Hiking: No place is too far if you have time

Hiking in Hong Kong (Photo by Wendy Ho)

Hiking in Hong Kong (Photo by Wendy Ho)

September 1, 2014 | by Wendy Ho

It was a hot, humid summer day without a breath of wind in the mountain pass. Up and up I hiked, head down and sweaty, wishing to feel a whisper of a summer breeze. Occasionally I glanced up to check that I wasn’t trailing too far behind my parents.

“We’re here, the hardest part is over,” called my dad. Looking up, I was in awe of the breathtaking 180-degree view of the ocean. The sand dunes at the top of our trail were a perfect resting spot to watch shorebirds overhead.

To this day, that memory of my nine-year-old self provokes a warm, happy feeling every time I think of it. I’m thankful that my parents gave me this experience to share on my first week back to school.

Here in Canada, there is a variety of trail environments for beginners and pros not far from the city; you just need to research what’s right for you and your family!

By definitiion, hiking involves taking a long walk in the country for recreation or exercise. There are plenty of reasons why it is good for you! These days, hiking has become more of a recreational activity but historically, and today in remote places, hiking was one of the main ways to get from one place to another.

For Christine Beevis Trickett, managing editor of Land Lines, hiking is a big part of her life. Her parents are avid international hikers and active in their local trail association. To Christine, hiking is a relaxing and meditative recreational activity as well as a great way to explore Canada's wildlife and landscapes.

Christine and her husband, both nature lovers and recent transplants to Calgary, Alberta, find trekking up to higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains truly rewarding.

“Hiking allows me to escape the city,” says Christine, “It's a time for thinking, exploration and discovery. It’s a nice way to spend quality time with family!”

She recalls the first long hike with her husband near Banff last fall up Tunnel Mountain  that offered a nice panoramic view of the Bow Valley at its summit. Next on their bucket list is a hike up Castle Mountain, also within Banff National Park.

Resources for hikers

There are lots of online resources on hiking tips for all levels and different terrains. For example, organizations such as HikeOntario offer great fact sheets for hiking in different environments along with regional contacts. Local hiking clubs and trail associations often offer guided walks and group hikes for those who enjoy the educational and social aspects.

Where to go?

A challenge for new hikers may be finding the appropriate trails to explore. Getting to more remote and out town places without a vehicle is yet another challenge.

Here I’ve listed some family friendly hiking spots in and around the Greater Toronto Area recommend by a fellow hiking enthusiast colleague:

•    Leslie Street Spit/Tommy Thompson Park
•    Bluffer’s Park and Cathedral Bluffs Park
•    Glen Major Forest
•    Halton Region: Crawford Lake, Rattlesnake Point, Silver Creek Conservation Area
•    Happy Valley Forest

For those in Alberta, you may want to consider Christine’s list of places to hike in the Rockies.

What to bring?

After determining where you want to go, the next question is what to bring? For starters, the minimum footwear for easy trail walking is running shoes. For more strenuous hikes on uneven terrain, hiking boots that provide ankle support and grip are a better option.

A light backpack with water, snacks, first aid kit, insect repellent, bear spray and a raincoat are essentials.

Hiking etiquette

Of interest, and perhaps overlooked is know your basic hiking etiquette. You mean there are rules to walking in nature? You bet! Here are some of my favourite tips from Ontario Trails: 

  • Stay to the right of trail and pass on the left.
  • Visit trails in small groups; split larger parties in smaller groups.
  • Carry out all litter. Do not assume all waste will biodegrade. For example, orange peels do not decompose easily.
  • Say hello to fellow hikers as you pass each other.
  • Leave flowers, wood, rocks and plants behind in their rightful place for others to enjoy.
  • Take only pictures and fond memories away with you. Leave only a footprint on the path you have respected (and kill nothing but time).

Read Ontario Trails' hiking etiquette guidelines here >

With regards to trail safety, “Staying on marked trails and not taking shortcuts not keeps you from danger but also protect the soil from erosion,” says Christine.

She also advises to check trail conditions prior to heading out, and know where you are going. Even if there are no physical maps available for visitors, there is often a map posted at the head of each trail that you can capture using your phone. Some more remote hiking areas may not have cell phone reception, in which case it may be wise to bring a satellite phone with you (most outfitters or trail shops offer satellite phone rentals).

Finally, a whistle and flashlight. I recall my father would ensure that I always had a whistle handy and taught me how to signal S.O.S., which I remember to this day!

As kids and parents resume a back to school routine and kiss the long unscheduled summer holiday goodbye, it's not farewell to fun just yet. Fall is a great time to go hiking and observe the changing colours. It's never too late to hit the trails!

Wendy Ho (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's editorial coordinator.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

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