Monday, February 20, 2012

How to easily locate the trailhead on a hike

Often the trailhead is a narrow path off of or near the parking lot. The advantage of researching the trail in advance is you’ll know where to park and where the trailhead is in relation to your vehicle. But be careful: Sometimes multiple trailheads lead from a parking lot, and signs don’t always make clear which trail is which, let alone if it even is a legitimate trail.

To make sure you’re on the right trailhead, use your satellite photo of the site. In addition, check it against a key landmark or geological feature on your topo map. Typically the start of any trail is nicely marked by well-placed rocks that outline the path.

Don’t rely on boot prints to point the way. While they are a good sign when walking well-traveled trails, they certainly aren’t proof that you’re in the right place. Deborah S., of Madison, Wis., recalls, “Once while hiking a national forest I found two trailheads at where my map said there should only be one. As there were no signs, I went with the one that had boot prints heading onto it, as the trail I wanted to hike was fairly popular among parents and kids. About a third of a mile on the trail, I realized looking at the landmarks on the horizon that I was heading the wrong direction and fortunately turned around before we got too far.”

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.