone service on your hike to make sure you are going the right way. Super useful on those unmaintained trails. IT ALSO has directions to the trail heads. A lot of trail heads are almost hidden and seem really confusing to get to...especially when you're going to some epic trails.
Search over 75,000 trails with trail info, maps, detailed reviews, and photos curated by millions of hikers, campers, and nature lovers like you.
From Wilderness Areas to National Parks
Third way: Networking and socializing
Most locals of an area will suggest awesome hikes. After all, they are locals! Ask a couple different people for different opinions. If 3 or 4 people recommend the same hike...it's probably for a good reason! I would take up that recommendation even if it means altering your original hike plans.
Not sure who to ask? Go to the nearest local town outdoor store, fishing store, hardware store, grocery store...etc. Even a local gas station.
If you get several different suggestions or just one, google it first to see if it's something you're interested in and have time for. I've had some locals suggest crazy 30 mile backpacking trips..which I am not interested in. Everyone's opinions differ so don't forget to stick to what you are actually looking to get into.
Local guided hike
Fourth Way: Google Maps Satellite and Google Earth
I learned this trick from a Montana local friend of mine named Tom who would explore areas he was planning to visit via Google Maps satellite view or Google Earth. Both work just as well.
I use the generic online Google maps, but make sure you are on satellite view. It also works on the phone app. Search the area that you are interested in hiking in to narrow down the map, then zoom out a little bit to get an idea of what the landscape looks like. Use the scale to make sure you aren't zoomed out too far or too little. You can also swipe up with two fingers to get a 3D map to show you the topography a bit better.
If you see anything that stands out or is already labeled on the map, zoom in a little bit to investigate. If there is a label on a mountain or a waterfall, click on the label. Photos of the label and reviews from other people will pop up. I usually just look at the photos and if it looks cool to me, I then will google search the label to see the details of the hike such as distance, elevation gain, and features of the hike.
Exploring on google maps is super fun and has a lot to offer! It's pretty amazing to see very remote mountain peaks and rivers labeled with other people's reviews and photos. Some spots you would think no one has every been there, but they have! This is probably the best way to find epic hikes not many people know about.
Last of all, prepare for your hike and get out there!
After you picked your hike and you are ready to go, check the weather, pick a day, and start packing! Don't forget the very important first aid kit... no matter how short the hike is! I took a tumble on a 3 mile round trip hike and had no bandaids, no first aid, and had a slow painful hike back to the car because I thought the hike was no big deal...ALWAYS PREPARE!
Writer Gloria hiking in her home land in Maui, Hawaii
Glo (author) from Hawaii on September 15, 2019:
Liz Westwood from UK on September 15, 2019:
This article gives great tips on how to find hiking trails to suit all abilities.