I read an interesting blog post yesterday that got me thinking about what factors take a hiking trail from good to great. The author listed eight top qualities – from few people to jaw-dropping view at the summit to wildlife sighting opportunities.
A great trail doesn’t save all the views just for the summit! (Photo: M.Kopp)
Running through them in my mind, I found I agreed with most points:
- Not too crowded – definitely a boon, unless you’re hanging out at the top of Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon and teaching your child about the importance of pacing, appropriate clothing, and physical conditioning.
- Technical and difficult sections – this isn’t a must on my list, but is does add an element of challenge and almost guarantees captivating cocktail hour tales.
- Summit views – definitely. Why sweat and grunt and groan and grimace for a treed summit with no view?
- Sights along the way – absolutely. It’s what keeps many hikers going when the going gets difficult.
- Water – yes. I would add waterfalls to lakes, streams and creeks. Falling water is rejuvenating (must be all the positive ions in the air or something!).
- Good campspot – it doesn’t take much to find a place to pitch a two-person tent, and as my eyes are shut soon after, this isn’t critical on my list if the rest of the trail shines.
- Wildlife – always a plus, but I would include flora as well as fauna. There is nothing more spectacular than an alpine meadow in full bloom.
- Multiple routes or summits – sure, nothing beats a circuit or loop trail.
Looking this list over again, I would add a couple more elements that I believe make a trail great as opposed to just plain good:
- Year-round enjoyment – the ability to experience a trail in all of the seasons is a real treat.
- No serious uphill portions in last mile or so – okay, this is probably just me, but I hate it when we’ve hiked hard all day long and the last push to the vehicle is a vertical grind.
In my humble opinion, if you combine any three of the above 10, you have a great hiking trail!
What makes a trail great in your mind?