It’s that time of year when we want to load up the four-wheeler with some friends or family, grab a cooler, and head off to go camping and hit the hiking trails, BUT before you do, here are some important tips and safety info that the clickbait article about that trail might have left out.
Always check the weather before you go!
First off, heat may make a hike unsafe if it is in the triple digits. No shade and over 100 degrees is a recipe for dehydration and heatstroke. Several great trails in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah are stunning, but they are unsafe to hike during the warmer months due to lack of shade and elevated temperatures.
Second, hiking a trail where you are moving up in altitude, such as in Colorado, the weather at the mountain’s base and the top may be highly different. It’s not uncommon to start a trail in Colorado at the bottom in shorts and a tank and hit snow and colder temperatures at the top. You may need to bring layers and possible attachments for shoes if you hit snow and ice.
Third, you do not want to be out hiking if there is a tornado, severe thunderstorm warning, or flash flood. If there is a watch or warning in place, it’s best to go another time. Flash floods happen at a moment’s notice, and you may not be within cell reception to get the alert when it goes out.
One of the most significant issues I’ve seen with several clickbait trail stories is that they do not clearly explain the level of experience, length of the hike, or difficulty, which can lead to some hikers getting in over their head. Angels Landing is one of these hiking trails. It’s an absolutely stunning trail in Southern Utah of Zion’s Canyon; however, it is strenuous and involves going up steep switchbacks with sheer drops offs. And I do mean sheer. To reach the awe-inspiring views of this trail shown in many clickbait articles, hikers must make the final steep ascent by holding onto a chain. Unfortunately, some hikers are unaware of this fact, leading to panic attacks once hikers reach the steeper drop-offs. Also, sadly some hikers have lost their lives falling off the trail.
Knowing what the terrain is like, the length of the hike, and any altitude adjustments are extremely important. Longer trails will require extra food and water. Some trails have wildlife like bears and mountain lions and may require bear spray or other protection. If the terrain is rocky, you may require different footwear. High elevations will require additional layers, and you may need a day or two to adjust to the altitude before attempting a hike. Knowing more about what to expect will help you be better prepared and see if it’s appropriate for your skill level and the rest of the hikers in the group (you may not want to take grandma with acrophobia or Sally with vertigo on Angel’s Landing for example). Some of these articles have downplayed the difficulty of hikes leading novice hikers to end up in situations requiring help and rescue.
Overcrowding has become an issue for many trails. Hanging Lake in Colorado has limited parking. As articles began to make this trail popular for influencers and tourists seeking a perfect magical photo op, the parking lot quickly reached capacity in the early hours. People began to park illegally on Interstate70, causing many safety issues. The increased traffic on the trail also started to cause environmental problems, as people were wandering off the trails to get that shot for social media along with dumping trash and graffiti on logs causing such damage to the fragile ecosystem the trail had to be closed off from the public for several months.
Many parks and trails now require permits and have limited spaces to hike, so you may need to purchase these in advance. These prevent damage to the environment from overcrowding and help with safety concerns. Angel’s Landing has several narrow sections, so to keep this trail safe, the amount of visitors allowed on the trail within a specific timeframe is now limited.
Even if the trail doesn’t require a permit, it’s essential to know how crowded the trail will be, if parking is limited, and if there is an alternate parking location with a park and ride option. For example, there is minimal parking at the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial Trail, but you can park by the Yarnell Fire Department and catch the shuttle to the trailhead.
Not every trail is open year-round so check before you go. In Las Vegas, trails on Mt Charleston remain closed in the winter, and the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail stays closed in summer. Zion also has several trails closed in the winter months. Conditions like rock slides or wildfires may also temporarily shut down a trail.