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Five ways to find hiking trails online

by Tom
04/07/2011 07:51:10 P.M.

The first two questions on every hiker's mind are: where do I go, and what do I take? Well, Travel Country has the what-to-take angle covered, but that still leaves you wondering where to take them. Fortunately, the Web is brimming with ways to figure out where to hike; these sites will help you pick an excellent nearby trail.

1. State parks. Googling the state you're in and adding "state parks" is the easy part; the trick is making sure you've got the official state parks site (many parks have "friends of" sites that confuse matters). Once you find the official site, drill down till you find a page with maps, often downloadble and printable. State parks sites typically have the best driving directions -- which can differ substantially from the online mapping sites -- and often have news about weather-related closures unavailable anywhere else.

2. AllTrails - AllTrails allows you to search by zip code to find trails, post reviews, keep a journal of your hikes and scan for local events.  AllTrails is evolving into a go-to site for outdoorspeople; I've seen a few glitches here and there, but these things usually get worked out over time.

3 EveryTrail - EveryTrail's technology allows people to document their hikes via GPS, pictures, videos and smartphones. A side benefit is that it now has one of the largest trail databases on the planet, so it's a good place to scan for nearby outings around the world (disclosure: I've been a paid contributor to EveryTrail).

4. Local Hikes - Local Hikes is an old-school online hiking site (if you can imagine such a thing): It's based on hikes near major metro areas, and includes topographic maps and reviews of each hike. It's been around the longest, so it's likely to turn up in your google searches.

5. TrailHeadFinder -- The site is a bit bare-bones compared to the others, which can be a good thing: fewer distractions, if all you need is a Google map pointing to the the trail head.

A few things to keep in mind:

* Online postings can be out of date -- trails can be closed, blocked by fallen trees, washed out by floods, etc.

* Online mapping directions are not to be trusted. Try to find written directions from authoritative sources (parks managers, respected publishers, etc).

* Always take a printed map from a reliable source (and keep it in a dry place  once you start your hike; Ziplock bags are great for this).