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, and 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 are a variety of trail environments for beginners and seasoned hikers 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.

Resources for hikers

There are many online resources with hiking tips for all levels and different terrains. For example, organizations such as HikeOntario offer great fact sheets for hiking in different environments as well as 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-of-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:

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 a good grip are a better option.

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

And consider using hiking poles, especially on steep terrain; your knees will thank you.

Hiking etiquette

Of interest, and perhaps overlooked, is 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 the trail and pass on the left.
  • Visit trails in small groups; split larger parties into smaller groups.
  • Carry out all litter. Do not assume all waste will biodegrade. For example, orange peels do not decompose easily and can attract animals.
  • Say hello to fellow hikers as you pass each other.
  • Leave flowers, wood, rocks and plants where you found them so that others can enjoy them too.
  • 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 >

Staying on marked trails and not taking shortcuts not keeps you from danger but also protect the soil from erosion.

Plan ahead and 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 trailhead 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 digital content manager.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

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