Planned Walks, ie, Hiking Vacations

Guidebooks galore.

Everyday hiking and walking, as in the sort I might do after work or on the weekend, requires little or no planning. Obviously it’s important to make sure storms aren’t imminent, or trails aren’t closed for some reason, but beyond that, it’s easy just to pick up and go.

Trip planning is different – somewhat. Certainly I treat it differently, in that I take care to note which trails are “must do,” which look like nice backups, and so on. But in some ways, it ends up being similar to everyday experiences due to such factors as unexpected weather and individual whims.

Two years ago, we spent five days in Acadia National Park. This was our first national park vacation. We were armed with our National Geographic trail map, and the fabulous NPS “Guide’s Guide” on this page (why don’t all the parks have this?!?), both of which we’d studied and read up on, and that was it. We ended up hiking all the trails we set out to, with the exception of one when our day got too long after descending the west face of Cadillac Mountain (not recommended).

Cadillac’s west face is precipitously steep, certainly more than this photo suggests. And parts of it were wet from rain the night before.

Last year, during our two weeks in Glacier National Park, we again had our set of NatGeo maps, and had added a Falcon hiking guide (I highly recommend those) and a Moon regional book. In Glacier, we hiked many of the trails we’d planned on, 90 miles total, though we scrapped a few and added in some others.

The view from Scenic Point, a trail we hadn’t originally planned to hike, in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. We got the tip from some fellow hikers the week before, when we were hiking yet another trail we hadn’t planned on (Apgar Lookout). Notice how the mountains fade into the plains.

The Falcon guide helped us make these decisions out there, and the Moon book gave us non-hiking ideas for an iffy weather morning. With Glacier being appreciably larger than Acadia, our time frame being longer, and with so much more to choose from, we learned that it’s good to be familiar with your options, but not be totally set on doing a particular trail or activity on a particular day. Plans change. Lesson learned.

Or not.

This summer, we’re headed to Washington state for two weeks. And I have definitely micro-planned. I didn’t intend to, and I fully recognize that things could change. But I felt like I was up against a few challenges: 1) We’re aiming to go to Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, and North Cascades National Park. That’s a lot in two weeks. There is SO much to choose from! So much to potentially see and do. 2) Everything is really far apart, and requires a decent amount of travel time to get to.

Given points 1 and 2, it seems best to plan and just go with it, weather aside, or else risk spending way too much aimless time in the car or missing out on things we want to do as a result of poor planning. So I planned. The plan looks like this:

Seattle trip (2)
A clockwise trip beginning and ending in Seattle. We’ll be hiking into both parks somewhat more than this map suggests.

It’s ridiculous. We’re planning to camp the whole time, and are admittedly seeing just parts of everything – but will hike about 35-40 miles in Olympic, and again about the same in North Cascades. If we’re feeling ambitious and are not yet sick of the car, we may substitute a day hike in Mount Rainier National Park in place of one in North Cascades toward the end of the trip. Who knows. The logistics of that much travel in that area in that span of time are kind of crazy.

But that’s part of the fun of planning a big trip — you learn a lot about a place, and some of it you use, and some of it you don’t, but by being well-informed, you’re better prepared to make those last-minute changes once you’re there. Or at least know which pages to turn to in the guide book to get someone else’s opinion. (And don’t forget park rangers — they’re helpful too!)

Although sometimes they're just really busy watching a single mountain goat.
Although sometimes they’re just really busy watching a single mountain goat.

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