Looking for a great way to enjoy the fall? Take a hike!

This year, with each new “during a pandemic” season approaching us, many of us are finding new ways to get out and experience the world.

Hiking was strong across New England this summer. And as the trees begin to turn and those weeks of what many say are the best in this region come along, more and more folks will be hitting the many hiking trails across New England.

Here’s a challenge for all of us: Don’t give them a reason to say, “You’re doing it wrong.”

With many newbies to hiking this summer, trail preservation groups and hiking programs found that a strong dose of Hiking 101 was needed.

“During the early season, (Mount Washington Valley) witnessed a surge in visitors who had never been to the Whites,” said Dan Houde, publisher of the Mount Washington Valley Vibe (mwvvibe.com), which covers the hiking world.

“While the majority of them respected our communities by wearing masks, there were many who ignored the common-sense rules of recreating outdoors. Perhaps they felt that someone would come in and clean up behind them? Whatever the case, our trailheads were jammed and rivers such as the Swift and Saco experienced heavy-than-normal traffic, which resulted in more debris than we are accustomed to,” he said.

But, Houde said, it was exciting to see more people discovering hiking — and enjoying it.

So what’s a first time hiker to know? To quote the Boy Scouts, be prepared.

Let’s start with the simple stuff: Dress correctly. Those flip flops on your feet are not going to work while out hiking no matter how comfortable you think they are. Wear quality hiking shoes (preferably ones you break in by wearing around town for a bit before a big hike) or good sneakers with a strong tread.

Proper footwear is essential for hiking. Getty Images

As for clothing: Layers are your friend. Even if it’s balmy at the start of a hike, you may climb up to colder spots, and particularly in the mountains, crazy weather can come on you in a moment (and then disappear). So bring layers.

Mike Cherim, owner of Redline Guiding (redlineguiding.com) shared some tips on how to hike right no matter where you are.

“Some etiquette such as the Hiker’s Code for passing and Leave No Trace, or waiting for your whole party at junctions and stream crossings, should always be in place,” he said. Learning those is a smart move for any hiker, and for families getting ready to head out.

Cleanliness tops that list, he said, pointing to the annoyance of “trail carnations” (wads of tissue paper left behind by hikers, which are as icky as the tiny plastic bags full of dog poo that hikers seem to take the time to scoop up but then leave on the trailside).

Always clean up after yourself. Getty Images

And there’s another common trash item to add to that list of “just take it back with you,” he said.

“Recently, we’ve started adding face masks and latex/nitrile gloves to the list of trailside trash we see. These are possible sources of viral transfer and like the other types of what we called “disgusting” trash, they should not be left behind. Nothing should be,” he said.

“There are a lot of conscientious hikers that willingly pick up trash and lost items left by others, but this type of trash really needs to be carried out by its producer. This means planning ahead. Bring a bag to carry out everything you carry in or that needs disposing. Anyone who says they love the mountains yet treat them in such a manner or remark how beautiful the trails are then leave their trash behind, cannot call themselves a steward of our forests and trails.”

Parking has been an issue at many trailheads as well, he said. Since many are choosing not to carpool, a group of, say, four hikers can arrive in four cars, filling up parking areas early.

If you do not want to carpool, Cherim said, get to the trailhead early, park with care (don’t take up extra space) and always pay the parking fee.

And if the parking is full? Resist the temptation to park in a non-designated area, even if you see others doing it.

“You don’t want to return after a great day on the trails to find your car ticketed or worse yet, towed,” he said.

Choosing the right trail is smart too. Rather than assume you and your kids can climb Mount Washington on your first try, consider some soft, gentle and just as lovely trails to learn and grow as hikers.

In the Mount Washington Valley area, Houde suggests the Boulder Loop hike in Albany, just seconds from the Albany Covered bridge and the Kankamagus.

Hiker in White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, Getty Images

“It’s a decent beginner/intermediate hike with ample parking and signage,” he said.

For intermediates, Houde suggests the Black Cap trail from the top of Hurricane Mountain Road, just off Route 16.

“It’s a fun intermediate trail. It is not too long at under 45 minutes to the summit, but offers fantastic views overlooking the North Conway Village area, Cathedral and White Horse ledges and the Moat Mountain range. The parking lot is ample enough for an average day but will overflow on weekends or peak times,” he said.

And of course, Boston area folks can start their hiking journey at Blue Hills Reservation, where many beginner trails are waiting.

One last homework assignment before adding hiking to your pandemic fall plans: Know – and carry, the “Ten Essentials.” (americanhiking.org/resources/10essentials/)

With common sense, some learning and a desire to see foliage, you too can be a true hiker: the one who knows the rules are best for all.

You can learn more about hiking in Mount Washington Valley at mtwashingtonvalley.org, and more about hiking in the Blue Hills at mass.gov/locations/blue-hills-reservation.

 

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