One of the big problems getting started with outside adventuring has to do with access. Beginning hikers and walkers can find it difficult to determine if a trail they find online is appropriate to their ability, if they can even find trails around them. Once they find a trail, they want to know what the terrain is like and if there are any obstacles. Are trail bikes welcome? Horses? What about finding the trailhead? Navigating the trail? Any special wildlife areas they should be aware of, like bat habitats? Is it safe for their therapy or service animal?
I've had a number of folks the last few weeks ask what I use to gain access to the outside world, and my go to right now is AllTrails. Hands down, this is the best app I've found to give beginners - and experienced hikers - the access and information they need to get out in the outdoors.
Six or seven years ago, I got lost on a Cleveland, OH trail. I had a printed map of the park, but the trails in the Metroparks aren't very well marked in most cases. It was cold and snowing. I had no cell reception and it was getting dark - of course I hadn't brought a headlamp/flashlight. The parks aren't all that big, so I knew I'd eventually find my way out. An hour after dark, my dog Charlie Chuckles and I made it back to the car. I was tired and reallllly pissed off.
And this wasn't the first time I'd gotten turned around on the notoriously ill-marked trails in the Cleveland area. Or been unable to find a trailhead with sketchy directions from the internet.
Then came AllTrails. Queue rescue-themed music.
AllTrails has been wonderful, and really opened up my access to trails in the Cleveland, OH and surrounding areas. Trails I doubt I would have found, or had the courage to try, without it.
AllTrails is awesome - You can select what you want out of a trail and search for it - distance from your home, dogs allowed, length of hike, trail bike accessibility, difficulty, etc. This makes it a great tool for folks with disabilities that need to know if a trail is paved, if there are amenities at the trail head, etc. A nice bonus is that you're able to read reviews and see pics of the trail - great way to check for mud or other problems like downed trees/washed out trails.
And it's free. Hiking and outdoor adventuring is already prohibitively expensive for many, and anything that removes additional spending is great (pro-version is $2.50 a month, and gives you access to download/print different topo maps).
You can use it to track yourself AND record your hike while on the trail, even when your phone is in airplane mode.
AllTrails also has a directions option that will open your phone's GPS app and take you right to the trail head. This is A-mazing. Previously, I found myself constantly lost on back roads, and a few times I even gave up on the hike. As a new hiker finding remote trailheads was incredibly frustrating.
It helps build confidence, since you can view nearly all the trails immediately around you, allowing you to add/shorten your hike as you want or need to.
There are a couple downsides to AllTrails to keep in mind - it's not always 100% accurate in regards to length of the trail. I find the trails are often a half mile to a mile longer than indicated.
Keep in mind the difficulty rating of the trail tends to vary wildly. I did a 9 mile moderate trail last weekend, which was, to my surprise, easily and quickly accomplished even though it was pouring rain and I had to take a lot of breaks. Whereas I did a trail a few months ago that was five miles and very hilly, difficult terrain. Both were rated as moderate.
I always encourage folks to have a printed map with them as well, and to understand how to read it, especially if you're in larger parks/national forests.
Despite these issues, I recommend AllTrails for the access it provides.
Have you ever gotten lost on the trail? Do you use an app or stick with a map, or both? Comment below, or feel free to contact me here!