What Makes a Great Trail?

I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world littered with trails. I mean littered in the best sense of the word. When I was young I lived in a very flat, dry place and I’m very happy that my parents decided to move to Vancouver Island where I currently do most of my hiking. Mountains, streams and lush forest are far more exciting in my mind than dry and flat. I can drive 20 minutes and have access to an assortment of trails to play hike, ride and run on.

Some of the trails I’ve found have been incredible, offering everything I could want in a trail and leaving me very satisfied after a day of hiking. Others aren’t very exciting or are just plain bad. Sometimes I’ll just be having a bad day or I’ll get injured on the trail and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes there’s too many people on the trail or there isn’t any worthwhile goal. But when I think about it, there are certain things that can make a trail better than others.So, that begs the question. What makes a great trail?

It is accessible

Some people like trails that are far away from any kind of civilization. I do like the peacefulness that comes with being away from cities and traffic but at the same time I like not having to drive, boat or fly hundreds of kilometers to find a nice place to hike. Sometimes half the fun that comes with hiking trails is getting there. It can be tough. If it’s too hard, though, it drains your spirits and your energy before you’ve even started adventuring! The downside to very accessible places is that they are accessible to everyone and they’re often busier than the harder to reach places. Everyone has their own preferences but I always keep in mind how accessible a trail is before heading out.

It has a goal

Hiking always makes me happy wherever I go and whatever the trail looks like. Being out in the fresh air instantly energizes me and gets me think about what matters most. Trails can end up just being a loop of an area or an out and back that doesn’t really go anywhere or have any nice viewpoints. While these are great places to get out for a hike, having a goal to reach and obtaining that always makes for a good hike. Great goals to go far are summits, waterfalls, spectacular view points or just the other end of the trail.

It has beautiful scenery along the way

Some of the best trails have a reward like a carrot hanging out in front of you to get up that mountain or through that valley. Reaching the summit of that mountain or that massive waterfall you were looking for feels incredible and is a great place to break for lunch or a rest before continuing. That said, a trail that has an amazing view but doesn’t have much to offer before or after the view isn’t much fun to hike either. Most of your time is spent hiking before and after a goal like a summit so it’s much more motivating and satisfying to be in a place that elicits oohs and aaahs all the way along.Sometimes you aren’t able to reach your goal for one reason or another. It’s tough to turn back but sometimes you have to. When you’re on a trail worth seeing every step of the way it’s not so bad to turn around, you’ve still had a great time. That’s one of the first things I learned when I started hiking a lot. It’s not just the summit or goal that’s worth seeing, exploring beautiful places with your friends is what really makes the day.

Isn’t too busy

Busy trails aren’t any fun. Most people come to a trail for peace and quiet and to explore the wilderness. They don’t want to find a traffic jam of people and have to compete for space in line and shoulder check when passing.  Sometimes you can’t be too picky. The best trails are known around the world and because of that are sought after vacation spots and goals for avid hikers. They can get quite busy at times. Take the West Coast Trail for example. It’s one of the best trails in the world for coastal hiking but you need to reserve a spot well in advance just to get a chance to hike. There is a benefit to having many people around while you’re hiking. If somethings goes wrong on your trip, like an injury or animal attack, there are folks around to help. Be sure to take this into account if no one in your group is experienced with first aid or you don’t have any communication equipment.

Isn’t too easy but isn’t too hard

This is like the Goldilocks and the 3 bears problem. She was looking for a bed that wasn’t too hard and wasn’t too soft. What she found was something right in the middle that was just right. Picking a trail is exactly the same. Some trails are very easy. They can be a quick walk around a lake or a short trail over a ridge. Others can be very tough to do. They might be tough because they’re very steep or they go over some treacherous terrain or they’re very long. Online resources are getting much better at supplying the right information about a trail so you can make a good guess about how difficult a trail is going to be. There are always going to be places, especially for the more adventurous folks, that there isn’t much accessible information around. Sometimes you just have to go and try it. Whenever I plan a hike, I always take into account the fitness and experience level of the group I’m taking. A trail that is perfect for an advanced group of hikers can be a very frustrating experience for new hikers.

One of my favorites

Last winter I picked up ski touring and tried my hardest to get out as much as I could. One of my favorite places to play was Mount Becher on Vancouver Island. I’ve spent most of my time up there in the snow on either skis or snowshoes but the trail up and the area surrounding the mountain are beautiful no matter what time of the year you are there.

It’s very accessible, even in the winter. The road to the parking lot is plowed when there is snow and even easier to get to in the summer. The summit is only a couple hours away from the start after a very scenic hike up. Even 10 minutes in, you can turn around and look down onto the Comox Valley and the ocean in the distance. Looking south you can see nearby mountains rising in to the sky as well. Once you reach the top, epic views of Strathcona Park and Comox Glacier open up in front of you. With a bit of snow on those peaks, it’s breathtaking.In the traffic department, Becher has it made there as well. Even though it’s very accessible, not many people venture up as far as the summit. That leaves it open and peaceful for those that want to make the trip. And while it may be a bit of a trek to the summit, none of the trail is especially difficult. A few of the sections make for some interesting descents in the winter but everything is relatively mild compared to most of the peaks in the area. One thing note with almost any mountain in the winter is the avalanche hazard. Even on lower angle slopes a danger could be present so it’s always a good idea to have some training or explore with knowledgeable friends.

Every trip I’ve done to Becher this year has been amazing and I never regret making the time to go.


Comments: How do your reasons compare to mine? What is your favorite trail and why?