Monday, June 20, 2011

Our Favorite Kind of Hike/Trail

The question is "What makes the best trail and what is you favorite example of one?" This question is the subject for June's Outdoor Blog Carnival by and will be hosted at This is a very valid question and to those who remain skeptical about hiking or who are new to hiking. We can imagine they would have the same sort of question(s).

For us, the best trail isn't something that can be simply answered with a few words. Neither can this be answered with one valid answer because just as we all hike for different reasons, every person has a favorite trail type. The best type of trail for one person could be the worst type of trail for another. I suppose it all comes down to a matter of preference as well as why it is you are hiking in the first place. If it's fitness you are after, then you would want something that is challenging and physically demanding. If it's solitude or an escape from the everyday world, then the best trails can be entirely different.

I guess the best type of trail is something that can be, for lack of a better phrase, customizable to your particular needs and activity. Are you day-hiking, night-hiking, out for an over-niter, or are you planning a long hike? For us we are typically day-hikers. The trails that are best for us usually aren't any longer than 8 - 10 miles and are something we can start early in the morning and finish before nightfall. Sometimes they are challenging and other times they are not. Regardless of the fact, they all usually have some commonalities among them regardless of distance, terrain, and difficulty rating.

The best type of hike for us is usually something that gets us away from the everyday run-of-the-mill activities/chores. It's remote, or at least feels remote (you know, can't hear cars roaring by when you're a mile in). It's in the woods. It can be challenging or a nice stroll, that really all depends on how we are feeling and what we are after on the given hiking day. It needs to be scenic, offering some sort of view, a waterfall, wildlife, flowers, and/or something that is picture worthy because we always have our cameras. Some sort of history is usually involved, whether it is something that is significant to the Indians that lived in the area at one point, civil war happenings, CCC camps, or pioneers. There's usually plenty of it in our neck of the woods.

A couple other usually mandatory criteria in order to be a best trail are that it's dog friendly, unless we purposely leave the Beene behind (we don't do that very often unless we want to hike in the Smokies), and most definitely needs to be a very low trafficked trail. We aren't ones to hit the most popular trails in the Smokies (like The Chimneys, Laurel Falls, etc.) unless it's midweek, off-season, and very early (before the crowds show up). Part of hiking to us, as mentioned above, is getting away from it all. The last thing we want is be hurried along because someone behind us is speed hiking and there's no good place to pull off and let them pass on a piece of single track and they are blowin' and puffin' because you're obviously in their way. Of course if you keep your head down, "full speed ahead Mr. Sulu" on the trail, then why hike? At least that's the way we feel about it. We know there are those of you out there that like to test your limits and for some reason feel it necessary to see how fast you can do a particular trail or finish a list etc. and if that's your thing, that's fine by us. However, we tend to meander up and down trails, taking time to take it all in, and submerse ourselves in the natural beauty around us on the trail. It is not out of the ordinary for a four mile hike to take us all day to explore. Quite honestly, these are the best trails, those that are filled with pristine, untouched beauty. They are rugged and command a certain awe and respect from those of us who dare to walk it. The trails where around each corner there is something new to marvel at. Be it a rock house, a sandstone arch, a grove of rhododendron, or a waterfall cascading down the side of a rock face. It's those trails, the ones that call to us, that call to our primitive cores and make us yearn for more, those trails are the best kind of hiking trails.

We've been on many a trail, and quite honestly, only a couple few really represent to me one of those awe inspiring kind of trails. The ones where you feel tiny in comparison to the wilderness you've entered. The ones that make you feel like you've discovered a special secret place. The ones that make you feel like you could be lost in a matter of minutes but you didn't care because you were in paradise. The trails that make me feel this way are the Honey Creek Loop in The Big South Fork, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and Alum Cave Bluff Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. Two of the three are quite challenging. All three are awe inspiring. Joyce Kilmer: full of it's Tulip Poplars that are said to be at least three- to four-hundred-years-old or more. Alum Cave: while a more popular trail in the Smokies, it's still a challenging hike to reach the summit of Mount LeConte and is one of the more challenging hikes I've ever done, offering amazing views of the Smokies. Then there is the special paradise that is Honey Creek: remote, rugged, challenging, amazing. It is probably the best trail I've hike in my short hiking life. This trail if you remember from our report from last year is definitely not one for the faint of heart nor for the inexperienced. However, it is one you don't want to miss because it doesn't get any better than that.

And lastly, just to prove diversity: my trail mate and wife (who agrees with me on the majestic Honey Creek) chooses White Rocks as her other magic place. It may have been tough getting to the top, but the Cumberland Mountains stole her heart a long time ago. I'm only lucky enough to get to borrow it whenever she's not there.

Whether you hike for fitness, for challenge, for beauty, or just to tune back into a more primitive sort of yourself, the best hikes are different for everyone, and the only way to know which ones suit you is to get out and hike.

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin