If you’ve been hiking for a considerable amount of time, you don’t need to be told that many of our trails have become downright crowded. Yes, we are currently experiencing a hiking boom, and in general that’s a good thing. It’s great to see folks getting outside, bonding with nature, and in general living healthy lives. However, it’s not so great to see so many new hikers unversed in proper trail and outdoor etiquette and Leave No Trace Principles—and to be subject to noise, boorish behavior and shoulder-rubbing conditions.
While I am generally a social person and don’t mind a little company on the trail; there’s a limit to how many people I want to be out there with me. When a trail gets crowded, it starts to negate the experiences I sought by taking it. That is—it’s hard to commune with nature, move freely in the hills, and have a reflective moment if my surroundings are taking on the atmosphere of a city park or festival.
Some folks don’t seem to mind the crowds and their inherent noise and distractions. Fine—those folks can keep on heading up the Internet-famous hikes of the moment snapping selfies galore among a maddening procession of folks that can resemble a conga line. If you’re one of them, you can stop reading now—have fun this sunny Saturday on Rattlesnake Mountain. However, if you seek a little sanity on the trail, here are ten of my not-so secret ways to thwart the crowds on the trail.
- Skip the latest Instagram famous hikes. Rest assured they are under siege. If you continuously see 20 posts a day on Franklin Falls or Rattlesnake Mountain in your feeds, you can be assured that thousands of others are seeing those same pics too—and they’re heading to those trails at this moment!
- If you absolutely want to hike an Instagram famous hike (after all, it’s famous because it looks so darn enticing to do)—then schedule your hike for early morning, a weekday, or a lousy weather day. Whatever you do—don’t head there on a sunny weekend day. There are plenty of other great places for those days.
- Seek the Trail Less Taken. There are hundreds of them out there. These trails are often viewed as second rate-because perhaps the view isn’t stellar—the trail is a little harder to hike, or maybe the drive there is a little too far. Those are all good assurances that crowds won’t be there either. My books are filled with these trails—start researching them and hiking them and enjoying them for yourself.
- Divert off the Main Way. Want to have some silent moments on Mount Si? Just get off-the-beaten path. I have hiked on the Talus Loop Trail and the Tenerife Connector and have been all alone whilst back on the main way and summit there’s enough people to fill a concert hall.
- Drive at least two hours from a major city. The farther you get away from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC, in general the trail populations thin out. Yes, it might not make sense to drive 150 miles for a 5 mile hike—then make a night or two of it. Find a nice little quiet car campground on the east side of the Cascades and enjoy a couple of days of peaceful roaming.
- Hike Trails that are near Popular Trails. Instead of hiking Park Butte, opt for the Scott Paul Trail. The crowd difference between these connecting trails is considerable. Head to Huckleberry Mountain instead of Green Mountain. Skip Winchester Mountain and head to High Pass instead. Better yet-check out Silesia Creek. It’s all yours!
- Hike when the Seahawks are playing. I can’t tell you how many peaceful Sunday hikes I have had-including urban ones, when the Seahawks are playing.
- Road washouts and river fords have benefits. If the road to one of your favorite trails is currently washed out, take advantage of it. Get yourself a mountain bike and head off to the trail. I have had the Ashland lakes, Peek-a-Boo Lake, and Lake Edna all to myself thanks to a blown culvert or river run wild. And if you’re not afraid to ford a river (make sure you can safely do it) a world of quiet trails exist. I have had the North Fork Sol Duc, Queets, and Waptus Lake all to my lonesome.
- Take the long way there. If there are multiple routes to a popular destination, rest assure that almost everyone will be taking the most direct route there. You take the longer less chosen trail or the one with the less convenient access and you can at least have a quiet journey before you get to a hoppin’ destination. Head up Mount Townsend via Dirty Face Ridge or Park Butte via Ridley Creek if you want to see what I am talking about!
- Keep Hiking. In general the farther you head up a trail, the less crowded it gets. So pick a trail with lots of lakes, and watch the crowds drop off as you keep heading to a farther lake. This is a great incentive to be in the best shape you can be, because so many hikers don’t have the physical fitness or the time to head 6-7-10 miles or more into the backcountry. All the more solitude for you!
Okay, I hope I gave you some practical advice to help you have a crowd free hiking experience. This year, resolve to hike the trail less chosen. Leave the crowded trails for the crowds and discover some new and wonderful places and get a little reflection and peace of mind along the way.
My line of impeccably researched guidebooks are full of trails itching for some visitation.