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Hiking 101 Part 1: Choosing the Right Hike

If you're not used to long inclines over rocks and tree roots, even moderate hikes can be exhausting. By starting out with novice hikes and gradually taking on more challenging trails, you'll build confidence and skills without burning out.

Sawtooth Wilderness by Raechel Youngberg.jpg
Larch madness in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Photo by Raechel Youngberg.

If you can walk, you can hike. That's not to say you're ready to take on the Pacific Crest Trail. Even those in good shape need to start out with novice hikes and gradually take on more challenging trails to build confidence and skills while avoiding injury or burn out.

Determine your fitness level

Be honest with yourself. Some questions to consider are:

  • Can I walk or run a mile?
  • Do I have any ankle or joint problems?
  • Do I have asthma, allergies or heart problems?

Always be conservative and talk to your doctor before starting out.

Find a hiking companion

Hiking with company can make starting out both safer and more enjoyable. Recruiting friends and family works well, but you can also meet other beginning hikers through social groups, The Mountaineers, or in classes at REI.

Take a walk in the park

If you live in the city, try a short, easy hike on the well-maintained trails of your local park. Check out your city's parks department for information about trails nearby.

Once you're comfortable in city park, hit the trails at a nearby state or county park. Find a spot near you in our Family Outings Resource Guide or by using our online Hiking Guide with full descriptions for more than 900 hikes. As you build fitness and confidence, try more difficult hikes, but make sure to bring appropriate equipment and practice safe hiking.

Try out some easy hikes on your own

Here in Washington, you don’t need to be an expert hiker to experience beautiful trails. We’ve collected some of our favorites for every season on our Seasonal Hikes pages. Winter and spring hikes and "kids" hikes tend to be good first choices for hikes due to more gentle terrain.

Head out with an experienced group

Before you try more difficult hikes (intermediate and up) on your own, go out with experienced hikers, either on an organized hike or with an informal meet-up.