Springtime hiking is here! You’ve been waiting all winter to enjoy fresh air, the scenic outdoors, and a good long hike. It’s good to be aware that hiking in spring months can have consequences on the trails you love, so a bit of planning beforehand ensures you can hike responsibly during mud season.
Hiking in soft areas dense with mud can not only be difficult but can cause unnecessary damage and erosion to the trails. Following guidelines, along with having the proper footwear & gear, will make your hike that much more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at how to hike responsibly during mud season.
Avoid High Elevation Trails
Hiking during the spring months can be beautiful with the growth of new plants and vegetation, but hiking on high elevation trails above 3,000 feet can cause extensive damage to the soil. Trails at higher elevation take much longer to dry out after the winter snow. You may even encounter unexpected ice, making for potentially unsafe conditions without proper traction.
When the soil is not fully dry, until around mid-June, hikers run the risk of tramping it which causes the soil to compact and erode. A trail may appear dry at the lower elevation but becomes muddy when walking further uphill. The best thing to do is turn around and head down the path to avoid damaging the trail and any plants or vegetation around.
Stay on the Trail
If you are hiking in mud season you will encounter a wet or muddy trail. While it is advised to turn around and hike back the way you came, do not leave the existing path. Not only will you be walking over beautiful vegetation, but if every hiker continued to step off the trail to avoid the mud, new paths become formed that were not meant to be mud trails. This also widens the designated path making it harder for park staff to maintain.
If you are hiking when it’s muddy remember to stay on the drier, low elevation trails or be prepared to get dirty. If there are rocks or boulders on the trail, try to stick to those harder surfaces to avoid disturbing the softer areas. Some trail crews will even help protect the trail by laying out a series of boards, so if you see those, be sure to stick to the wooden surfaces laid out for you as much as possible.
Time Your Hike Right
While springtime hiking might bring warmer temperatures during the day, the evenings can still be quite cool. This means in the evening or early morning hours the ground is more likely to be harder from the colder temperatures.
When hiking in mud season consider taking a brisk walk earlier in the morning, before temperatures rise and turn the trails into a wet and muddy mess. If you have to take your hike in the mid-day hours, look for south-facing trails. These tend to be the driest and run less risk of damaging the trail and surrounding vegetation.
Bring the Proper Gear
For those hiking when it’s muddy having the proper foot gear is imperative. Waterproof boots or shoes work best to keep the feet dry and warm.
Gaiters can also be worn over the shoes and protect the feet from moisture and mud while hiking in spring. You’ll be much happier staying on designated trails full of thick mud and water if you know your feet are thoroughly protected from the elements.
Remember, even if you were unprepared for the muddy terrain, stay on the path. Your shoes and feet will dry quickly, but the erosion caused by trampling the ground may take years to recover. The less a hiker needs to step off of a trail, the better for the environment.
Other gear you should plan to pack is a set of traction aids, just in case you run into those last traces of winter ice, and trekking poles for better stability on a variety of slippery (wet, mossy, icy, muddy) surfaces.
For a comprehensive list of gear to pack for a day hike any time of the year, be sure to check out our downloadable checklist too.
The Perks of Hiking in Mud Season
Now that you have some guidelines and the proper gear, you should know there are many advantages to hiking in the spring weather.
- Bugs are at a minimum – The cooler temperatures in the morning and evening are still keeping the pesky bugs away. So enjoy your hike without the nuisance of gnats and mosquitoes getting in the way.
- Comfortable weather – As the summer approaches, layering up for a long hike can leave you a stinky, sweaty mess. The spring weather is just cool enough so you can explore comfortably without overheating.
- Foliage is not yet overgrown – It is still early enough in the season that the poison ivy and poison oak have not taken over the forest, leaving many arms and legs itchy and irritated. For a few short months, you can explore your surroundings rash free.
Now, it’s your turn:
- Where are you excited to get out for a hike this spring?
- Is there anything, in particular, you do to be sure your favorite trails are in great shape all season long?
- What gear do you bring to keep yourself safe?
Leave a comment below…we’d love to hear from you!