Autumn is a fine time to get into the mountains. The backcountry is bursting with fall color, visitors have thinned to a trickle, and the bugs are all but gone.
But like any type of recreation, hiking carries certain risks, and your safety is best ensured with preparation and caution. Besides vibrant fall color, autumn in the mountains brings shorter days, colder nights and quickly-changing weather. These variable conditions can make even a simple day hike more risky than your average summer excursion. When heading out for a fall hike, pack some extra caution into your backpack.
Carefully choose your hike destination, and take the time to check trail conditions and weather forecasts before you head out. Let someone know where you will be and when you plan to return. Bring warm clothes, and be prepared for any weather. And pack the backcountry essentials that could save your life should you get lost or injured.
Tips for Safe Backcountry Hiking in Autumn
Check the latest trail conditions. Many trails will have new snow, and our snow level will continue to drop as autumn goes on. Check for recent trip reports from other hikers to confirm your chosen trail is snow-free. And you can always call ahead to local ranger stations for conditions, too.
Let someone know where you are going. Use this simple hike itinerary form and share it with someone you trust. Be sure to call or text your contact when you return home safely. If your destination changes, let your contact know before you are out of range.
Always pack the 10 Essentials on any hike. These include: a topographic map and a compass (and the knowledge of how to use them), extra food, extra clothing, a firestarter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit, and flashlight. In unpredictable weather, it’s also a good idea to bring some sort of emergency shelter, even on a day hike. Hiking poles or ice axes can be helpful on stretches of unexpected ice or snow. Remember, cell phones don't always get reception and batteries can fade quickly in cold weather. They are not a substitute for carrying the backcountry essentials that could save your life.
Watch weather forecasts. In fall, weather can turn cold and rainy or snowy in an instant. If you encounter foul weather or treacherous conditions, it might be best to leave the hike for another day when you can return with proper snow traveling equipment, and a competent awareness of avalanche danger. National Weather Service's Mountain Forecast is a good source for weather forecasts and NWAC is also an excellent source for current avalanche conditions.
Share the trail with hunters. Autumn is hunting season, and each year hunters come out to pursue elk, deer, and other game. Read our tips for staying safe around hunters.
AFTER YOU'VE GONE HIKING
After your hike, head back to WTA and share your experience and/or your knowledge. Thousands of hikers check trip reports not only for ideas, but also for seasonal and trail conditions. Help them out by posting a trip report.