My friend Kerri and I were recently having a direct message conversation about my life as a nomad. She asked me a question that I thought was about finding less strenuous hikes in general, although after rereading her question, I think she was asking specifically about easy hiking in Arizona. Ah, well, today I’ll share information about finding easy hikes in general, but for Kerri and anyone else who is looking for Arizona specific hiking opportunities, check out “10 Best Hikes in Arizona for Beginners” by Alyssa Ochs, “5 Easy Hikes for Beginners in Metro Phoenix” from Phoenix New Times, “10 Easy Hikes To Add To Your Outdoor Bucket List In Arizona” by Monica Spencer, “Best Phoenix Hiking Trails for Beginners” by REI Co-Op Experiences, and “7 Beginner Hikes In Arizona That Will Give You All The Views” by Briana Renee Dahlberg.
If you are planning a trip to a different state or region and want to find less strenuous hikes to accommodate kids, elders, folks with disabilities, new hikers, or anyone looking for some easier physical activity, here are some tips to help you find the adventure level that’s right for you.
Know the Limits
Know not just your limits, but the limits of everyone in your party. According to Hiking Safety Tips given by HikingintheSmokeys.com,
Keep your hiking party together by hiking only as fast as the slowest member of your group. Always take into account the ability level of everyone in your group before choosing a hike.
Be honest with yourself about what sort of hike you are actually capable of. Encourage other members of your group to be honest about their abilities too. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others for hiking slowly or only being able to go a short distance. Don’t overestimate the abilities of yourself or others. You will have a much nicer time on a short/easy hike that leaves everyone wanting more rather than pushing too hard and ending the day sore, exhausted, and grumpy.
Do Your Homework
Don’t wait to look for an easy hike after you’ve arrived at your destination. Search for the kind of hikes you want to take before you leave home.
Those lists of hikes I shared in the first paragraph? I found those by typing “easy hikes in Arizona” in the Google search bar. If you know what state or region you will be visiting, add that information to your search for easy hikes, then scrutinize the information that pops up on your screen. Who wrote each article? Did the writer actually hike the trails listed? If not, how was the information gathered? Don’t assume your definition of “easy” is the same as the author’s.
Find out the specifics of each hike you consider. How long is the trail? (And remember, however many miles it takes you to get to the end of the trail, that’s the number of miles you’ll have to walk back to your car.) What is the change in elevation between the beginning and end of the hike? How well is the trail maintained?
There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you find trails to hike before you leave home. Three helpful websites I found were Accessible Nature, AllTrails and Hiking Project.
a collection of links to places you can go to enjoy nature with minimal obstacles. These are trails that are either wheelchair accessible or at least very easy walking. The emphasis is contemplative outdoor experiences…[There are] links to information about parts of eastern Canada, all of the states in the United States of America, American Samoa and a little about activities in the UK.
AllTrails allows searches to be filtered to find wheelchair, stroller, kid, and dog friendly hikes. All of the trails listed on AllTrails are verified by experts and reviewed by the folks who go on the hikes.
The Hiking Project website allows you to filter your search for a hiking trail by difficulty; you can choose “Easy (No obstacles. Flat.)” or “Easy/Intermediate (Mostly flat and even.)” The website says of the project,
The information on Hiking Project is crowd-sourced, contributed by passionate users excited to share their knowledge of local trails with others. Anyone can share their experiences: add your favorite trails and photos, give ratings, post comments, improve existing content and spread the word about recommended routes…We review every trail, route, photo and symbol that gets submitted.
Another way to find easy trails is to look for ones that are wheelchair accessible. The Travel Channel offers the slideshow “10 Gorgeous Wheelchair-Friendly Hikes to Try.” Author Kassondra Cloos promises
These flat, paved and boardwalk hikes all offer spectacular views that anyone can reach, whether they’re using a wheelchair, walker, stroller or crutches.
Emily Pennington‘s article “The 25 Best Accessible Trails in America”
takes surface stability, cross slope, accessible parking, and trail grade into account. [The author] interviewed experts like Accessible Nature creator Cecilia Travis and Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie, as well as wheelchair adventurers from across the country, including Peter Littrel, Mark Irishsea, and “4WheelBob” Coomber.
While researching this post, I found several articles about wheelchair friendly trails in specific states (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado). Again , if you know you’re going to a specific state, research wheelchair friendly trails in the place where you’re going.
Before the internet was easily accessible, hikers learned about trails from guidebooks. Guidebooks still exist and are handy to have in places with no WiFi access. REI has an extensive selection of hiking guides for a variety of states and regions in the U.S.A. If you don’t want to buy a guidebook for a place you will only visit once, you might be able to borrow something from your library. (If your local library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, ask about interlibrary loan). In any case, a guidebook should tell you about the hikes in a particular region, state or national park, or national forest including the difficulty and elevation change for each.
Ask at a Visitor Center, Ranger Station, or Other Information Center
If you’re hoping to hike on state or federal public land, make a stop at a ranger station or visitor center in the area of your desired hike before you make plans. The workers at these information centers should be knowledgeable about the area, including the hiking opportunities. Ask for the specific kind of hike you are looking for. If someone in your group uses mobility aids, make sure the person staffing the information desks knows you are looking for a trail to accommodate that person’s needs. Point out if you need a hike that is suitable for little kids. The more honest and specific you are about what you are looking for, the more likely you’ll be told about the right trail for you.
While you’re at a visitor center or ranger station, you may have the opportunity to pick up free informational brochures about the area you are visiting. If you’re offered maps, trail guides, or brochures you may want to pick them up and take them with you for further study. You might find information the worker forgot to tell you or didn’t know about. If you have access to maps, ask the ranger or volunteer to look at the map with you and show you the suitable trails.
Talk to a Local or Another hiker
Sometimes locals or experienced hikers know about trails that don’t appear in guidebooks or on websites. Sometimes they can tell you how to get to their favorite waterfall or meadow. But beware: while locals and more experienced hikers can be a great source of information, if they’re not on the same page as you about the term “easy,” you could find yourself in over your head. After all, it was another hiker who told The Man about the Sherman Peak Hike that left me lying in the middle of the trail crying.
I hope the tips I’ve offered you today help you find hikes that are just right for your stamina, endurance, and abilities. Using the internet before you go will be a big help, as will being honest about what you are capable of. As the creator of Accessible Nature Cecilia Travis says,
Everyone – regardless of age or ability needs their Nature Fix.