A big part of the appeal of hiking is the solitude and peace that it has to offer. There is something special about being away from everything for a few hours to enjoy being surrounded by mountains, rivers, trees and enjoying the sounds of your own breathing, the cadence of your footsteps and nature.
Without question, there are more people out on the trails these days and with the promise of warm weather in the coming weeks, we are likely to see even more folks headed out to the mountains to enjoy the serene beauty that the Rockies have to offer.
Since becoming a regular hiker and having hiked at least once a week throughout all four seasons last year and this year, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about what I enjoy when hiking and what I don't. Crowded trails are at the top of the list of the things I wish to avoid when I have taken the time to drive out to the Rockies seeking quiet time to challenge myself on a hike and to recharge mentally. The outdoors are a space for everyone, but if you are like me and enjoy the quiet, the space and the opportunity to take photos of the beautiful surroundings, you'll find these five tips for avoiding crowds on the trails invaluable.
Let's dive in.
1. Start Early
The very best thing that you can do is head to the trail early. Especially in warmer weather months. The vast majority of people don't do it, so it is the best time to complete your hike peacefully and still have time to enjoy the rest of your day. Also, when completing longer hikes, I like the idea of starting first thing so that even I take my time or get a little lost, I still have plenty of daylight to find my way back.
One day in February, we hiked Sulphur Mountain, starting at 6am. We hiked all the way to the top in the dark and were the only two people on the mountain. It was surreal and amazing. The snow was untouched and the photos amazing. We only ran into hikers ascending when we were 3/4 of the way back down. Even in the summer, starting when the sun rises allows for a more comfortable hike before the hottest hours of the day. It can be a pain to get up early, but is well worth the effort.
2. Go during the week
This probably won’t come as a huge surprise for anyone; the busiest days to hike are on weekends. Armed with this information, I like to hike Monday - Thursday. Unless it's a long weekend and Monday is a holiday. I did a Saturday hike once and have avoided hiking on that day ever since. The trail was swarmed with people, music, loud voices and while it was still a fun hike, it was not at all peaceful. Which brings me to the next tip...
3. Seek out less trafficked trails
There are a lot of places to hike. The well-known hikes will likely be busier because they are the most popular ones. If you're going to hike a heavily trafficked trail, go early and during the week.
There are moderately trafficked trails for every skill level and the duration of the hike can vary, so don't be afraid to try someplace new and a bit off the beaten track. Besides, who needs another picture of the same hike that everyone has already been on? All Trails is a great app that provides trail difficulty ratings, will tell you how trafficked a trail is and even provides comments and photos from people who have done the hike. It is so helpful and my go to for just about every hike that I do.
*Take a screenshot of the map before you leave and make sure you have enough batteries power on your phone*
5. Hike in all seasons
I used to head out to Banff or Kananaskis to enjoy a couple of hikes during the summer months and that would be it. In 2020, I decided to hike at least once a week and didn't stop. Winter hiking has been the most rewarding and fun hikes that I've enjoyed.
If the weather is calling for light rain, you can bet that most people will be making other plans. Grab a raincoat and go. Throw on some spikes and hike in the spring when the trails are still a bit snowy and might have a bit of ice. Cooler fall days before the snow - dress for the weather and do it.
Having said that - I would like to confirm that I definitely do not recommend putting yourself in danger by hiking in snowstorms, rainstorms, thunderstorms, extremely freezing cold or in any kind of bad weather.
Now get out and enjoy some quiet, reflective time on the trails with your hiking buddies!
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