How To Hike Safely In Spring—5 Easy Tips

Here are the essentials to carry and the actions you should take to guarantee a safe and fun hiking experience this spring.

By Amy Whitley

How To Hike Safely In Spring—5 Easy Tips
Spring weather can be fickle with late snows or heavy rains that can leave trails a mess. Always check the road and trail conditions for where you want to go hiking before you head out.

After a long winter, you’re no doubt itching to get back on your favorite trails, and inspired to explore new ones. But are you spring hiking ready? What is the snowpack like where you want to go? Will trailheads be open and will your vehicles make it to the parking lot? How about that temperamental spring weather? Here are some of the essentials you may need and the actions to take before hitting the trails again this spring.

Check Trail And Weather Conditions Before You Set Out

If you’ll be hiking in a national forest, a call to the local USDA ranger station is the best way to get up-to-date and accurate information. You can easily find out which national forest your trail is located within by looking at any trail map or trail description website. A quick Google search will bring you to the correct national forest page. For instance, this page for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest lists conditions for some popular Washington state hikes.

Be sure to ask about:

  • Trail conditions, including possible snowpack or high water warnings in stream crossings.

  • Road conditions getting to the trail.

  • Fire restrictions (should you wish to make a campfire).

Quick Tip: remember that during time periods of government shut-downs, ranger stations will not be open and websites will not be updated. Contacting the local backpacking shop that’s closest to where you want to hike may provide the information you need.

 

Make Sure You’re Dressed For A Variety Of Weather Conditions

Dressing in layers and carrying spare clothes is smart during spring hikes when weather conditions can change quickly. A quality rain parka is essential.

Layering is key! Even if you don’t think you’ll need a base layer, pack one in your day pack…it never hurts to have a dry layer ready to be utilized. In addition, always bring a knit hat (beanie) and a lightweight pair of gloves, just in case the weather turns. Lastly, every hiker needs a good rain shell. The good news: these shells pack down very small and are lightweight to carry…you won’t even know you’re packing it! A pair of waterproof hiking boots or shoes will round out your spring hiking gear. Consider gaiters (like those you might wear in winter while snowshoeing) in case mud or rain puddles hinder your hike.

Pack Emergency Essentials In Your Day Pack

Proper footwear, a GPS device and even a small stove are all good essentials to carry on any spring hike; even if it’s just for the day.

Don’t worry: I am not suggesting you have an entire overnight bag at the ready. But in addition to the essentials you need to bring with you on any day hike in any season, your spring hike day pack should include:

  • A quality rain shell.

  • An extra pair of dry wool socks.

  • A rain cover for your pack. 

  • Consider carrying a GPS device such as a SPOT or inReach while hiking in the spring, too. Weather can change more quickly than during the summer months, and with fewer fellow hikers on the trail able to help out in a pinch, you’ll be glad you’re packing extra insurance.

Quick Tip: If your day pack didn’t come with its own stow-able rain cover, you can add your own (available at any outdoor gear store). My favorite is the Sea-to-Summit rain cover, in a variety of sizes, because it packs down so small.

 

Be Ready For New-To-You Conditions

Photograph by Amy Whitley
Exploring narrow canyons, like those found in Zion National Park, can be exciting during spring hikes. Just be sure to check the weather forecast in advance to avoid any chance of being trapped by a flash flood.

Even if embarking upon a trail you know well, be prepared for some aspects of the route to look or feel different. You never know what the past winter might have brought: a tree might be down over the trail, for instance, or what is usually a dry river bed might be a rather formidable creek crossing. Always give yourself permission to call it a day and head back earlier than you intended if conditions prove more challenging than you expected, and give yourself extra time to complete your hike, in case you find yourself needing to navigate new obstacles. If you encounter snow pack, only forge ahead if you are using a GPS device or can see the trail resume, so you can be sure of your path.

Let Others Know Where You Are

This is important at all times, of course, but notifying others in advance can be especially important while hiking during the off-season. Let a family member or friend know where you plan to hike (giving as many specifics as possible):

  • Heading out: What time/date you plan to hit the trailhead. 

  • Coming back: When you plan to return. 

  • Check in: Always touch base with those you notified when you get back! 

  • Leave a note: Post a note on your vehicle while it’s parked at the trailhead, listing the number in your party and your cell phone number, if applicable, to make it easier for forest service employees or Search and Rescue volunteers to know exactly when you planned to complete your hike.

Quick Tip: Don’t forget to bring plenty of water! This is easy to forget when the weather isn’t warm yet, but dehydration still occurs in the cooler months. If you don’t want to carry multiple water bottles, consider a lightweight, easily packable water filter, such as a Sawyer Squeeze or a LifeStraw. Both are essential in an emergency but even while safely hiking, they can be convenient!

 

Enjoy your spring hike! There’s nothing quite like that first foray into the woods after a long winter!


About the Author: Amy Whitley specializes in outdoor travel writing for families with children. She is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel site dedicated to resort, attraction, and outdoor activity reviews for kids. Amy writes regularly for U.S. News Travel and Southern Oregon Magazine as is an editor for OutdoorsNW Magazine and Twist Travel Magazine.

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