There are thousands upon thousands of hiking trails out there and it’s easy to take them for granted. We assume these trails will be there and expect they’ll be pristine when we’re ready to explore. This is not the case. It takes a lot of work to maintain all these hiking trails and when the resources are no longer there to maintain them, the trails are closed.
By giving back to your favorite hiking trails, you help ensure the trails will be around for your use and for the enjoyment of future generations. Without your help, they can be lost.
Leave Trails Better Than You Found Them
Unfortunately, there always seems to be trash on trails. Sometimes people lose things along the trail or they flat out litter. You can find almost anything on trails especially if you hike beside water elements where items wash up on the shore.
A great way to give back to your hiking trails is to carry a few plastic trash bags for picking up litter along your hike. You can leave the trash you collect in trash receptacles at trailheads or take it with you to dispose of later.
A great life philosophy is to leave things better than you find them. Imagine if everyone followed this philosophy wherever they went whether on trails or the streets in their neighborhood.
Looking to join others in cleaning up the trails? Parks, outfitters, or organizations occasionally put together clean-up hikes. If not, you can always invite friends, family, outdoor Facebook groups, and Meetup groups to join you on a tail clean-up hike.
Preserve Your Hiking Trails
Another way to give back is by protecting and preserving the trails. To protect hiking trails and minimize your impact on park trails:
Stay on Trails
Straying from the established trail damages surrounding vegetation and increases erosion. Stay on marked trails to minimize damage.
Hikers commonly stray from the established trail to explore. It’s tempting. Especially unmarked trails that lead to a waterfall or another spectacular view. We know others have taken these unmarked trails and seen something and we want to see it too. It’s best for our parks to avoid all unmarked trails or offshoots.
Related Content: Waterfall Safety Tips For Hikers
Climb Obstacles in Your Way
Going around fallen limbs, trees, rocks, and mud holes unnecessarily widens trails and increases the chance of erosion.
Be a kid again! Climb over these obstacles and walk straight through mud holes when possible. It’s better on the trails.
Take note of fallen trees, limbs, or rocks that block the trail on a map or by logging the GPS coordinate and reporting to the proper park authorities so the obstacle can be addressed.
Carefully Pick Your Hiking Days
If the weather has been wet recently, it may be best to pick a paved or gravel trail. Weather and traffic on the trail can have a damaging impact on hiking trails. The combination can widen trails and increase erosion when not handled properly.
It’s best to avoid muddy trails. If you choose to hike a trail that has muddy areas, it’s best to go right through them instead of going around. Going around increases the width of the path which damages vegetation and increases the chance of erosion.
If the established trail is too muddy or impassible, turn back and pick a different trail. Don’t hike along the side of the trail or blaze a new one.
Be sure to invest in a great pair of waterproof hiking boots and clean them up after your hike.
Obey Trail Rules
Trail rules and signs are there for a reason. They help protect you and help to preserve the trail.
Practice Trail Etiquette
Practicing proper trail etiquette helps to ensure everyone’s enjoyment of our trails. Poor trail etiquette taints the hiking experience, lowers the use of that trail, and can ultimately lead to the demise of that trail. We want our trails to be around for a long time. Respect others.
Become a Trail Maintenance Volunteer
There are limited resources for maintaining trails and keeping them safe and accessible to the public. That’s where volunteer trail maintenance groups come in. These groups offer great opportunities where you can give back by getting your hands dirty.
Trail maintenance is essential. We would not have the opportunities to hike without trail maintenance.
Trail maintenance volunteers contribute by:
- Clearing brush along with fallen trees, limbs, and even rocks from trails.
- Cleaning up trash.
- Maintaining trail blazes and signs.
- Putting down mulch and gravel.
- Building steps from stone or timber.
- Trail building.
- And so much more! The possibilities seem endless.
To volunteer, contact your local park system or a state or national park service for opportunities. Local outfitters and outdoor groups may also know of volunteer opportunities. No matter what your abilities are, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Have you ever considered adopting a trail? The National Park Service has an Adopt a Trail Program… Whether official or unofficial, you can adopt your favorite local trail. Just take care of it.
Introduce Others to Hiking
There was once a time when I knew nothing about hiking and the outdoors. My grandfather who worked for the Game and Fish Commission taught me a lot. I’m proud that he took out that time with me. It shaped my life in a way nothing else has. I contribute my love for nature to him and my father. They laid a foundation that has allowed me to share this love with others.
- You can inspire others to hike and teach them about the trails and nature.
- Help others benefit from the mental and physical benefits of hiking.
- Introduce or reintroduce others to the joy of hiking.
- Invite friends, family members, or hiking buddies to join you on trails they’ve never explored.
Bringing new blood to hiking keeps people connected to nature and all the wonderful trails in our park systems.
My wife and I are expecting a little girl. I can’t wait to introduce her to hiking.
The more you share with others, the greater the impact on the preservation of our beautiful park systems. I’d like to see our trails loved and enjoyed by hikers for years to come.
You can give back to hiking trails by being an advocate for your local, state, and national park systems.
Plans concerning our parks come up in government meetings and we should be present at these meetings and make our voices heard to preserve parks for our use and for future generations.
Donating to non-profits that help to support and maintain our trails is a great way to give back.
Don’t know where to donate your finances? The National Park Foundation is a great place to start. The National Park Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1967 and is the official charitable partner of the National Park Service.
Taking your favorite trails for granted is a great way to lose them. We have a responsibility to give back and support our natural resources. Don’t wait till it’s too late.
In what way will you support your favorite trails this year?