Close your eyes and picture your perfect day hike. Take a deep breath and smell the fresh, piney air. Listen to the songbirds, squirrels, and chipmunks, and imagine the sound of hiking boots trodding up a well-worn trail. A gap in the treeline suggests you’re near the summit.
Perhaps everyone’s perfect hike is different. Waterfalls or geological features may replace the awe of vistas for others. And a hike in the American southwest is more likely to include cacti and sand. But one thing is the same–creating a perfect day hike can be done in a few simple steps.
We love the White Mountains National Forest at Guineafowl Adventure. But we know there are great trails just about everywhere. And choosing the best trail for your day hike is essential to enjoying your trek and staying safe. So be honest with yourself and your group about your fitness level, and choose a trail that suits your abilities.
A looped hike is appealing, but if you’re unsure about your comfort level on uneven trails, choose an out-and-back trail so you can turn around early if you need to. Distance and elevation gain are two main deciders of difficulty, so pay attention to those in a trail’s description. Apps like AllTrails are a great resource for finding local hiking trails and offer descriptions and difficulty rankings; (however, be sure to read the notes because oftentimes stated distances and gain may not be accurate and commenters will often reference this).
A general web search for hiking trails near you may also produce local blogs and reviews of nearby hikes with commentary from other hikers.
Once you’ve settled on a great hiking trail, it’s time to grab a backpack and gather some essential hiking gear. While your essential gear list may fluctuate depending on the season, there are a few staples day-hikers should always have: a well-fitted and comfortable daypack, hydration, nutrition, first aid, sturdy shoes, and comfortable layers.
We love our Deuter daypacks at Guineafowl Adventure; they have a pocket for a hydration bladder, enough space for our hiking essentials, and a handy external stuff pocket for when we shed our outer layer on our climb. In our pack, determining the right amounts of water and food to bring is a bit of trial and error, but we suggest folks always err on too much at first. The same is true of finding good hiking shoes–some prefer trail running sneakers with little support, others like a chunky hiking boot. Few things can derail a hike faster than sore, blistered feet. Everyone's feet and preferences are unique, and we recommend folks get fitted for shoes at a local outdoor store.
"Essential" gear can change with the seasons and region you're hiking. Think critically about what you may need and pack accordingly.
Some seemingly minor oversights can ruin a beautiful hike. Even though time in nature can be unpredictable, there are a few common mistakes you should avoid. Having a pre-hike troubleshooting checklist can help avoid all kinds of emergencies and increase the enjoyment value of your day hike.
The first item on that checklist is knowing what the weather forecast looks like. We triple-check the forecast before leaving for a hike and usually pack a waterproof outer layer just in case.
Another tip for ensuring a safe and enjoyable hike is having a plan for when nature calls. Some popular trailheads may have restrooms, but it’s never a guarantee. If you’re unsure, plan to “go” before leaving the house or stop somewhere on your drive to the trailhead. You could also carry a “wag bag” and trowel in case nature calls mid-hike!
Lastly, pack a bag for the car. Include extra water and snacks and a way to dry off and drive home in comfort. Once your hike is over, getting back to the trailhead and knowing you have a towel to dry off with clothes, comfy slippers, sandals to change into, or a cold beverage (we don’t judge) will make the day feel that much sweeter.
If you ask us, it’s called a “day hike” because it can take all day. And we’re not just talking about walking through the woods. We love to end a hike with a stop at a local restaurant, taco joint, or coffee shop for what we call refueling.
Hiking takes a lot of energy. You may have replaced some calories during your hike, but why not top off your tank and celebrate a rejuvenating day in nature with a meal? Summer and fall hikes pair well with a meal and a cold beverage. After winter and spring hikes, we look forward to a warm drink and a pastry. But however you choose to refuel, make sure you get home safely and with plenty of stories of your adventure.
Guineafowl Adventure Company provides full-service, turnkey guided day hikes in the White Mountains and beyond for people of all abilities and experience levels. We take care of all the planning and preparation for hiking and provide round-trip transportation from the Greater Boston area, day packs with hydration and snacks, safety and convenience items, and friendly, knowledgeable, and experienced guides to lead the way!
Guineafowl's mission is to remove the barriers and obstacles that keep people from exploring nature, so they can feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed while experiencing the physical and mental health benefits of hiking and connecting with nature.