How to Choose the Right Trail for Your Backpacking Trip

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There are a number of variables that come into play when choosing a trail. Things like time of year, location, and experience play a huge part in selecting a trail for your trip.

Personally, I don’t like to let any of that dictate my trip. My work schedule allows me a certain freedom to be able to plan vacation/trips. So I like to spend some time finding the perfect trail that I am in the mood for and then figure out when I should go.


[series title=”This post is part of the How to Plan a Backpacking Trip Series” title_wrap=”h5″ list=”ol” future=”off”]


I know not everyone has that luxury. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right trail for your backpacking trip:

What do you want to see or do?

As I said earlier, I like to plan my backpacking trips around what I am in the mood to do. Sometimes Im in the mood for canyons and sometimes Im in the mood for mountains. Other times I have no idea what I am in the mood for!

One thing that worked well for me when I was just getting into backpacking was to create a backpacking bucket list. I created a file in my Evernote app of all the different trails I wanted to hike. I also made notes about the best time to visit and the number of days required.

This way, when I had the chance to go backpacking, I could check my bucket list first and see if anything jumped out at me.

In the event I couldn’t do anything on my backpacking bucket list, I would just start browsing the internet for trail reports and inspiring photos. Here are some of my favorite places to get ideas for new backpacking trips:

Time of Year

Depending on where you want to go backpacking, the time of year can have a huge impact on your trip. More specifically, the weather can have a huge impact on your trip.

This is especially true if you are trying to plan a trip at higher elevations. Most higher elevation trails aren’t even accessible without snow gear until July.

So make sure that when you are getting inspired by stunning images of the trail you want to backpack, that the time of year works out for you as well.

Im guilty of starting to plan a trip in my head based on trail report photos, only to realize I can’t go because of the time of year.

Yeah, thats no fun.

Planning trips at higher elevations during the early summer is doable, but requires last minute preparations. You’ll need to stay in constant contact with the ranger station to get updates on trail conditions and keep a close eye on the weather.

Travel Arrangements

More often than not I feel like getting to the trailhead is the bane of my existence. I live in the South East and have to fly to get anywhere with a serious view. This limits me to trails that are within a few hours of a airport. I try to limit my drive time to a trailhead to 3 hours max. I don’t want to spend half a day fly and the other half of the day driving to the trailhead.

I will usually rent a car, as most of my backpacking trips are just a long weekend on loop trails or there and back trails.

If renting a car isn’t an option or just doesn’t make sense. You can look into shuttle services.

Is the trail a loop or a there and back trail? If not, you will need some way to get back to your car. In some more popular hiking locations you can find shuttle services that will take you to the trailhead and pick you up at the end of the trail.

The problem with these services is that they rarely pick you up from the airport, so you will still need a means to get to the shuttle location. If you are traveling with a group and have tow cars, just make sure to plan time to run the shuttles.

Here are a few shuttle services for some of the more popular backpacking trails:

Planning for Altitude

If you haven’t done much hiking at higher elevation, you might be unaware of the dangers it can cause. The higher the elevation, the thinner the air is. Your body needs time to adjust to this. If it doesn’t, you will likely start getting sick a few miles into your hike.

If you are traveling from a lower elevation to a higher one, you need to give yourself about a day to get acclimated. This means a day of no hiking, just hanging out at a basecamp or hotel while your body adjusts.

Drinking lots of water before your trip and during the acclamation phase will help speed up the process. Just don’t drink alcohol while acclimating , as it will have adverse effects to the process.

Group Size

Many backcountry trails limit the size of groups to help keep the trails and campsite from getting crowded. If you plan on traveling with a larger group, say six or more, you will definitely want to find out if there is a limit on the group size. You can easily find this information by calling the ranger station or on the National Parks website.

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