#HowToNature series: Hiking
For thousands of years, humans have worked to find better ways to shelter ourselves from the elements. Huddled around an open-air fire, we probably saw owls or squirrels nestled in the hollow of a tree, and thought, “Doesn't that look cosy? We should do that.” Over the following millennia we figured out huts, igloos and longhouses and realized that they were in fact great (and a rug helps tie the room together).
Then a few hundred years ago, those who were privileged enough to spend most of their time indoors began to long wistfully for the forests and fields they left behind, if only for short periods when the weather was nice.
Should you wish to join your fellow Canadians trying to befriend the nature we spent generations struggling to tame, you are in luck. This is the first in a series of posts about “how to nature.”
Posts in the next few weeks will include birding, camping and canoeing.I hope you'll be inspired to read them! At worst, you get some exercise and can run back into the loving arms of your nearest coffee franchise, secure in the knowledge that you are Definitely Not Outdoorsy. At best you will have had fun and discovered it was better than you expected.
Fortunately, I am explaining the most straightforward: hiking. And of course, If you have extra tips or know of good hiking trails, please share them in the comments!
Where to hike
If you haven't hiked before, you may be wondering where to start — literally, as in where to start your hike. For the urbanites among us, hiking may seem like something that is done far, far away. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to hear how many trails you can find in the city. As a Torontonian I am familiar with paved easy-to-get-to trails in High Park and the Don Valley. Tommy Thompson Park (the Leslie Street Spit) is easily accessible yet barely feels like it's in the city! And I recently heard you can get to Rouge Park by public transit for a hike that will take you a little farther afield. To find something local to you, googling “[your city] trails” will help you find something close by.
If you have access to a car and a little more time, you can check out some of the Nature Conservancy of Canada's hiking trails listed below. Or try one from this compilation of the best hiking trails around the country.
What to bring
- Water. Don't forget to hydrate! Dehydration can sneak up on you even when it's neither hot nor humid.
- Sunscreen and bug spray. (And maybe a hat, to keep the sun off your face.) I was surprised to get a sunburn last week when it was 17 degrees and cloudy. And few types of regret are quite like remembering you forgot the bug spray as you swat mosquitoes away.
- Snacks. Hiking makes you hungry! I am partial to protein bars, nuts or granola, hummus and crackers and fruit.
- Comfortable shoes. They don't have to be hiking boots, but closed-toe and a thick sole help. Pebbles and twigs can get caught in sandals, and stubbing your toe on a root on the trail is no one's idea of a good time. To avoid getting blisters, be sure whatever shoes you hike in are fully broken in.
- Long pants and long sleeves. I recommend tucking your shirt tucked in at the waist and pant into socks, depending on where you hike, to keep out ticks. Lyme disease is carried by blacklegged ticks in many parts of Canada, but the risk is easily mitigated with a few simple precautions. You can find more info online at the Ontario Ministry of Health website.
- A map or your smartphone. If you are going to be somewhere unfamiliar, consult trail maps to get an idea of where you are going. A GPS-enabled smart phone can help you orient yourself if you get turned around (just make sure you preserve the battery — wait to get home before you Instagram those photos.)
- Take it easy! Your first hike isn't a competition, and hiking can be harder than it seems. I bike to work every day but still find my legs challenged by a good hike. Go slower than you think you need to — blame it on the kids or the dog, or an old international espionage injury.
- If you take it in, take it out! Whether you are hiking in the Rockies or on a trail on the edge of town, don't leave your garbage behind. Food waste and wrappings can attract wildlife and endanger both the animals and your fellow hikers.
- Bring binoculars or a camera to get a different perspective on what you see on your hike. Turn your trip into a photo album, art or writing and share it on social media with the #howtonature hashtag.
- Remember: mules have right of way! That's what the hiking tips say on the Grand Canyon website, so it must be true.