So, you have finally decided to set out on your first hike but have no idea where to start. Or you have seen one of those incredible “PNW” pictures on Instagram but have no idea how to find the location. Unfortunately, the beautiful outdoor photos on social media, more often than not, don’t tell the whole story. More importantly, they won’t tell you the useful information such as the length and difficulty of the hike, the road conditions, the trailhead coordinates, and so on. In this blog post, I intend to share the tips and resources I use to find and plan hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, I would like to encourage all of you to “get out there” with the appropriate knowledge of staying safe, respecting the environment, and leaving no trace.
Top 10 things you need to know before heading on a hike:
1. Name of the hike
• to know where you’re going and get familiarized with the surrounding areas.
2. Weather Conditions
• to choose the appropriate shoes and clothing and make sure the conditions are safe for hiking.
3. Road Conditions
• to make sure your vehicle is going to make it to the trailhead and avoid getting stuck.
4. Sunrise/Sunset Times
• to plan your time accordingly and avoid hiking in the dark.
5. Trailhead Coordinates
• to pre-download the map and avoid getting lost in the areas that are likely to have no cell coverage.
6. Total Elevation & Elevation Gain
• to understand the difficulty of the hike and be prepared for the temperature change at the top.
7. Estimated duration
• to plan your time accordingly and let your loved ones know the expected time of your return from the wilderness.
8. Permits & Parking Fees
• to purchase the permits beforehand or have cash on hand in order to avoid getting a ticket.
• to know whether it’s safe to drink from the natural water sources in the area in case you run out of water.
10. Wildlife information
• to educate yourself on how to act and be mentally prepared for the sightings of the wildlife on your trails.
Top 3 information sources to find everything you need + *bonus tips:
Washington Trails Association is my to-go site for finding hikes and learning more about them. It’s a wonderful non-profit organization that protects trails and wild lands, conducts trail maintenance, and promotes hiking in Washington. Unless I already have a hike in mind, I usually search for a new hike via one of the two methods shown below:
- Wta.org → “Go Outside” → “Hike Finder Map”→ select an area and find a hike that catches your eye.
2. Wta.org → “Go Outside” → “Trip Reports”→ scroll through the most recent trip reports and choose a hike that catches your eye.
Once you choose a hike, I recommend thoroughly reading the description of the hike as well as checking out a few recent trip reports to get an idea of the current weather and road conditions. Most importantly, find the GPS coordinates and save them in your notes to avoid looking for them before getting on the road.
2. Cairn App
Cairn is a wonderful tracking app that gives you an extra layer of safety when heading into the wilderness. It lets you pre-download the map of the area to help you stay on the trail, find cell coverage along the route, and most importantly allows you to share and update your adventure itinerary via email or text with friends and family. Below are the four steps to take on Cairn before heading on a hike:
- Find the trail you would like to hike in the Cairn App.
- Pre-download the area of your destination.
- Get the driving coordinates (compare the driving coordinates with the coordinates you get from WTA.ORG).
- Notify your safety circle.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If after WTA and Cairn you feel like you need additional information about the hike, head to Google.com and do some research. Below are a few things to use Google for:
- Sunrise/sunset times.
- Wildlife information.
- Water sources.
♥ If you’re heading out on a hike to catch the sunrise or sunset but have no idea what the visibility will be like in the area you’re going to, check out the astronomers forecast on cloud cover and transparency in the area you’re heading to. Click here to check out Clear Sky Chart in Washington!
♥ Buy an $80 annual pass that will be your ticket to all the national parks in the U.S. as well as more than 2,000 federal recreation lands. Click here to buy America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass!
♥ Find the name of the trail & area you’re heading to on Instagram via the location tag or hashtags to see what it looks like within the last few days.
♥ Choose comfortable hiking shoes and appropriate hiking socks. My all time favorite hiking boots are from Merrell and my favorite hiking socks are from From The Ground Up.
Leave No Trace!
And last but not least, before heading out into the wilderness, you simply MUST learn the outdoor etiquette and be respectful to the environment. You can head to American Hiking Society to learn more. Additionally, I would recommend checking out Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.