Do you taste that? It’s an apple cider donut.
Do you see that? It’s a sea of colorful leaves.
Do you smell that? It’s pumpkin spice everything.
While it may not feel like autumn, the crisp, colorful, pumpkin-filled season is upon us in North America, and it’s time to prepare for sensory overload. While I love a good Pumpkin Spiced Latte, and always enjoy pumpkin picking, the best way I’ve found to fully appreciate fall foliage is a beautiful outdoor hike. Now, these hikes don’t have to be mountain summits. Difficulty level is up to you; the most important thing is that you get outside! As you prepare for all things autumn, here are 11 tips to plan and safely embark on your perfect fall hike.
1. GO LOCAL
If you have time for a big hiking trip or weekend getaway, obviously do that, but sometimes it’s nice to have “your mountains” the ones you know, love and eventually will call your second home. For me, that’s the Catskills region, just two hours from New York City and my home away from home.
2. START SMALL
It’s easy to get carried away, thinking you can climb the biggest, toughest trails first. But I’ll save you some (a lot of) pain: start small. Choose an easier hike to get in the groove and feel comfortable, then find a tougher trail to test your limits.
For example, I started my Catskills hiking with the quick, mostly flat Kaaterskill Falls hike last autumn (which was beyond stunning) and I just recently ascended the tallest Catskills mountain – Slide Mountain. In proper fashion, we celebrated with champagne on top!
3. DOWNLOAD MAPS AHEAD OF TIME
If you have cell service on your hike, you’re probably a little too close to the city, because the best hikes are those with zero bars. We typically lose service halfway out to the Catskills, so I have a mix of map screenshots and use the Google Maps map download feature so I don’t get lost on the road.
4. GET THE RIGHT GEAR
You don’t technically need hiking boots. I’ve climbed six Catskills mountains in running shoes, but they are good to have for snowy hikes or trails filled with (she shudders) snakes. You should also grab some dry-fit gear, blister-resistant socks, a compass of some sort (your phone should actually have one!), a portable phone charger, snacks, water and insect repellent. Better to be safe than sorry, so fill that backpack up!
5. KNOW “CAUTION” POINTS
Most online trail guides will tell you what to look out for – steep climbs, confusing trail markers, bears, snakes or, my favorite, porcupines. (I want to see a porcupine!) But nonetheless, know what you’re getting into ahead of time and determine your absolute deal breakers (i.e. snakes, which I try to avoid at all costs.)
6. BRING WATER – AND MORE WATER!
I mentioned packing water, but go ahead and pack some more. Hikes can get hot quickly, and nothing’s worse than being four hours away from the parking lot with zero water left.
7. START WITH AN OUT & BACK ROUTE – ESPECIALLY WHEN HIKING SOLO
I have a really bad sense of direction, so I stick to ‘out and backs’ to stay safe. I had a terrifying experience while hiking solo during college, going off the trail, and not realizing I was lost until too late… which led to me sprinting for miles pressing my car’s panic button trying to find the parking lot. It still sends shivers down my spine!
Of course, I realize this was DUMB on my part, but trust me, it’s easy to get caught up in all things pretty and forget that you’re responsible for your own life. Be smart. Know where you’re going. And if you’re not directionally savvy, do an out and back.
8. CHARGE THE CAMERA & PREPARE FOR PANOS
Fall hiking is nothing if not photogenic. Bring your cameras, video cameras and of course your phone and prepare to take some beautiful shots. Pro tip: learn how to use your camera’s panoramic photo feature or bring a wide angle lens for your camera to capture the full scene.
9. PREPARE AN A-LIST PLAYLIST
I love my Catskills road trip playlist with all my heart. It’s two hours of Eddie Vedder, Lumineers, Strumbellas and dozens of other chill, “be free” hits from Spotify. Make your own pre-hike playlist to get in the groove for your big trek! Want to check out mine? Send me a note on social and I’d he happy to share it!
10. PLAN A POST-HIKE CELEBRATION
Hikes are beautiful, freeing and an amazing way to connect with nature. But they’re also hard! I mean, hiking is exercise and the further you go the harder it gets. Kind of like marathon training.
To stay motivated when you have four, five or however many hard miles ahead, plan a post-hike celebration. For example, after each Catskills climb, I hit up a local winery for food and small tastings in the Hudson Valley’s Shawangunk region on my way home.
Preparation is underway, you’re hiking boots are laced up – so what’s next? Oh, right, doin’ the darn thing! Once you’re ready and prepped, it’s time to get hiking and have a fabulous time!
It can seem intimidating to hike if you’ve never done it before, but there are trails everywhere, and with a little prep you’ll be safe and ready for a great hike that doesn’t require “oh crap” sprinting at dusk!
Have questions for your upcoming hikes? Ask away & I’ll do my best to answer!