Tips for a successful hike

Celebrate National Trails Day with a hike

Discovery Place Kids Huntersville

Each year, on the first Saturday of June, people across the nation celebrate local parks and forests on National Trails Day. Besides providing us with beautiful scenery to admire, the trail systems serve as habitats for local wildlife, promote healthy living, act as natural buffer zones from pollution run-off and more.

Whether you are new to Charlotte or a native Charlottean looking for something different and exciting to do, get ready to wander! With stay-at-home restrictions lifting, this is the perfect time to start down a new path (quite literally). There are ample hiking grounds to choose from right within the Charlotte area and just beyond, from Crowders Mountain State Park (approximately a 45-minute drive) to Gorges State Park (about a three-hour drive).

For first-time hikers, here are some hiking tips to help you along your way:

  • For many, the natural world brings a sense of peace and serves as a tranquil place for reflection. Avoid disrupting the serene setting. Use quiet voices and silence electronics to enjoy the stillness and get a break from the busy pace of everyday life.
  • Out of respect for other trail users, if you come across a hiker walking uphill while you are descending, allow them to pass before you continue.
  • With summer nearly upon us, hot weather is on the horizon. Beat the heat by starting your hike earlier in the day while it is cooler. Also, be aware that materials like cotton are hydrophilic, which means they attract water molecules and other moisture. When selecting your outfit, go for synthetic materials commonly found in modern athletic wear. Lastly, know the symptoms of heat exhaustion before you leave the house. If you or a friend are experiencing nausea, vomiting, pale face, cool and moist skin, headache and/or cramps, take a break and hydrate (don’t forget to bring water!).
  • While on your trek, stay alert for plants that can cause allergic reactions. The leaves of poison ivy and poison oak are always grouped in threes. Poison sumac typically has 7–13 smooth, oval leaflets arranged in pairs around a reddish stem.
  • Many hikers live by Leave No Trace principles. In addition to taking everything you bring in back out with you, try to leave a trail better than you found it. Bring a trash bag and gloves to pick up food wrappers, bottles, cigarette butts, anything you find along the way that does not belong. Set an example for children by being a good neighbor and lending a helping hand to our parks.
  • If hiking with the family, create a story about the things you see around you to keep young children engaged. They’ll be entertained trying to think about what birds do in their free time, which should keep them distracted from any meltdowns or tantrums. Another way to keep the little ones entertained while on a hike is with a scavenger hunt. Online templates feature pinecones, spiderwebs and wildflowers as items that make good searches. Or try leaf and bark rubbings to stretch out their creative sides but be gentle to avoid damaging plants. Lastly, break out the timeless silent game, with its simple rules but powerful effects, it's a lifesaver for tired parents.

If this is your first hike or your 101st, consider bringing something to record your observations and musings. You can do this with a simple notebook to jot down thoughts, draw sketches of what you see, or capture a poem inspired by nature. Or, if you are not disconnecting completely, consider an app like iNaturalist, where you can record your adventures for others to see and scientists to use as part of their data collection.

Each hike looks different depending on your level of expertise but remember, every step counts. The health benefits from hiking range from lowering blood pressure to relieving arthritis pain. As a low-impact activity, it keeps your body from being overworked and keeps you in shape. It also helps with anxiety since walking releases accumulated adrenaline in your body, which causes stress and tension.

Happy National Trails Day!