Posted in: Outdoors

How To Find a Hiking Trail

The question I am most often asked is “how do you find all these hiking trails?” and I can never really narrow down my answer. I have all sorts of resources, and I usually just give the one that relates to whatever trail was the topic of conversation before the question. My audience is usually happy with that, but it got me thinking that maybe I should share my steps here. No doubt there are some of you out there that don’t have someone to ask. So here you have: How To Find a Hiking Trail.

Word of Mouth

The first and most obvious answer is of course Word of Mouth. I have several hiking trails on my list that have been recommended to me. These can come up in what-did-you-do-this-weekend conversations, at random parties, in your local outdoor superstore. Just ask! Even if your friends and acquaintances aren’t the “hiking type”, they still might know of a trailhead in the area that you haven’t explored yet.

Following Street Signs

If you’re even more of the adventurous type or looking to kill some extra time, go for a drive outside the city. Many highways will have signs directing you to local conservation areas, provincial parks, national parks, and other designated hiking areas. If you don’t have so much free time on your hands for the random road trip, just take note of these signs as you are passing by for whatever other reason, and make a plan to visit those signed areas for the next weekend to find your next hiking trail.

Books and Maps

Kicking it (a little) old school here, but books and paper maps are still a great resource (and highly recommended for backcountry adventures). Take a look through your local library for outdoor references and geographical maps, then spend some time researching your finds. Hit up your local outdoor superstore and browse their paper resource aisle, too. You don’t necessarily have to purchase the books and maps, just make a mental list to look up when you get home. Plus, you’re bound to find some inspiration for a big adventure on a not-so-local hiking trail or two.

Clubs and Groups

I can’t speak for every city, everywhere, but the vast majority of them do have local hiking clubs and groups that you could definitely join. Some of these are nonprofit groups that directly maintain a system of hiking trails or parks, and other are just a group of people that enjoy the outdoors – just like you! Many of these groups and clubs have organized hikes that meet monthly or even more often. Search for “your city hiking group”, look on Meetup or Facebook, or check the message board postings at certain busier, more popular trailheads in your area.

Parks, Forests and Conservation Areas

Provincial Parks, National Parks, Regional Forests and Conservation Areas are all pretty good about promoting their locations with designated hiking trails to help you find your next outdoor adventure. Look up their websites, or follow them on social media to get started planning your upcoming weekend getaway.

Mobile Apps

There’s an app for that! It’s true for nearly all organized hiking trail systems. Here in Ontario, I use apps for The Bruce Trail, The Great Trail, ViewRanger and Avenza Maps. While the Bruce Trail and the Great Trail are obviously more specific to Ontario and Canada in general, ViewRanger and Avenza Maps are international. There are some charges involved for certain areas, but I have yet to purchase a map from either of those apps. Check the trail systems in your area – they might just have their own apps, too!

Google Maps

Good old Google, whatever would we do without you? This is probably the resource I use the most. I will literally spend hours studying an area that I have a suspicious lack of “to hike” markers on.

First, you can do a search for “hiking”. This generally brings up hiking areas and hiking trails. You can be more specific like that if you want to see what else comes up. Click on a few of them and see what their deal is.

Second, zoom in on the green areas – not the farm green areas, the designated green areas. A lot of these will be golf courses, which is boring. But sometimes you luck out and find a new conservation area or regional forest you did not know of previously.

Third, look up the conservation authorities that oversee those conversation areas you just found, or the regional forest authority. Their website will list all of their locations and quite often their trail maps, too. Jackpot.

Fourth, follow the dotted lines. You know of a long distance hiking trail running through your area, but you don’t want to pay for the paper map because it will just be updated next month, and they don’t have a mobile app yet for some crazy reason? (I’m looking at you ORTA). Zoom in to an area where you know that trail exists, and follow it out to a new area for you to explore. Sometimes it even leads to new conservation areas or regional forests (see Second point).

How to Find Your Next Hiking Trail - Merely McCool
How to Find Your Next Hiking Trail – Merely McCool

And there you have it! This is my completely nonsensical and a little obsessive way that I find my hiking trails. This is also why I have a list miles long that I will never complete in my lifetime. But hey, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?

How do you find your trails? Let me know in the comments below!

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Comments (2) on "How To Find a Hiking Trail"

  1. It can be patchy and the inclusion or otherwise of trails can be arbitrary, but I would add AllTrails (website and app) to the list. It’s good at gamifying hiking!

    This is also a great project:
    Primarily it is trail downloads for GPS units, but you can download a KMZ for use in Google Earth, too. (It includes all of The Bruce if you can’t afford the official app).

    1. Can’t quite put my finger on why, I just dont like Alltrails haha. But I hadn’t heard of before. Thanks for sharing that!

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