Hiking is one of the best activities you can do with friends and family while traveling. There’s something really special about getting out and being in nature. It brings people together, cleanses the soul, and provides a sense of well-being and accomplishment.
Have you ever been on a trip to a new place and had trouble finding information on great local hikes? The internet has made it possible for so many resources to be a click away, but sometimes finding the right information requires a bit of digging around.
Fortunately, I’ve spent a lot of time researching hikes during our travels and am happy to share with you the resources I’ve used to find amazing hikes. Now you, too, can find that perfect hike.
How Hiking Used To Be
I’ve been camping and hiking with my family and friends ever since I can remember. Before Camille and I started our RV journey, we lived in California where I spent every summer backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The resources I’ve used to find great hiking trails have changed dramatically over the years. Before the internet, mobile phones, and social media, I used to buy guidebooks and maps to find good hikes. Then I’d call U.S. Forest Service or National Park ranger stations to check on permit requirements and current conditions.
Once I’d chosen a hike, I would go to a local outdoor store to find a topographical trail map of the area. The maps usually cost around $10, but were a great insurance policy against getting lost in the wilderness.
And off we would go with our backpacks, tents, and a roll of film in our cameras on a grand adventure!
The New Hiking World
Ironically, there are now so many free online resources available that you can spend more time researching hikes than actually going hiking!
But if you know where to look, these resources can make your quest to find a great hike simpler and more successful than it used to be. For example, we were in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first time, and didn’t know anything about hiking there. So I jumped on my laptop and mobile phone and got to work.
One of the things we like to do is hike to the highest point in each state we visit. I simply typed “highest point in Georgia” into an internet search engine and it returned literally millions of web links including a Wikipedia article on Brasstown Bald—Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet above sea level. That’s almost a mile high! Not bad for being east of the Rockies (remember, I’ve been spoiled by all the high peaks in California).
A related link at the bottom of the search results page was “Brasstown Bald hiking.” It included a link to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest website. If the hike that you’re investigating is located on National Park Service or National Forest land, these websites are great places to find information about driving directions, trail conditions, alerts, closures and any fees.
Through the National Forest website, I quickly learned that there were four ways to hike to the top of Brasstown Bald. Two of the trails were longer than I wanted (12 miles or more) and one was too short (1.2 miles). But the Jack’s Knob Trail—six miles round trip and 1,800 feet of elevation gain—was just right.
Some other great internet resources I regularly use are:
www.summitpost.org – a user-driven website with information on many mountain hikes including descriptions, maps, directions, photos, trip reports and a climber’s log.
www.outdoorproject.com – a website of curated outdoor activities searchable by location. Reports include hike overviews, photos, current weather, driving directions and field guide printables.
Mobile Phone Apps
Once I knew where I wanted to go, I used the mapping app on my phone (Google Maps) to map my driving route to the trailhead—101 miles in 2 hours and 16 minutes. There were many fantastic hikes closer, but I had summit fever!
There are quite a few specially designed trail apps, but I end up using Google Maps a lot out of habit, and because its maps also include many hiking trails and natural points of interest.
I also use the Google Earth app to preview most of my hikes. Amazingly, you can often see the trails when you zoom in on the satellite views. In this case, I used it to check for parking availability at the Jack’s Knob trailhead.
As I said, there are a number of excellent free hiking apps (for iPhone and Android) that you can use to find your next great hike. The information is often much more detailed than generic map apps like Google Maps, so I often use the two together for best results.
Recommended Mobile Apps
AllTrails – a user-driven free app with over 60,000 trails curated by over 10 million users. Use your phone’s location to find hikes near you (there were 250 trails near me). Each hike includes topo maps, elevation profiles, photos, reviews, and comments. A premium paid edition provides additional features. Click here for the website version.
Hiking Project – a user-driven free app from outdoor retailer REI Co-Op. It includes over 55,000 trails. You can input your location to find hikes near you. Each hike includes topo maps, elevation profiles, step-by-step trail gradients, photos, reviews, comments, and nearby trails. Click here for the website version.
REI also has a free companion app for hiking within national parks and monuments, REI Guide to National Parks, with over 5,000 hikes.
ViewRanger – a free app which uses maps from major outdoor brands, tourism agencies and users. It includes many of the same features as the above apps. What makes this app unique is that it has an augmented reality feature called Skyline that uses your camera phone to label geographic features while on your hike. Very cool! Click here for the website.
Pinterest Can Help You
Still looking for resources? Pinterest is good for more than just DIY party decorations. It can also be a valuable search tool for local hikes. A search on “hiking near Brasstown Bald” on Pinterest returned hundreds of pins with related information. Two of my favorite pins led me to local hiking blogs where I found great reviews of fantastic hikes in the area. I even figured out my next hike—Stone Mountain—and it was only two miles away!
Twitter and Instagram
You can also use social media applications to find information on hikes. A search using hashtags on Twitter will return tweets with links to useful information. And if you’re a visual person who needs an amazing photo to convince you that the hike you’re planning will be great, search Instagram using hashtags as well.
If you’re more into videos, YouTube is a great place to find hiking-related content. I searched on “Brasstown Bald” and found thousands of videos including some incredible drone footage. A word of caution: the content is so great on YouTube that if you watch too many videos, you may feel like you’ve already been there. Personally, the videos I’ve watched have never spoiled a hike for me as nothing compares to hiking it yourself and seeing it with your own eyes.
Lastly, the social media giant Facebook can be a helpful resource. A search on a hike you’re interested in will likely return pages, links, videos, photos and even posts from your friends with valuable information.
There is even a new and growing Facebook group—RVers Who Hike—that you can join to ask questions, share ideas and get first hand information.
As you can see, there is so much information out there to help you find and plan your hikes. The next time you’re traveling and looking for that next great hike, I hope you find these resources helpful in getting you out on a new trail.
If you’re interested in a life of wanderlust or extended travel, this article and companion resource from More Than A Wheelin’ can help get you there.