What makes a great hiking trail?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Summit views – definitely. Why sweat and grunt and groan and grimace for a treed summit with no view?
  4. Sights along the way – absolutely. It’s what keeps many hikers going when the going gets difficult.
  5. 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!).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

© 2011

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