When you visit a trail, whether it’s a new discovery or an old friend, it’s always an enriching experience. Though we enjoy our favorite trails – they bear fond memories of exploration, fun, and exercise – sometimes wanderlust grows and we begin yearning for new and exciting paths to investigate. If you’re traveling to an unfamiliar region, moving to a new community, or simply seeking a change, finding new trails can sometimes be difficult and require a bit of research.
I am always in search of fresh locations, have moved frequently, and love to travel. My favorite way to discover new places is to get out of town and explore the nearby trails, so I understand the difficulties involved in trail searching. Below are four techniques I have found useful in my search endeavors.
1. Locate the local land trust
Land trusts are organizations that work to protect parcels of land for recreation, conservation, and animal habitat. They are generally nonprofit, though some private organizations also exist. Land trusts are generally based locally, working at the county or state level. These organizations work with private and public donors to protect and conserve swaths of property including farmland, water sources, cultural landmarks, and natural land.
The first U.S. land trusts were developed in the 19th century, though they gained popularity in the 1980s. Land trusts are found in countries around the world and exist at local, state, national, and international levels. Some commonly known organizations include The Nature Conservancy and The World Land Trust. There are more than 1,667 land trusts operating in the United States today. Many of them are a part of a large network, Land Trust Alliance.
People who work and volunteer with land trusts are generally outdoor enthusiasts, and they are often familiar with the trails in their area, including those their program has created. Depending on the size of the organization, the Land Trust may have many trails of varying length, quality, and difficulty for you to explore. A local land trust is one of your best resources for finding the less-traveled, more pristine trails in your area.
2. Check Parks and Recreation
Parks and recreation departments are city or county based – developing, operating, and maintaining park systems. These government-supported organizations encourage outdoor activity by offering events and by creating and preserving local parks and trails. Often trails are well maintained and easily accessible. A Parks and Rec webpage will show the best places to walk, bike, and run, to picnic, and to play.
By using the areas provided by the Parks and Recreation department, you are also offering your support for a valuable government organization. This is important, because they must show their effectiveness to continue receiving funding. The National Recreation and Parks Association, is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation and conservation.” They draw national focus to the local impact of parks and rec departments.
These organizations are valuable to our community and are a great resource for finding new and exciting outdoor activities. Don’t be afraid to contact the department directly if you have questions about the available resources and the trails most likely to fit your desires.
3. Find the outdoor recreation stores
Outdoor recreation stores are more than a place to buy great gear – they’re also an ideal location for outdoor enthusiasts to congregate. Whether you target store personnel or other shoppers, you are likely to find people who make time to explore the local trails and can tell you the best places to go. Innovative stores also offer a recreation space – a wall or table that proffer brochures, fliers, and books about ways to explore the outdoors in your area. They may discuss more than trails – they could include opportunities for camping, rafting, biking, and kayaking to name a few. In this way you could discover more than trails – you may discover new and exciting activities.
Another thing to watch for in your local recreation stores are potential learning events. Many recreation stores encourage patronage by offering courses to learn about new activities and new locations to play. REI, for example, offers several classes a month in various seasonal activities including photography, paddleboarding, winter camping, snowshoeing, geocaching, etc. Find the nearest REI and sign up for a few courses!
4. Conduct a web search for outdoor groups, organizations, and local blog posts or guides
The best place to learn about trails is to explore the local resources. Often a location has its own web pages or bloggers who report on the best trails and activities in their area. There are also several web pages that offer information on trails including trails.com, tripadvisor, and backpacker.com. Always take the time to search your area and local trails. You’re likely to find lesser-known trails you may not have discovered otherwise.
Get out and find the hidden trails
Exploring the local trails is a great way to really understand a new area, or even feel more connected to your own community. Take the time to research the area and see what’s out there. You may make unexpected discoveries in the process – your research may lead you to meeting new compadres for your ventures. So get outside and find something new!