What Makes Hiking So Fun: 10 Benefits of Hiking Plus Tips to Get Started
January 17, 2023
Now more than ever, many have turned to the outdoors to center themselves, be active and discover the beauty in their own backyards. Whether you want to explore, take up a new hobby, see America’s beautiful national parks or for another reason, hiking is an incredible way to spend time outside.
Read on for some of the benefits of hiking and to see what makes hiking so fun. Then, when you’re convinced that it’s time to hit the trails, use these tips to get started hiking.
If you want to be more active, hiking makes great exercise! And personally, I find it to be much more fulfilling than spending time at a gym. Hiking can be as easy or as difficult as you want; trails come in all varieties. I recommend starting on trails with little to no elevation gain and working your way up to more challenging routes. If you’re primarily in it for the exercise, trail running may also be a great way to burn some extra calories while you're out exploring.
I think that most of us can agree that being glued to a screen all day is not the healthiest thing we could be doing. One of my favorite things about hiking is that it forces me to pay attention to my surroundings, use all of my senses and just take a break from the constant screens that I use day to day. Of course, you could also take a screen break by reading, having a great conversation or a manner of other activities, but hiking is my favorite way to go about it.
There are many benefits to breathing in more fresh air. It’s good for your lungs, increases your serotonin levels (promoting happiness and boosting your mood) and can provide more brain clarity. Plus, fresh air can even improve digestion and help prevent illness. With so many benefits, it’s clear that we could all stand to spend more time outdoors, whether you’re hiking or not.
Hiking can be highly rewarding when you’re headed to an incredible view. I find it especially impactful when that view cannot be reached by car and the only way to reach it is by the power of your own legs. Whether it’s an easy trail or a difficult one, you’re sure to feel a strong sense of satisfaction from reaching that incredible view, rock formation, waterfall or peak. The more you hike, the more you’ll crave that feeling of visiting places that only few can visit.
When you’re out hiking, you’re at the mercy of the speed of your own two feet. This reliance on yourself forces you to take your time and be present. Plus, you’re likely more hyper aware of your surroundings, whether it’s the sound of the wind in the leaves, the smell of rain or the beautiful sights that surround you. This is one reason that I prefer not to listen to music or podcasts while hiking, so that I can really use all of my senses to pay attention. Plus, being aware will help keep you safe.
I’ve had some of my best conversations out on the trail. When everyone is unplugged and focused on the present, it’s easy for meaningful talks to occur. Whether you're out with the person who you know best, or you’re hiking with a new friend, hiking is a great way to bond.
As long as you’re staying safe (tell someone where you’ll be, stick to a trail you know, pay attention to your surroundings), hiking solo is a wonderful form of self care. For me, there is nothing more empowering than not waiting for others and getting outside by myself. By hiking alone, I’ve gained more self confidence, self appreciation and I’ve learned to enjoy my own company.
It’s human nature to strive to be better and to make improvements. While some may get a high from increasing the weight they can lift, solving a difficult puzzle or doing well in business, I personally love to challenge myself with increasingly longer and more difficult trails. It’s a beautiful feeling to work your way up to harder hikes and the best part is looking back and realizing how far you’ve come.
When you start looking for hiking trails, you might be amazed to discover the gems you can find nearby. While not all of us are blessed to live close to the mountains (looking at you, Colorado), you’ll likely be able to find somewhere beautiful within a few hours of your home. I recommend drawing a 3 hour radius around your home and searching for ideas on google maps, blogs and other sources. Learn more about finding trails in the next section.
If you live in the DFW area, check out my favorite hiking trails nearby!
You do not have to invest in expensive gear to get started hiking. I recommend having the basics such as proper hiking shoes, a backpack, a water bottle and some other hiking essentials for safety, but you can pick these things up pretty cheap. There’s even a good chance that you already have them. When it comes to the trails themselves, many locations are free. Other spots, like many state parks and national parks, may have an entrance fee, but you can save money by purchasing an annual pass. Whether you’re staying local or traveling to a hiking destination, outdoor adventure tends to be much more affordable than city escapes.
If you’re just getting started on your hiking journey, you’ll quickly learn that All Trails is one of easiest resources to find trails. You can search for trails by location, read recent reviews and determine mileage and elevation gain. I typically recommend checking at least one other reliable source along with All Trails, as it’s a lot of opinions that may be unreliable, but it’s a great place to start. If you’ll be hiking in more remote areas, All Trails Pro is worth the investment so that you can download offline maps and have navigation even when you lose service.
I may be biased as a travel blogger myself, but you can find a wealth of resources by searching for blogs. I recommend searching terms like “the best hiking trails near x” or “beginner hiking trails in x” and looking for independent bloggers. You can usually find blogs by searching on Google or Pinterest. When you have narrowed down to a trail that you’re interested in, you can also look for specific information for that trail on blogs, or search on Youtube for a video of the trail.
If you are hiking in a national park, state park or national forest, be sure to go right to the source and look for information on current conditions, admission fees, etc. You might find that a road is closed for construction, a flood has washed out a portion of a trail or a variety of other factors that you need to know. It’s always best to check an authoritative source rather than relying on possibly outdated information on All Trails or a blog. Along with trail specific information, check if you will need any permits and reservations before making the trip.
While you’ll also want to double check your sources online in case things have changed, books and maps are a great way to discover new trails. There is something very satisfying about having a physical representation of your destination. I love National Geographic maps when it comes to national parks. Search for local books online or check your local library.
It might seem like it’s okay to wear tennis shoes out on a trail, but proper hiking shoes and socks make a huge difference. Hiking shoes have added grip that will keep you safe on rocky or slippery terrain. They also have added support that will keep you stable. I recommend visiting a local store, like REI, to try on shoes and see what works best for you. Every foot is different and certain brands may be better or worse for your shape of foot. Personally, I usually wear the Merrell Moab shoes.
Hiking socks are just as important as they help prevent blisters. I love Darn Tough Vermont for all of my hiking sock needs.
There is a well known list of 10 essential items that you should always carry on a trail to be safe and prepared. After all, it’s better to be over prepared than underprepared. The 10 things are: a light source, a first aid kit, extra clothing, a knife, navigation, sun protection, shelter, fire, extra food and extra water.
Learn more about what I recommend packing for a day hike in my day hike packing list.
Always be sure to check the weather before heading out on a hike. While in most cases, hiking in the rain is okay, it is very dangerous to hike in a slot canyon if there is any rain in the forecast. Lighting is also a hazard to avoid. Depending on the weather, be sure to be prepared with extra layers, lots of water and whatever you need to stay warm or cool.
Will you be hiking over rocks or through a forest? Will there be shade or a lot of sun exposure? Will you need to go down a really steep hill? Understanding what type of trail you’re visiting will help you prepare properly. If you're going down a steep hill, you might want to bring hiking poles. If you’ll be in the sun the whole time, you might want a hat. I like to know what I’m getting into before venturing out.
Trails can change over time due to all sorts of reasons, especially weather. Check recent All Trail reviews and the official website (if available) to see what conditions are currently like. You may read that there is a lot of mud, a tree over the path, a construction closure or something else to be aware of. You can also visit the visitor center or ranger station if available for the most up to date information.
It is SO important to leave the trails better than you found them. With more and more people getting outside over the past few years, protecting our environment is more important than ever.
There are 7 guidelines to leaving no trace that you should take to heart:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare (by doing the things I’ve listed above!)
- Travel on Durable Surfaces (stay on the trail and/or stick to surfaces that are capable of handling repeating trampling, like rocks and gravel)
- Keep your distance from wildlife (never feed or approach a wild animal)
- Respect others (do not play music out loud and follow hiking etiquette such as yielding to uphill hikers)
- Minimize your impact of campfires (if you’re going to make a campfire, make sure you know how to minimize its impact, the rules for fires in the area and the risk to the surrounding terrain)
- Pack out what you take in (always pack out all trash, even if it’s biodegradable)
- Leave what you find (never carve on a tree, leave areas as you found them and do not remove anything)
It is everyone's responsibility to take care of our trails and leave them in good condition for future generations. Please do your part and encourage others to do the same. To learn more about how to leave no trace, visit lnt.org.
If you were on the fence, I hope I’ve convinced you to give hiking a chance! It has become one of my biggest joys and I feel that there are endless benefits to getting started hiking.
If you’re ready to hit the trail, check out a few of my many hiking guides from all over the US (and beyond):
- 10+ of the Best Hikes near Salt Lake City
- 6 of the Best Day Hikes in Sedona
- The Best Hiking Trails in Arkansas
- The Best Day Hikes in Bryce Canyon
- The Best Hiking Trails near Dallas
Thanks for Reading!
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