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With thousands of miles of trails spread across the state, Washington is well-known as an outdoor recreation hub in the Pacific Northwest. While the summer tends to be the busiest season with the best chance for sunny skies, hikers prepared for a little wet weather can also enjoy hiking in the spring or autumn. If you plan to hike in the winter, trade in your hiking boots to go snowshoeing or skiing. With national parks including Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, plus the many trail systems throughout the adjacent national forests, there are many year-round hiking options to explore. State and local parks and other recreation areas found in the greater Seattle area and along the coast into the Olympic Peninsula offer plenty of hikes, ranging from coastal paths and temperate rain forests to subalpine meadows with glacier-fed cascades and sweeping summit vistas. While it is nearly impossible to sum up the hiking opportunities in a state as varied in terrain as Washington, this list will get you started with 10 top hikes as rated by the Hiking Project community.

Hoh Rain Forest Loop
  • Location: Olympic National Park, 88 miles southwest of Port Angeles
  • Length: 1.4-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: A family-friendly hike in the iconic Hoh Rain Forest
  • Dogs: No dogs

Located on the west side of Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest is an unforgettable experience in one of the few remaining temperate rain forests in the United States, receiving an incredible 12 to 14 feet of rain annually. It is one of the park's most popular destinations, so don't expect to find much solitude unless you plan to venture deep into the interior of the rain forest. Despite this, you can choose from a couple different trails that wind through the impressively lush landscape along the Hoh River. If you'd like to extend your stay, the 88-site Hoh Campground is open year-round and operates on a first-come, first-served basis. Stop by the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (about a two-hour drive from Port Angeles) for more information on the area. If you don't have an America the Beautiful Pass or an Olympic National Park Annual Pass, you will need to pay the entrance fee upon arrival.

The Hoh Rain Forest Loop is a short, family-friendly hike that combines several interpretive trails near the visitor center for a truly breathtaking tour of the Hoh Rain Forest. From the north end of the parking lot, start on the Mini Trail, a flat, paved, accessible loop that connects to the nonaccessible Spruce Nature Trail, a 1.2-mile mellow, wide and well-traveled trail that takes you through an amazingly verdant landscape, filled with trees, mosses and ferns. You may spot elk grazing in the underbrush. The Spruce Nature Trail is a lollipop loop, and at the junction you can choose to hike in either direction. Continuing counterclockwise as mapped, at about half a mile, the trail turns northeast to follow along the Hoh River. Here, you will have occasional glimpses of the blue water of the wide, meandering river. Looping back into the woods, you'll return to the fork and take the Mini Trail to return to the main parking area. If you are looking for a slightly longer hike, consider adding on the 0.8-mile Hall of Mosses Trail. For a true backcountry adventure, pack your overnight gear and head out backpacking on the Hoh River Trail.

Twin Falls
  • Location: Olallie State Park, 35 miles southeast of Seattle
  • Length: 2.3-mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike to a waterfall that the whole family can enjoy
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located outside of Seattle, Olallie State Park is a day-use area that is a great getaway for the entire family. With hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing and bird-watching, you can easily fill a day at the park. Nestled on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, you will find a mix of rich forests, stunning waterfalls and sweeping views. The park is especially known for its many scenic cascades found along the creeks that weave through the trail system. The park is open daily from 6:30am to dusk in the summer and 8am to dusk in the winter. Be sure to pay your day-use fee at the automated pay station if you do not have an annual Discover Pass. This is a popular weekend recreation area, so be sure to arrive early or visit the park during the week to avoid the crowds.

From the Twin Falls Trailhead, the trail heads south from the parking area and is fairly wide and maintained. You may encounter some muddy sections depending on the time of year, but for the most part, this often used trail has a well-packed tread. The trail winds through the woods following along the South Fork Snoqualmie River. At about half a mile, the trail starts to switchback and climbs a bit more steeply before turning west. You will continue to climb for the next half mile until you reach Lower Twin Falls. Take the short detour on the Lower Falls Viewpoint Connector down a set of stairs to a viewing platform, which offers a particularly memorable vantage point of the Lower Falls. Continuing on along the Twin Falls Trail, you'll cross the river on a bridge, from which you have the best view of the Upper Falls snaking through the rocky canyon. The Twin Falls Trail continues on to a junction with the John Wayne Pioneer Trail for a longer outing, but most hikers will turn around at the Upper Falls viewpoint. As an out-and-back hike, you can turn around whenever you're ready.

Rattlesnake Ledge
  • Location: Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area, 35 miles southeast of Seattle
  • Length: 4.3-mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A heart-pumping climb to sweeping views
  • Dogs: Leashed

Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area is located within convenient driving distance of downtown Seattle and many other major metro areas around Puget Sound. It's a popular recreation area, and very busy on weekends. The 1,771-acre scenic area forms part of the southern mountain range of the Snoqualmie Valley and is located across the valley from the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area. Rattlesnake Mountain is home to a variety of landscapes, from cliffs and old-growth forests to riparian systems. The main parking area and Cedar River Watershed Education Center are located on the south end of the scenic area at Rattlesnake Lake. This parking area requires a Discover Pass, and the lot will fill early on weekends, so be sure to arrive early. Alternatively, in the summer, you take advantage of the longer days by heading out in the afternoon after most of the crowds have left.

The hike to Rattlesnake Ledge starts on the Rattlesnake Lake Service Road, a gated roadway that skirts around the northern edge of Rattlesnake Lake. When you reach the information kiosk, turn right onto the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to begin the climb. In the next mile and a half, you will gain nearly 1,000 feet on a steady climb. There are a couple large, sweeping switchbacks that help ease the grade as you climb through the lush forest. The trail is mostly easy to navigate, although there are short sections of rocks and roots where you'll want to watch your footing. Just over two miles in, take the Rattlesnake Ledge Spur to head to the viewpoint. Here, the views of the surrounding mountains, forests and blue waters of Rattlesnake Lake open up in a panoramic expanse from the craggy pinnacle of Rattlesnake Ledge. Use caution along the ledge as the footing is uneven, and there are some sections with a large drop-off. If hiking with small children or four-legged companions, keep a close eye on them in this area. After soaking up the views, enjoy the downhill cruise back to the trailhead.

Skyline Trail
  • Location: Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park, 77 miles southeast of Tacoma
  • Length: 5.3-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A moderate loop that packs in the highlights of Mount Rainier National Park
  • Dogs: No dogs

No trip to Mount Rainier National Park would be complete without a visit to Paradise. This section of the park, easily reached by paved road, is known for its stunning wildflower-filled meadows, sweeping mountain views, subalpine lakes and glacial snowfields that linger well into the summer. Here you’ll also find the historic Paradise Inn, one of two lodging options inside the park, and the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center. Paradise is tucked on the southern shoulder of Mount Rainier at 5,400 feet in elevation, so you may want to allow extra time for an easier hiking pace due to the altitude. While best in the summer or autumn for hiking, this area of the park sees its fair share of snowfall in the winter and is one of the prime winter use areas in the park (in winter the visitor center is only open on weekends). If visiting in the spring or autumn, be sure to check the road conditions before heading up. Regardless of what time of year you visit, the scenery is sure to be outstanding. You’ll need to pay the entrance fee if you don't have an annual pass.

The Skyline Trail makes a spectacular day hike. At about 5.5 miles round-trip, its relatively short distance packs a visual punch with subalpine meadows, panoramic viewpoints, waterfalls, glaciers and mountain views in all directions. Be sure to take the altitude and nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain into consideration—the hiking, while not strenuous, may be a bit more difficult than the distance alone would imply. You can do the loop in either direction, but clockwise, as mapped on Hiking Project, will give you a steeper climb on the first half of the loop and a more gradual descent.

Leaving from the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, the trail climbs steadily for two miles, passing through open meadows. You'll have views to the west and can take a short detour on the Glacier Vista Spur Trail to a stunning viewpoint of the Nisqually Glacier. Continuing on, the Skyline Trail turns east and traverses the lower slopes of Mount Rainier to reach Panorama Point, offering more impressive views overlooking the Paradise area and the Tatoosh Ridge in the distance. Past this viewpoint, the trail descends to a junction with the Golden Gate Trail. Stay left at this junction to continue past the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial—a memorial dedicated to the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870—and Sluiskin Falls on the Paradise River. The trail turns back to the west and climbs briefly and gradually to Myrtle Falls on Edith Creek before returning to the trailhead.

Views along the Skyline Trail. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project contributor Chris Higby)

Heather/Maple Pass Loop
  • Location: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, 154 miles northeast of Seattle
  • Length: 7.2-mile round-trip loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A lovely day hike with stunning views and autumn colors in season
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, this hike tours the national forest on the southeastern edge of North Cascades National Park. Located just west of Washington Pass along North Cascades Highway 20, the hike starts from the Rainy Pass rest stop (on the right side of the highway if driving from Seattle). You'll need a recreation pass for your vehicle—you can pay at a ranger station on your way to the trail or at the self-pay station at the parking area. There are restrooms at the parking area. The best time of year to visit the North Cascades is from August to September once the snow has melted and the trail conditions are more reliable; however, this will also be the busiest season. While the trailhead may be crowded in peak season, don't be fooled by the bustle along the highway (you may meet thru-hikers along here as the PCT crosses Hwy 20 at the Rainy Pass area). A short hike into the area quickly becomes remote and rugged—come prepared with your Ten Essentials.

The loop can be done in either direction. If heading counterclockwise, as mapped on Hiking Project, you will have a more gradual ascent on the first half of the loop and a slightly steeper descent for the second half. From the trailhead, take the Maple Pass Trail #470 heading toward Lake Ann. You'll begin your hike in dense woods, climbing gradually on the trail. At just over a mile, the Ann Lake Trail will split to your left; to hike to the shores of Lake Ann, take this 0.6-mile trail for a short detour. To stay on the main trail, turn right at this junction and continue to climb until you emerge above treeline with Lake Ann below you on the left. The views start opening up and give you a taste of what's to come. At just over two miles, you'll climb to Heather Pass; this is a good place to stop to catch your breath and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

Traversing along the top of Heather Pass, you'll follow a well-worn singletrack that winds through a meadow, where abundant wildflowers blossom in season, before turning to follow a stunning ridgeline trail that meanders along the edge of North Cascades National Park. The scenery here is outstanding, with green and wildflower-speckled slopes in the spring and summer and yellow larches dotting the red and orange underbrush in the autumn. Your ridgeline hike will top out at nearly 7,000 feet on Maple Pass before you descend a series of switchbacks. On the way down, enjoy additional views of Lake Ann to the northwest and Rainy Lake to the southeast. Take a moment to stop and count the many large and small cascades that drain into Lake Ann. In the spring, when the water levels are high, these waterfalls are quite spectacular. The descent along this section is steep in places, so take your time. Eventually, the trail re-enters the forest, and you'll come to Rainy Lake Trail #310, a paved path which you follow north to return to the trailhead.

Autumn colors along the trail. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project contributor kel)

Wallace Falls and Lake
  • Location: Wallace Falls State Park, 47 miles northeast of Seattle
  • Length: 11.1-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A popular hike to a scenic waterfall followed by a peaceful saunter to a lake
  • Dogs: Leashed

Wallace Falls State Park showcases some of the beautiful lakes, streams, woods and waterfalls that the Pacific Northwest is known for. With 12 miles of trails and access to Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and the three-tiered, 265-foot-high Cascade Falls, the park is an ideal destination for hiking. In addition to the quiet paths through old-growth coniferous woods juxtaposed with the rushing rapids of the Wallace River, visitors can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the park's two kitchen shelters or five sheltered and five unsheltered picnic tables (all available on a first come, first served basis). The park is very popular so be sure to arrive early as the parking usually fills by 11am on the weekends. If you'd like to stay overnight, reserve one of the park's five modern cabins or hike into the two secluded backcountry campsites which are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Otherwise, the park is open daily from 8am to dusk. If you don't have a Discover Pass, be sure to pay the day-use fee at the automated pay station.

This hike hits both highlights of the park, with a trip to the well-known Wallace Falls followed by a quiet amble up to Wallace Lake. From the parking area, start on the Woody Trail. This trail is a bit of a leg-burning climb and has just enough rocks and roots to keep the footing interesting as it ascends through the dense, moss-covered woods. The rocks can be slippery when wet, so watch your step. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to stop off at the Lower, Middle and Upper Falls viewpoints—the Middle Falls viewpoint is particularly scenic and a favorite spot for photographers to capture the full glory of Wallace Falls. The Woody Trail ends at the Upper Falls where you will want to turn around and carefully make your way back down to the junction with the Old Railroad Grade. If you are looking for a shorter day out, an out-and-back to the falls is a popular option for a 5.6-mile round-trip hike.

Turn right on the Old Railroad Grade and right again to connect to the Greg Ball Trail. This trail winds through a shaded forest following along the North Fork Wallace River and is mostly smooth, though it climbs steadily for the next two miles before leveling off around Wallace Lake. This trail is not as popular as the Woody Trail so you can enjoy a bit more solitude even on a popular summer weekend. The final stretch to Wallace Lake transitions from dirt to a wide, crushed gravel path. The lake itself is a serene spot for a quick snack or longer picnic lunch. Once you are done enjoying the views, retrace your way down the Greg Ball Trail. If you would like to add a bit more variety to your return trip, take a right onto the Old Railroad Grade trail to make a loop through the woods before returning to the trailhead.

Wallace Falls. (Photo Credit: Hiking Project contributor Andrew Green)

Dog Mountain Trail #147
  • Location: Columbia River..
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Going on a family hike is a great way to encourage kids to be active and connect with nature. But sometimes the reality isn’t Instagram-ready. Parents and caregivers, we’ve been there. There’s occasional whining, and getting through a hike may take a little bribery and a whole lot of cajoling. It doesn’t always have to be that way. Here are 15 tips to make hiking fun for kids:

Plan Your Hike Together and Talk Up the Adventure

Let kids have a say in choosing what type of hike you’ll do. Even if they’re too young to pick the location, you can give them choices: Should we walk by a river today? Climb some rocks? Search for the biggest tree? Build up anticipation for the adventure while giving them a sense of ownership over the trip. No one wants to feel like they’re being dragged along. Browse a guidebook or an app like the Hiking Project to help you plan together.

Assign Your Kids a “Job”

Kids love having meaningful jobs. On the trail, assign your kids responsibilities. Let them take turns leading the group. Give your child a printed map and put them in charge of navigating. Or dub them the medic and let them carry the first-aid kit.

Bring a Friend Along

Other kids can be the best motivators on the trail. Invite your child’s friends or another family to go hiking with you. Kids will become so busy exploring with their buddies they’ll likely forget to ask you how much farther it is. If you run into other kids on the trail, be open to letting your kids connect with them.

Incorporate a Navigation App

While the goal is to get kids unplugged and outside, using a navigation app on your hike can teach as well as motivate your kids. An app like Hiking Project allows them to see where they’re going, where they’re at and mark their progress.

Go at Their Pace

Let your kids set the pace of the hike, even it’s much slower than you would go. For kids, the journey is often more important than the destination. Factor in plenty of time for the hike so you don’t rush and have the luxury to check things out. A slower pace will allow you to see things at your kids’ level. They’ll want to touch and feel things and they’re inevitably going to find marvelous things that you have missed.

Expose Them to Different Hikes

Kids, like adults, may need several different experiences before hiking becomes second nature. Take your kids on a variety of hikes and gauge their reactions. If meandering through a dense forest doesn’t do the trick, find a boardwalk trail or a hike that starts high and gives you sweeping views. Or grab flashlights, headlamps or cheap glow sticks and hit a local trail at night.

Pack Lots of Snacks

Kids burn off calories faster than you think. Pack a variety of snacks. Ask your kids what they want to eat and have them help you pack snacks or carry some snacks in their packs. This may be a good time to break out favorite treats they have only on special occasions.

Make a Game of It

Whether you’re geocaching, playing “I Spy,” doing a scavenger hunt or playing 20 questions, use your environment as a prop for trail games. Tell a story or create an imaginary scenario on your hike; maybe you’re all superheroes who have to reach the “enemy base” before sunset and the only way to charge up your power is if you identify certain objects along the way. Use your imagination. Print out free scavenger hunt worksheets from the internet before you go. Read more in our article on Geocaching with Kids.

Offer Rewards

Consider giving your kids a reward like a small treat, hand stamp or sticker when you reach certain landmarks along the trail or if they identify a certain number of plants, trees or other objects.

Plan an End-of-Hike Reward

Let your child pick where to go for an end-of-hike reward whether it’s frozen yogurt or a favorite lunch spot. If their spirits are low, you can dangle this reward and talk it up as you’re walking. Tell them, “I can’t wait to go get ice cream. What flavor are you going to get?” You may get them talking on this topic for a while.

Leave No Trace

It’s never too early to teach your children about the principles of Leave No Trace to minimize their impact on the outdoors. Encourage them to look and touch but leave things where they are. Challenge them to see how they could apply the seven principles—for example, respecting wildlife, disposing of trash properly or being considerate of others—while you’re hiking. Find games and activities that you can do with your kids outside.

Chronicle the Trip

Take along a journal, sketchbook or a camera (instant cameras are great) and encourage your kids to explore and record their hike.

Let Them Carry Their Own Gear

Even the smallest kids enjoy carrying a (small) backpack. Give them just a few items like snacks or a whistle. Older kids may want binoculars or their own trekking poles.

Read Your Kids’ Cues

You know your kids best. If they’re hungry or tired, read their cues and take a snack or water break. Be aware of how far you are from the trailhead and decide when is a good time to turn around—even if you haven’t reached your destination.

Challenge Your Kids

Kids are often more resilient than adults may give them credit for. Start small at first but don’t be afraid to try longer or harder hikes as your family logs more miles. As you spend more time hiking with your kids, you’ll get a better sense of their abilities and will find that sweet spot between pushing them too hard and keeping hikes challenging enough to pique their interest.

Learn More: Hiking with Infants, Toddlers and Kids

The post How to Make Hiking Fun with Kids appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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The eastern hellbender is not a cute animal. It’s typically a shade of dull brown, with small eyes and folds of loose skin running down the sides of its body. Sometimes it has patches or spots along its slimy back. And while most salamanders top out at several inches long, the eastern hellbender can grow longer than two feet and weigh more than three pounds, making it the largest salamander in the U.S. Given its size and prehistoric looks, seeing a hellbender in the wild can be startling, but finding them now is more important than ever. Early this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released a 10-year study of the species, and while the USFWS ultimately decided not to list the eastern hellbender as an endangered species, scientists involved on the ground level insist the animal is in peril.

“The decline in the species is pretty massive,” said Lori Williams, a biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, which participated in the USFWS study. The purpose of the research was to determine the health of the species across its entire range, spanning from southern New York to North Georgia, with a subspecies known as the Ozark hellbender living in the mountain streams of Missouri and Arkansas. Biologists from each state contributed to the research.

“Overall, populations have declined by about 75 percent from their historic levels,” Williams added, saying that the state of North Carolina started studying the animal in earnest in 2007. Prior to that, there had been small studies of individual streams, but no comprehensive analysis of the species.

A species under threat

The eastern hellbender salamander breathes through its skin and relies on cool, well-oxygenated water, according to the U. S. Forest Service, so it’s particularly susceptible to poor water conditions. As a result, hellbenders are known as a “bioindicator,” a species that signifies the overall health of an ecosystem. But it also means that hellbenders can only thrive in a healthy stream. Chemical pollution, warming water temperatures and river impoundment all severely affect the health of the animal, according to the USFWS, which first noted the species’ range was shrinking in the late ’50s. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered species, the biggest threat facing hellbenders today is sediment runoff from development and agricultural practices.

“Hellbenders require large slabs of rock where males build a nest site for females to lay eggs,” said Ben Prater, Southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife, an organization that has made salamander protection in the Southeast a priority for the past decade. “Sediment from runoff fills in all those nooks and crannies beneath the rock slab and reduces the amount of available nesting sites.”

According to Williams, the hellbender decline is so profound that some states have lost nearly all of their historical populations. In New York, for instance, hellbenders are only found in two watersheds. In Arkansas and Missouri, the Ozark hellbender has been decimated to the point that it was added to the federal list of endangered species in 2011, a listing confirmed by the USFWS in October 2018. North Carolina actually has the healthiest populations of hellbenders remaining in the United States, according to Williams. The large salamanders can be found in every river basin west of the Eastern Continental Divide in North Carolina, but the animals are still in trouble, with a 30 percent decline in populations within the state since 2007. And finding a single hellbender in a stream isn’t necessarily cause for celebration.

“Hellbenders live for up to 30 years,” Prater said. “Finding an adult in a stream doesn’t tell you if populations are healthy. You might just be seeing the same individual. We might have hellbenders in every watershed in Western North Carolina, but are we getting young hellbenders each year? Are populations robust enough to persist?”

Conservation at work

Last year, the Defenders of Wildlife launched the Southeastern Hellbender Conservation Initiative in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide funding and expertise to landowners interested in restoring habitat on their lands to support healthy hellbender habitat. The program is distributing more than $1 million in funds to landowners in Western North Carolina first. If successful, Defenders of Wildlife could use the projects in North Carolina as a model for hellbender conservation in other areas.

Typically a shade of dull brown, with small eyes and folds of loose skin running down the sides of its body, the eastern hellbender salamander can grow to more than two feet long and weigh more than three pounds, (Photo Credit: Kat Diersen)

Defenders of Wildlife isn’t the only organization concerned with hellbender conservation. Zoos in Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis have practiced captive breeding of the species since 2012. And in Georgia, biologists are creating artificial hellbender nest sites to attract breeding adults.

In North Carolina, the eastern hellbender is listed as a state species of special concern, though the USFWS chose not to list the species as endangered following the 10-year study, citing the abundance of protected land in the Southern Appalachians.

“We do have a lot of public land in North Carolina in particular, which has been the saving grace for hellbenders,” said Williams. “A lot of our headwater streams are protected by national forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but sedimentation and silt pollution is still a problem. Many of our rivers run like chocolate milk after a rain.”

Williams says that even though the hellbender was denied listing as a federally endangered species, the state is still carrying out a survey to  determine which watersheds hold healthy, sustainable numbers. She says citizen science is a key component to that survey, and the state has asked hikers and anglers to report hellbender sightings.

“Hundreds of people have alerted us to hellbenders since starting this program in 2010,” Williams said. “There’s still so much basic inventory of the species to do, and anglers in particular can get to places that we simply can’t reach.”

If you spot a hellbender in a stream, Williams asked that you take a picture or video and send it to her via email (lori.williams@ncwildlife.org) along with GPS coordinates and notes about your location. And remember, seeing a hellbender is a good omen.

“Some folks think hellbenders are bad luck, or that they’re dangerous,” Williams says. “We’re really trying to dispel some of those misconceptions. Hellbenders aren’t great predators. They’re not dangerous. They’re just waiting under rocks for crayfish to walk by. They indicate good water quality. A healthy hellbender means a healthy river.”

The post Hellbender Denied Listing as Endangered Species, but Still in Peril appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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The sun was setting over a still, high-desert lake along the Pacific Crest Trail, 15 or so miles south of Timberline Lodge, Oregon. It was August 2018, I was well into my 24-hour birthday hike, and I wanted to enjoy the last rays and a snack before trekking on into the night. I sat down to take in the view of the lake, tents tucked between clumps of trees all around, but before I got comfortable a scourge of mosquitoes surrounded me. Disgruntled and without any defense against the vicious creatures, I got up and headed back down the trail, wishing I could just sit comfortably and enjoy the smells of the thick forest around me.

For nearly 20 years, Thermacell has been working to end the above scenario. In 2018, the Bedford, Massachusetts-based company debuted the Thermacell Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent, its first lithium-battery-powered device. This compact repellent relies on a rechargeable battery, unlike the butane-powered repellents before it, which means it can even be taken on airplanes. The active ingredient activates at a low temperature, so you don’t have to deal with a flame or liquid fuel. This also means there is no elevation ceiling, like other repellents on the market—so you can use it at sea level and high in the Colorado Rockies.

This spring, the company has made improvements, including a simplified user interface (tap one button for power, locking and the auto-off timer), a longer battery life and improved airflow, that offer better repellent distribution and more robust water and weather resistance.

Using it is simple. Just set it up, place it in the center of your campsite or rest spot and click a button to create a 110-square-feet mosquito-free zone. We found it so easy to use and small enough to take even on long backpacking routes. Tested by the Carroll-Loye Biological Research Laboratory in Davis, California, it’s made for anyone who wants to stop and smell the roses, pine trees or rich dirt without getting swarmed by mosquitoes.

It's as easy to use as one touch of a button.

How It Works

A lithium-ion battery powers a heating element that activates the repellent at a low-level of heat, according to Thermacell. It continuously releases repellent to create an invisible protected area for up to six hours per charge. And it even works while charging, if you’re close to an outlet.

The active ingredient in the repellent, metofluthrin, is based on a naturally occurring repellent found in the chrysanthemum flower, which has historically been used to fight insects, according to Kyle Adelman, marketing manager for Thermacell. “Metofluthrin is in the pyrethroid family,” said Adelman. “Pyrethroids are synthetic replicas of the chrysanthemum. The reasoning behind using the synthetic version is it’s slightly altered on a molecular level and it performs better in this method of dispersion: heat. It’s more stable.”

Metofluthrin is also a pesticide and is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That means it goes through rigorous third-party testing. “We use only EPA-approved repellents,” said Adam Chojnacki, vice president of product and innovation for Thermacell. “Development timelines are in years due to the complex level of research needed. We go through rounds and rounds of studies.”

That’s all before it heads to the Carroll-Loye Biological Research Laboratory to be tested for efficacy. There, according to Thermacell, scientists set up traps baited with CO2, which attracts mosquitoes, and a variety of repellents. They then release a specific number of mosquitoes, and, after a designated amount of time, they count the mosquitoes caught in each trap. They do tests with various amounts of time and distance, which is how Thermacell was able to make its time and distance claims (110 square feet and six hours).

Unlike products unregistered by the EPA, “all of our data and marketing claims have to be provable before we sell,” Adelman said. “It holds us accountable and honest. We literally can’t put a word on the package that the EPA hasn’t approved.”

When designing the Radius, Thermacell also aimed to cut down on waste. Previous Thermacell devices utilized both nonrecyclable fuel cartridges along with disposable repellent mats, which lasted up to four hours. The Radius only relies on a single repellent cartridge, which offers up to 40 hours of protection.

“In the realm of bug protection, this is the thing that people are talking about. It’s the only thing on the market like it,” said Dan Gilbert, assistant category manager for REI. He added: “It’s a pesticide deemed safe for humans in the amounts distributed by a Thermacell unit. Better yet, you are not having to put any products or scents on your skin.”

The device uses recyclable repellent cartridges.

How to Use It

While testing this product, we found it really easy to set up and use. Before heading out, charge the Radius through its USB port. It needs five hours to fully charge.

If you’re packing the Radius, slide the lock at the bottom of the device, and it won’t be able to turn on in your pack or luggage. If you’re on the move, “remove the repellent refill from the device and replace repellent refill cap,” per the instructions. The device meets TSA standards for approved air travel, but you’ll need to take the refill out of the Radius and place the cap on the refill before you take off.

Once you’re ready to use it, take the cap off the repellent cartridge, pop it in the device, toggle a lock and push one button. You’ll know it’s working because the light turns on. If you’re going to be using the device for a while, activate the timer, and it will turn off after a few hours.

Remember to read the instructions and follow all safety precautions. Also, metofluthrin should be kept out of bodies of water due to potential impacts to aquatic organisms. That goes for other similar products that use synthetic pyrethroids as active ingredients, as well.

Who Should Use It

We tried it out while camping, backpacking and resting during hikes, from densely wooded areas to high-desert locales around Washington state. We’ve even used it at a backyard party in Seattle. So if you’re adventuring into bug-infested areas, you’ll enjoy the Radius’ lightweight, portable design. It’s perfectly packable for hitting your local frontcountry or even international backcountry. It is less wasteful than other repellents and offers hours of protection, without the mess of spray repellents. As long as you’re stationary in the outdoors, it should work for you.

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Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or just getting started, it can be difficult to find the time to get out. With work schedules and busy lives, many of us have only one or two days per week to spend nights outdoors. By the time a day off rolls around, it can be tough to find the time and motivation to pack up, plan a route and drive to a trailhead—only to hike out in the twilight.

But there are a few steps you can take to get out there at the last minute. Regardless of your experience level, there are tips and tricks to make your experience in the outdoors more enjoyable—that begins with the packing process. We spoke with REI outdoor instructor Lindsey McIntosh-Tolle to learn five ways to help you prep better and hit the trail faster.

Create a personalized packing list

What and how you pack your bag are personal choices that vary depending on experience, desired level of comfort and the type of experience you are looking for. There are numerous lists out there to help you decide what to bring. Print out a premade list—which should always include the 10 Essentials—or make your own checklist and post it in close proximity to where you store your gear. When it’s time to hit the trail, all you’ll need to do is refer to the list (and the weather report) to make sure you’re outfitted appropriately.

And don’t just bring the basics, says McIntosh-Tolle: “Be honest with yourself about what is going to make you happy while you’re out there.” Creating a personalized list allows you to prioritize the gear that’s most important to you. For example, if you’re someone who tends to get extra chilly at night, you might want to pack extra layers or a set of camp booties. And, don’t be shy about bringing a fishing pole if you know that is how you would prefer to spend your afternoons by the lake. “If you know that there is something you enjoy that would really put the experience over the top (art supplies, bird guide, kite, etc.), then it is worth bringing it along. This is where those personalized packing lists come in,” McIntosh-Tolle adds.

Keep a bag partially packed

Keeping your backpack partially packed can help you get out of the house faster. A pack with extra pockets can make it easier to add and subtract necessities like a first-aid kit, headlamp, waterproof jacket, warm hat and sunscreen. If you can keep these items pre-packed in pockets, then when you go to pack the larger and heavier items in the pack’s main compartment, you won’t have to move the items around and out of the way. The more items you can pre-pack, the faster you’ll be able to get out; and since the essentials for a backpacking trip are the same regardless of how long you will be out, it’s all a matter of efficiency. In addition, many items, like a tent, stove and fuel (provided it’s topped off), can be packed ahead of time.

Some items shouldn’t be pre-packed, like your sleeping bag, McIntosh-Tolle says. When off the trail, it’s best to store your sleeping bag loosely in a large storage sack. For the items that can’t be packed ahead of time, that’s where a staging area, described below, can come in handy.

Learn More: Sleeping Bag Care

Create a staging area

As tempting as it might be to pack your bag, and then set it and forget it, McIntosh-Tolle says there are certain items (like your sleeping bag) you shouldn’t store crumpled up, or that you can’t pre-pack—like your water, which you’ll fill prior to packing. A staging area is the best spot to organize these items, and you can keep your checklist nearby. What this staging area looks like will depend a lot on the space you have available. A simple, large plastic bin will work fine for many folks, while others might want to designate a spot in their closet where they can store items in a bin or on shelves.

A staging area lets you stay organized and load up your gear faster when it’s time to hit the road. “The more experience you get, packing your gear becomes a lot more automatic,” McIntosh-Tolle says. “Getting to that point is going to be a lot faster if you just know this is where you store all the stuff you’re going to need, and have a list that you know works.”

In addition to gear, a staging area is a good place to keep sealed prepared foods and water bottles or a hydration reservoir, where these items are easy to grab and fill. If you eat instant oatmeal in the mornings, for example, keep several packets in a larger bin with other nonperishable staples like granola bars and chocolate. Tea bags, coffee, dried goods and instant meals can also be stored here, so long as you’re getting out enough to use the items before they go bad.

McIntosh-Tolle notes that keeping freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients on hand can make meal planning and prep much easier. Because these items are shelf stable, it's okay to prep a few meals ahead of time, and leave them in your staging area. Be proactive about figuring out what meals work for you and do the prep early so you can get out to the trailhead without having to stop at the store.  

Care for your gear and replenish items after each trip

After each trip, McIntosh-Tolle says, it’s good practice to dry your gear and air things out. Check on items that may need replenishing before repacking, like your fuel, first-aid kit, headlamp batteries and/or water purification system, if you use tablets or drops. If there are items you need to buy in order to replenish your kit, make a list now, while you unpack and care for your gear. “The better care you take of your gear, the less you’ll have to do repairs and such and the less you’re going to have problems crop up and delay you getting out,” McIntosh-Tolle says.

Be sure to clean your gear as you store it, as layers of grime can build up and damage equipment over time. This applies to cookware of course, but also clothing, your sleeping bag, and even your trekking poles. The cleaner your gear, the longer it will last. And cleaning mud and dirt off your gear in between trips can help prevent the spread of invasive species.

You’ll also want to think about repairing any torn or damaged gear, like patching holes in your tent, re-waterproofing your boots, and re-sealing the seams and zippers on your tent or waterproof shell, if needed. While you might have found a great temporary fix while out on the trail, it’s good to be proactive and implement a long-term solution, which will help your gear last longer. Finally, now is a great time to refine your packing list. If there is gear you packed and didn’t use on this trip, consider leaving it behind on the next one. If there was something you missed while you were out, add it to the list.

Create a location wish list

Most of us don’t get to spend as much time in the outdoors as we’d like—that’s where a backpacking wish list can come in. When you can’t go backpacking, set aside a little time to do some research, and as you come across hikes you dream about doing, add them to the list. That way, when you can head out, you know exactly where you’re going.

“Sometimes that’s the thing that takes the longest for people, is just figuring out where to go,” says McIntosh-Tolle. When you find a hike that piques your interest, do some research to figure out the level of difficulty, best time of year to visit and how many days it will take to complete. Guidebooks and REI’s Hiking Project often address those questions and more. The more you prep, the less daunting the task of getting out at the last minute will be.

Learn More: Intro to Backpacking

The post Your Guide to Last-Minute Backpacking appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Have you ever spotted a person zipping down a sand dune with a large board strapped to their feet? It looks like snowboarding or surfing, you might think to yourself, but there is no snow or water. What are they doing? If you guessed sandboarding, you are correct.

Sandboarding historians say the origins of sandboarding could date back to ancient Egypt, when people would slide down sand on pieces of wood or clay. But the niche board sport started gaining traction in the U.S. around the 1960s when adventurers climbing massive sand dunes in the Southwest wanted a quick, fun way to get down. They carried up cardboard, snow sleds, plastic saucers or pieces of metal to ride down—all with varying degrees of success.  

“When I was in Boy Scouts, we used to go out to the dunes in Death Valley, California. We would ride anything we could find down those dunes,” said Lon Beale, one of the early pioneers of modern-day sandboarding. In 1991, Beale started manufacturing boards specifically for sandboarding and he eventually opened the world’s first sandboarding park in Florence, Oregon, in 2000.

The popularity of sandboarding has grown in recent years as snowboarders started hitting sandy slopes across southern Utah and Colorado during the off-season as a way to pass the time until winter returned. The lack of pricey lift tickets, crowded slopes and trees to avoid make the year-round sport potentially even more accessible than snowsports.

“Sandboarding has gotten more and more popular in the five years that we’ve offered it,” said Dean Anderson, assistant park manager at Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which sees around 10 to 20 sandboarders on a typical day. “I think the word is spreading, because people are coming here to the park just for this. Some of them are snowboarders, but a lot of them just think that sandboarding sounds like a cool thing to try.”

Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park attracts over a dozen sandboarders each day. (Photo Credit: Kevin Orton)

In terms of technique and equipment, sandboarding parallels snowboarding. Both use a waxed board that requires heel-toe edge techniques to maneuver. Sandboarders, however, keep their weight on the back foot to accelerate instead of driving on the front foot like snowboarders.

“If you already snowboard, you are halfway there, but the properties of sand are more like a liquid, so it maneuvers and feels more like surfing,” Beale said. “When surfers come out, they get it in the first run. Snowboarders have to make some adjustments. It usually takes them a couple of runs before they get it.”

It’s a good idea to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect your skin from the sun and sand. Boards need to be waxed before each run to ensure a smooth ride. Drinking water is a must. Hiking sand dunes is no easy task, so remember to hydrate and rest when needed.

Parks across America are opening up their dunes to sandboarding and many have started to rent boards in response to the demand. Want to try it for yourself? Here are six of the best sand dunes in the U.S. for sandboarding.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Kanab, Utah

The 3,730 acres of uninterrupted sand dunes makes this Utah state park ripe for boarding. What sets this park apart from other dunes is the red hue of the sand. Over thousands of years, wind eroded grains from the surrounding red sandstone formations, leaving miles of salmon-colored sand. The scenery is so picturesque, the HBO Western-themed series Westworld is filmed here. Sandboarding at sunset while the fading light bounces off the pink sand is an absolute must.

Info: The park is open to boarding during daylight hours seven days a week; with around 90 percent of the dunes open to boarders. A day use fee for the park is $8 per vehicle and they rent boards for $25.

A rider at Oregon's Sand Master Park, the world's first sandboarding park. (Photo Credit: Lon Beale)

Sand Master Park

Florence, Oregon

Beale opened the world’s first sandboard park, Sand Master Park, in 2000. The 40-acre private park has sculpted sand dunes, a 40-foot ramp and a full-time pro shop. Classes are offered for newbie riders. If you’re lucky, champion borders will be on hand to offer expert advice. The park also hosts three competitive sandboarding events each year.

Info: Board rentals start at $10 a day and you can sign up for a lesson starting at $25 an hour. The park closes in January and February but is open seven days a week throughout the summer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Duncan, Colorado

Colorado is well known as a snowboarders’ paradise, but it’s also a haven for sandboarders. Great Sand Dunes National Park—between Denver and Albuquerque, New Mexico—has the tallest dunes in North America with the highest rising 750 feet above sea level. The park is great for snowboarders accustomed to bigger and longer runs.

Info: The park doesn’t rent sandboards, but several local shops do. Sandboarding is allowed anywhere on the dunes away from vegetated areas. A seven-day entrance pass to the park costs $25.

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Monahans, Texas

The 3,840-acre Monahans Sandhills State Park is just a fraction of the massive 200-mile long sand belt that extends from Texas into New Mexico. This west-Texas park is a magnet for landlocked surfers. The dunes are not as massive as those in Colorado, but at 70-feet high, sandboarders have plenty of incline to shred.

Info: You can rent sand disks, which are like plastic sleds or saucers, from the visitor’s center. Or bring your own board. Entrance to the park is $4 for adults and children 12 and under are free.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso, California  

Forty-five miles of glistening rose quartz and feldspar comprise Kelso Dunes, the largest dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, five hours east of Los Angeles. The fine sand not only makes for great boarding, it’s also responsible for a rare acoustic phenomena known as “singing” sands. A low rumbling sound similar to a pipe organ can be heard as boarders slowly slide down the steepest dune faces.

Info: There is no entrance fee, no operating hours and no board rental on site at Mojave National Preserve.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Nags Head, North Carolina

Although most of America’s best sand dunes are out West, North Carolina’s Outer Banks has a few contenders. Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest dune system in the eastern United States, making it—according to Sandboarding Magazine—the best sandboarding location on the East Coast.

Info: Sandboarding is permitted in designated areas from October 1 to March 31 and you must get a free permit from the park office. A nearby shop rents sandboards for $20 for up to four hours or $40 for an entire day.

The post Sandboarding: The Strangest Sport You Definitely Need to Try appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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I spent more than a week on the Appalachian Trail in 2015, trekking through Georgia before hopping off near Franklin, North Carolina. It was April and in the throes of thru-hiking season, which meant I shared the trail with dozens of others. At night, we chatted around campfires about where we came from, why we were hiking and, inevitability, what we wanted to eat.

After a few days in the backcountry, it seemed as if food became less about sustenance and more an obsession. Upon reaching a fellow hiker, a common question became: "What are you eating?" In town, many of us headed straight to the junk food aisle to pick up sugary pastries, pizza and ice cream.

Hiker hunger, as it’s called—an insatiable desire for calories and fat—is considered an inescapable part of long-distance hiking. But Lee Welton, a physical therapy assistant and personal trainer who runs Trailside Fitness, an online resource providing health and wellness training for hikers, says it doesn’t have to be.

During a 2018 thru-hike of the PCT, “neither my wife Sarah nor I had hiker hunger,” Welton says. “We felt pretty content for most of the trail.” The couple was deliberate about what they ate—whole foods, little processed sugar, and as many fruits, nuts and vegetables as possible.

“A lot of hikers think it’s Halloween and eat candy all the time,” Welton says. “The body burns it off, but it’s not getting what it needs to repair and refuel.” All of that processed sugar has no vitamins, proteins or vital minerals that are essential to keeping your body fit. Welton says post-trail depression, another issue among long-distance hikers, might be worsened by a poor diet because low-quality foods can disrupt gut bacteria, which some scientists believe could be tied to mental health.

For the day or weekend hiker, a few days of poor eating may seem benign. But Katie Gerber, a nutritionist and holistic health coach, says even a day of hiking and fueling up with poor food can result in negative impacts.

“When you’re only eating high sugar and processed carbs, your blood sugar will spike and crash, causing you to crave more sugar and repeat that cycle,” Gerber says, who has logged thousands of miles on long trails. “It’s like you’re on a roller coaster all day long. Anyone who has been through that knows it’s not a fun experience.” Eating better quality foods on the trail, Gerber says, can lead to more consistent energy and a more enjoyable experience—plus, she says it’s better for your overall health.

What Foods to Consume

So what should you eat on the trail? Gerber says she considers four aspects: calorie density, nutrient density, affordability and accessibility. “Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or hard—just focus on simple, whole food ingredients,” she says.

That includes healthy fats like olive oil or coconut oil, which can be added to plenty of meals, but also nut butter, like peanut or almond butter, and dark chocolate. Dried fruit and vegetables, granolas and trail mixes without processed sugar, as well as grains and legumes, are her go-to picks for micronutrients, protein and carbs. “With packaged foods, I suggest looking at the ingredient list—the shorter the better,” she says.

Welton suggests eating fermented items, which are foods that contain beneficial bacteria for your gut. In towns, keep an eye out for kombucha, raw cheese, sauerkraut or yogurt. When he hikes, he keeps a bottle of probiotic capsules handy, too, as fermented items can be hard to find in some trail towns.

Produce like fresh apples and oranges can be heavy, but are good treats that can be consumed on the first few days of a trip. Welton says fresh spinach—high in calcium and potassium—goes well with dehydrated veggies, mushrooms, onions and garlic.

Welton admits that cravings for food like pizza and hamburgers are normal, and he and Sarah would, at times, indulge in those during their thru-hike. “But we had a salad and kombucha first, or maybe sauerkraut or yogurt, to feed our good gut bacteria before we ate fries and drank beer. It was more of a novelty to have traditional hiker foods.”

Eating at the Right Time

It can be helpful to consider when to eat wholesome foods on the trail to ensure you are getting all the energy and nutrients you need. Consistency is also important, Welton says, to keep you fueled and to prevent injuries. “Every 90 minutes, I would eat,” he says. “For me, stumbling on a branch or rock was a signal that, even if I wasn’t hungry, I needed to eat something.”


Welton says he tries to consume complex carbohydrates,  in the morning. Your body digests these foods slowly, so eating them early means they’ll continue to provide energy throughout the day. That can include bagels, granola or oatmeal along with a powdered milk for fat. Gerber says not to forget about micronutrients, such as zinc, which is available in cashews and pumpkin seeds, or vitamin C, which is found in dehydrated broccoli and peppers. These crucial vitamins and minerals help with everything from regulating metabolism to helping your body ward off illness. Pair micronutrients with a good source of fat and protein like nut butter, she says, for “sustained energy so you don’t have that mid-morning crash.”


In between meals, Welton reaches for granola bars and nut butter that are as minimally processed as possible. That means no added sugars or hydrogenated oils in the ingredients—peanut butter, for instance, should ideally be only peanuts and salt. “I’m looking for protein, fat and calories,” he says.

Welton also mixes nut butter with raisins or fruit, which can be a good way to ingest simple sugars for a quick burst of energy before a tough climb.


When midday rolls around, Welton turns to a mix of protein and fat. He says good sources include chickpeas or tuna packets.

For sustained energy, Gerber recommends eating dehydrated hummus and olive oil. She likes to dip corn chips (Gerber recommends organic) in the hummus dip for quick-burning energy from the carbs. Another option is almond butter paired with a dried banana on a tortilla. “The almond butter and banana have valuable micronutrients like vitamin E, magnesium and potassium,” she says.


In the evenings, it can be helpful to eat carbs to help restore muscle glycogen overnight so that you’ll be ready to hike again the next day, according to our experts. A well-rounded meal consists of dehydrated black beans, which provide fiber and protein, and kale, one of the most nutrient-dense foods available, with vitamins A, K, C, B6 and more. “Add anti-inflammatory spices like curry powder or garlic,” she says, adding that it could help prevent decreased energy and improve recovery time.

Welton also recommends adding fats like extra virgin olive oil, cheese and pine nuts to your dinner in order to help yourself feel full and get a good night’s sleep.

Recipes Alfredo Pasta Dinner

At dinner, when Welton was really looking for calories, he and his wife Sarah cooked a pasta that “we never got sick of,” during their six months on the PCT. To prepare, boil the pasta, then pour in the sauce and simmer, stirring in the chicken and veggies (add water if needed). When cooked, add in the cheese, pine nuts and olive oil.


- Organic alfredo sauce mix
- Freeze-dried chicken, onions and tomatoes
- Cheddar cheese
- Olive oil
- Topped with pine nuts

Overnight Oats

Overnight oats are a favorite breakfast option for Gerber, as they include “complex carbs, protein and healthy fat with anti-inflammatory spices.” To prepare, mix the ingredients in a jar of water before bed. Overnight, the oats will soften so that, in the morning, they’re ready to eat without cooking.


- Rolled oats
- Chia seeds
- Coconut
- Walnuts
- Cinnamon
- Ginger

Share your favorite ways to eat well on the trail in the comments below!

The post Eating Right on the Trail appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Hike | REI Co-op Journal by Elizabeth Dengler - 3w ago

Boulder, Colorado, is often considered one of the top outdoor recreation hubs of the Front Range. With easy access to city life, restaurants, hiking, biking and the high mountains, visitors flock to the area. There are roughly 155 miles of hiking trails in the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks system alone, which covers a wide range of terrain, from easy family outings to strenuous summit hikes. Not only is there easy access to trails in town, but getting to the alpine trails, such as those in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, only requires a short drive up State Highway 119 through Boulder Canyon.

On nice weekends, the trailhead parking areas both around town and in the mountains can fill up quickly, so try to get out early before the crowds. Keep in mind that while some of the parking areas in town are free, others require a fee if your car is not registered in Boulder County. And although the area can feel a bit crowded at times, the endless stoke for the outdoors is intoxicating.

This list is merely a sampling of the best hikes to be found in the Boulder area, and there are plenty of other fantastic trails to explore in nearby areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden and Lyons. Most of these community-rated hikes on Hiking Project are well-marked on the ground, but you can also download the mobile app before heading out to help keep you on track.

Welcome to Chautauqua Hike
  • Location: Chautauqua Park, 1.8 miles southwest of downtown Boulder
  • Length: 1.3-mile lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: An easy stroll for the family
  • Dogs: Leashed

Chautauqua Park is an ideal place for out-of-towners to visit if they’re looking to hike. The park offers an introduction to hiking on the Front Range, has nice views of the Flatirons—the iconic rock formations that form the backdrop of the park—and is a good option for getting acclimated to the altitude.

Even locals flock to the park to work out and it makes a lovely option for getting outside with the family on a warm summer evening. With hiking trails, events, picnic areas, restrooms and rock climbing access, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular, and by extension, crowded, parks in town. Parking is limited, so it’s best to arrive early.

This hike is not too long at just over a mile but does have a fair amount of climbing considering its length. It is great as a warm-up loop, family hike or lunchtime stroll. Only the upper part of this hike is shaded, so the trails can get very hot in the summertime—wear sunscreen and other sun protection. Begin this hike from the main Chautauqua parking area and head up the Chautauqua Trail, a wide dirt path that heads straight up the middle of the park. Keep following this past all of the trail junctions, and you’ll eventually duck into the woods. As you wind along the path, the sweet smell of butterscotch wafts from the ponderosa pines. After a little over a half mile, you’ll reach the junction with Bluebell-Baird Trail and Flatirons Loop Trail. Turn right onto Bluebell-Baird to descend the other side of the loop. When you reach the junction with Ski Jump Trail, turn right to keep descending back to the trailhead. This trail is named for the Chautauqua Mesa Ski Area which operated off-and-on on this slope from 1949 to 1963. About halfway down the trail, you'll pop out of the trees and will be in the sun for the rest of the hike. At the junction with the Chautauqua Trail, turn left to head back down to the trailhead.

The iconic Flatirons are the backdrop to Chautauqua Park (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Eli Zabielski)

Hessie to Lost Lake
  • Location: Roosevelt National Forest outside of Eldora, CO, 22 miles west of Boulder
  • Length: 4.4-mile lake loop out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike outside of town
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, is the small mountain town of Eldora, home to Eldora Mountain Resort. Along the dirt road that heads west of town is the lower Hessie Trailhead located on the edge of Roosevelt National Forest.  Respect the residents of this small town by obeying the speed limit and watching for pedestrians and bikes as you pass through—and keep an eye open for the unexpected stop sign in the middle of town. Over the years, this area has become more and more popular as an awesome day hiking and backpacking access point. With that, however, comes crowded parking. If you don’t arrive early, you will likely end up far down the line of cars that park along the south side of the road, adding distance to your hike. Do not park in the emergency vehicle turn around spot.

Located at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this hike is stunning year-round, though after particularly heavy snowfalls, the road to the trailhead may be unpassable. There is a trailhead farther up from where this hike starts, but you will need high clearance and possibly 4x4 to reach it—plus chances are, it’s already full. Your best bet is to park along the road with the majority of other cars. From this trailhead, you’ll start down a wide, dirt doubletrack, which, during high-water flows, may be flooded in places. Use the Hessie Road Bypass to avoid this section. This bypass drops you out onto the dirt road past the water.

The forest begins to close in a bit as you continue on, and just past the second parking area, you’ll cross a small bridge to start the Devil's Thumb Trail #902. The trail winds in and out of the forest as it climbs, at times steeply, up the valley. Just after passing the junction with Devil’s Thumb Bypass Trail, you’ll cross a bridge over Casper Creek. The trail ascends next to the creek for a bit, passing a beautiful cascade not long after the bridge. After about 1.7 miles of hiking, turn left at a junction to take Lost Lake Trail. This ascends a steep hill through tight woods for about 0.2 miles before opening up at Lost Lake. Here the trail splits and you can follow it in either direction around the lake to enjoy views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This is a picturesque spot for a picnic and a break before heading back the way you came.

Long Lake Loop
  • Location: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, 33 miles northwest of Boulder
  • Length: 3.6-mile lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike to enjoy the mountains near Boulder
  • Dogs: Leashed

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is located in Roosevelt National Forest and is a hub for trails leading into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This area is accessible all year but is especially beautiful in the spring and summer when more trails are open to hiking—the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking area opens around June or July, depending on snowpack. The Pawnee Campground is open from July through early September if you want to make an overnight visit. In the summertime (June to October), there is a daily use fee at Brainard Lake (cash or checks only) or you need to have a valid pass. There is no fee if you visit during the winter.

From the Long Lake Trailhead on the west side of Brainard Lake, take the Niwot Cutoff Trail heading west. You’ll be climbing for the first 0.3 mile but this is as steep as the trail gets—after this, the gradual ascent is much more pleasant. Continue straight at the junction with the Long Lake Dam Connector to head onto Jean Lunning Trail; here you will be entering the Indian Peaks Wilderness, so familiarize yourself with and follow all wilderness rules. This trail winds up the south side of Long Lake with sporadic openings in the forest offering views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trail reaches the high point of the hike as you pop out into the riparian meadow. You'll have some views of the surrounding mountains here as you cross South Saint Vrain Creek. Keep an eye out for moose in this area, too.  

From here, the trail dips back into the woods as you turn right onto Pawnee Pass Trail. This is a more heavily trafficked trail and, as such, is fairly wide and flat. Follow it along the north side of the lake enjoying occasional lake views. At the north end of the lake, turn right onto Long Lake Dam Connector and take in the views as you cross the creek heading back to Niwot Cutoff Trail. A left here will return you to the trailhead.

Sunshine Lion’s Lair Loop
  • Location: Sunshine Canyon, 2 miles from downtown Boulder
  • Length: 5.3-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A longer in-town hike with views of Boulder
  • Dogs: No dogs

Another great option right in the town of Boulder is Mount Sanitas. This summit is a classic destination in Boulder and, as such, is often very crowded. This route takes you up to the classic Mount Sanitas viewpoint the back way, avoiding the rather steep and deflating stair climb and many of the crowds of the traditional route. From the Centennial parking lot at the Sanitas Trailhead, jump onto the Red Rocks Trail briefly before taking a right onto Sunshine Canyon Trail. The trail crosses a small ravine, then follows a nice bench-cut paralleling Sunshine Canyon Road. The surface of this trail is mostly smooth and the grade is relatively mellow. The trail ends at a somewhat busy section of Sunshine Canyon Road, which you will need to cross and follow a very short distance to link up with Lion’s Lair Alternate. Follow the signs and be careful on this road as there are blind corners where cars often forget to watch for pedestrians.

The trail starts up a set of steps then continues along a ridgeline dotted with fir trees. Pass the spur trail that would take you down to the road and a few parking spots and continue onto Lion’s Lair Trail. The trail continues climbing, but never steeply. There are a few drainage crossings and several switchbacks that lead up the north side of Mount Sanitas to the top of the ridge.

You’ll be navigating along dry, rocky outcrops to reach the summit with views along the ridge. The last push to the top climbs a set of rock stairs. From here you can see all of Boulder and up and down the Front Range, including views of the Flatirons. Make sure you take a break before descending the Mount Sanitas Trail. This is where the hiking can be a little more challenging, but at least you’ll be descending.

Begin down the steep and rocky spine, over roots, rocks and large (12”+ tall) steps. In addition, there's often a lot of traffic on this trail, including runners, hikers and dogs. Even on weekdays it is unlikely you will have this trail to yourself. And although the descent can be stressful on the legs, there are a few spots to step off the trail and enjoy the views, including sights of the mountains to the west. After passing a few chalk-covered rocks popular with rock climbers, there is a set of tall log steps. You’ll then cross a ditch and enter a meadow. Stay right to pass through a picnic pavilion (follow the signs). Cross the road (carefully) and head back up the hill to reach the parking area.

Looking west from Lion's Lair Trail (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Judah Gaioni)

Mitchell Lake Trail Out and Back
  • Location: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, 33 miles northwest of Boulder
  • Length: 5.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: Getting out of town to hike to some alpine lakes
  • Dogs: Leashed

Even though it’s about an hour outside of town, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area gets busy on summer weekends, so be sure to arrive early to avoid the crowds. There is a fee to use the recreation area during operating season, so remember to pay at the entrance station if you don’t have a valid access pass. Head to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, which can hold up to 60 vehicles. From the east side of the parking lot, take the Mitchell Lake Trail No. 912 east into the woods. The trail is fairly mellow and well-maintained. After a short distance, you’ll enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness and cross Mitchell Creek via a bridge. About 0.7 miles into the hike, the trail pops out of the dense forest and you’ll have views of Mitchell Lake. The rocky slopes that surround the area are impressive and even a little intimidating.

From here, the trail continues to ascend a mellow grade as it winds through open forest and riparian meadows. At about 1.5 miles, the trail beings to follow the creek, passing several ponds along the way. Near the end of the trail, the forest drops away and you’ll be traversing shrubby alpine meadows as you make your way up to Blue Lake. The official trail ends near the north end of the lake, but you may see some unofficial paths leading to the ridges above. Use these at your own risk as the terrain becomes increasingly dangerous. This hike ends at Blue Lake where there are numerous picnic spots with fantastic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, including the cone-shaped Mount Toll. Remember, weather can change quickly in the alpine, so keep an eye on the clouds and head back if they start to build. Take your time enjoying this spot before returning the way you came.

Royal Arch Out and Back
  • Location: Chautauqua Park, 2 miles from downtown Boulder
  • Length: 3.3-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: Views of a unique rock feature on a hearty in-town hike
  • Dogs: No dogs

From the main parking area in Chautauqua Park, head south on the half-dirt, half-paved doubletrack Bluebell Road. For the first 0.3 miles, you will pass some houses on the left that are generally well-obscured by fences. From here, the trail starts to ascend a somewhat steeper grade. There is a single pit toilet about 0.6 miles into the hike, just past the junction with Mesa Trail, so this is a good place to take a break if you need it. Continue on Bluebell Road, and where it splits near the Bluebell Shelter, take a left onto Royal Arch Trail.

The grade steepens again as you climb the gully. There are scree and talus along the trail, so watch your footing in these sections as some of the rocks can be wobbly. About a mile into the hike, the grade steepens yet again and the trail begins to climb in earnest via switchbacks and large steps. Near the base of the Third Flatiron, the trail levels out (and even descends slightly) for a brief moment. Don’t relax just yet, as there is one more very steep section ahead before you reach your goal—Royal Arch. The arch is a rather unique formation for this area and there are some views of Boulder if you navigate below the feature. Be sure to take a well-earned break before retracing your steps to the trailhead.

Bear Peak Out and Back
  • Location: NCAR, 5.5 miles south of downtown Boulder
  • Length: 5.7-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A strenuous hike to an amazing vantage point
  • Dogs: Leashed

From the parking lot at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), head down the sidewalk toward the northern building. From the walkway north of the buildings start on the NCAR Trail. This wide dirt and gravel trail is generally obstacle free as it ascends the small hill behind the building and crosses onto Boulder County Open Space land. After 0.6 miles of hiking, the trail ends at the junction with the Mesa Trail and the Mallory Cave Trail. Turn left onto the Mesa Trail and descend slightly into the gully to cross Bear Creek. As you hike up and out of the drainage, the trail begins to ascend a steeper grade.

About 1.8 miles into the hike, at the junction, turn right onto Fern Canyon Trail and get ready. The trail immediately begins to ascend a steep grade through the woods. You’ll climb a series of switchbacks and water bar stairs, stepping over rocks and roots. The trail is well-worn, but not easy. As you climb, there are a few viewpoints along the way. A small saddle about 2.3 miles into the hike makes for a nice rest spot. Don’t let your body cool down too much, however, as the grade only gets steeper the higher you go. Additionally, the trail gets rockier as you climb and becomes more of a rocky scramble than a trail in places.

Continue up the boulders and rock outcrop to the true summit of Bear Peak to take in the 360-degree views. On clear days you can see east past Denver into the plains and west all the way to the Continental Divide. If it’s not too windy, enjoy a long break up top; otherwise, you can head back down the way you came and find a more sheltered place to enjoy a snack on the way back down.

Looking east from Bear Peak (Photo Credit: Hiking Project..

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Rebecca Trittipoe remembers crawling on her belly under a dense slope of rhododendron and thorns, desperately trying to move a few feet closer to the top of the mountain. The sun wasn’t up yet, and her GPS wasn’t working so she wasn’t sure exactly where she and her two running partners were, but she knew they needed to keep climbing in search of the peak.

That’s how it goes when you’re working your way through the South Beyond 6000, a hiking challenge that has participants trekking to the summits of 40 different 6,000-foot mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. There are about a half-dozen hiking challenges in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, but the South Beyond 6000, or SB6K, is the most coveted, as it ticks off climbs to some of the tallest peaks on the Eastern Seaboard. It’s also one of the toughest hiking challenges in the Southeast, because 15 of those 40 peaks don’t have trails to the summits.

“You need to be a good map reader and know how to use your GPS,” said Trittipoe. “And be prepared to get beat up and be patient. You could spend hours working your way to some of these summits.”

The 40 different 6,000-foot peaks are scattered around six different mountain ranges near the western North Carolina-Tennessee state line. A little more than 200 people have completed the SB6K challenge since it was conceived in 1968, according to the Carolina Mountain Club, which organizes the challenge along with the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club. Most athletes take months or even years to hike all of the mountains, but the fact that the peaks are located in close proximity to each other has prompted a few people to attempt a speed record by running all the SB6K peaks in succession.

Ted “Cave Dog” Kaizer set the original SB6K speed record, stringing the peaks together by running 260 miles in 4 days, 23 hours and 28 minutes in 2003. Trittipoe and her crew set the women’s speed record, running a total of 300 miles to complete the challenge in 6 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes in 2009. Matt Kirk, an Asheville-based trail runner, now owns the SB6K overall Fastest Known Time thanks to his run in 2010 (4 days, 14 hours and 38 minutes), but Trittipoe and company still hold the women’s record.

A few of the mountains on the South Beyond 6,000 tick list can be strung together as a single day hike, but most choose to knock out the peaks as single endeavors. Here, the author's family takes a break on the way up Mount Mitchell. (Photo Credit: Graham Averill)

“The only speed records I have are of things people don’t want to do,” said Trittipoe, who also set a women’s speed record for the Allegheny Trail in West Virginia when she turned 50 in 2007. “I think if someone strong tried it, they could run it faster, but it would take a pretty good effort to break what we did.”

The only rule for attempting the speed record is that you have to connect all of the peaks on foot. You then need to submit documentation of your run to the Carolina Mountain Club and Fastest Known Time. Peter Barr, who manages the challenge for the Carolina Mountain Club, isn’t aware of a speed record attempt since Matt Kirk’s run in 2010. But most who tackle the challenge aren’t going for a speed record and aren’t connecting all of the peaks on foot.

A few of the mountains on the list can be strung together as a single day hike, but most people choose to knock out the peaks as single endeavors. Participants can pick their own route to the summit of each mountain, but you have to cover at least five miles on foot, with an ascent of at least 500 feet, for it to count toward the challenge.

Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet) is the most famous of the peaks on the list because it’s the tallest in the Eastern United States, but other standout mountains include Roan High Knob in the Roan-Unaka Mountains, Black Balsam along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Mark’s Knob, also in GSMNP, is widely considered the toughest summit because it requires a two-mile roundtrip bushwhack to reach the peak.  

While there are only 200 or so hikers who have completed the challenge since its inception, the majority of those completions have come in the last 10 years, according to Barr.

“There’s an allure to getting to the top of a mountain in general,” he said. “Then there’s an extra desire to get to the top of the highest mountains. There aren’t many peaks above 6,000 feet in Southeast, so it’s attainable. It’s within the reach of a lot of hikers.”

Climb all 40 peaks and send a description of your ascents to the Carolina Mountain Club, and you can join the ranks of SB6K completers, and earn a patch from the hiking club. Just be prepared to get bitten by the peak-bagging bug.

“I did the SB6K in ’05,” Barr said. “It was the first peak-bagging challenge that I took on, and it totally got me addicted.  It took me a year to complete the challenge. Three years later, I finished all of the 5,000-footers in Southeast. Next month, I’ll finish all the 4,000-footers in Eastern U.S. There are 790 of them. It’s been a 15-year project.”

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The post The South Beyond 6,000 is the Southeast’s Toughest Hiking Challenge appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

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Trekking poles are useful for walking, hiking, backpacking, thru-hiking, trail running and snowshoeing. Up scree slopes, through creek crossings, over mud and uneven terrain, they keep you upright as you maneuver difficult sections of the trail by providing support and stability, while also reducing impact on your knees and joints. They’re even handy for splitboarding and backcountry snowboarding and can double as tent poles when needed.

To develop our list of the best poles available at REI, we first combed through hundreds of online reviews to discover which trekking poles REI customers liked best. Then, we spoke with multiple experts to get an understanding of the features that a good pair of poles should have. We also gathered information about how to use and choose the right poles for different activities.

In the end, we chose 12 models of trekking poles and two hiking staffs to field test. We ordered both the unisex and women’s versions of each to fit one 5-foot-4-inch woman and one 6-foot man. Some of the models we tested were backed by dozens of five-star reviews; others were updated versions of poles that have long been known to perform well; the rest were new designs that appeared to offer something worth checking out.

While hiking, we paid attention to comfort, durability, weight, ease-of-use and packability. We tested each set of trekking poles while carrying a daypack weighing about 10 pounds and a child carrier weighing about 30 pounds. We hiked through a variety of conditions and terrain including mud, rock, water and some ice, with a range of uphill and downhill sections. After hours of testing, we picked the best trekking poles and hiking staff you can buy at REI for a variety of adventures.

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles

The Best Trekking Poles for Backpacking

Versions: Women’s, Unisex

  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Collapsed length: 25–27 inches
  • Locking mechanism: External Lever Lock
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 1.2 oz. – 1 lb. 2 oz.
  • MSRP: $129.95

One REI reviewer called the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles a “sturdy and reliable companion for all conditions,” and we can see why. They’re the best option for backpacking because they’re comfortable enough that you can hike with them for hours, sturdy enough to handle extra weight and impact, easily adjustable to a wide range of heights, and they’re versatile enough to suit changing terrain and year-round climates.

The ergonomic design of the grips on the Black Diamond Ergo Cork poles is incredibly comfortable. They differ from other trekking poles in that they’re angled at a 15-degree slant to give you a more neutral stance when holding them. We could feel the difference as soon as we started to hike. They felt easier to swing and our pole plants seemed more efficient—a huge bonus on long hikes.

The main section of the grip features cork, which wicks away hand sweat, dampens vibrations and naturally molds to the shape of your hand over time. The grips also extend down the shaft with a foam section, which means that while navigating tricky terrain, you can “choke down” on the poles without having to stop and make adjustments to the length. We also liked that the straps are padded and sit very comfortably across the wrist (they’re also marked “L” and “R” for convenience). Easy to adjust—you pull to tighten or loosen—there’s no fussing around to get the straps the exact right size. We measured the grips on both the women’s and unisex versions, and the grips on the women’s version are slightly smaller.

The Black Diamond Ergos hover right around 1 pound per pair, which is relatively lightweight for aluminum poles. They’re not as light as most carbon or folding poles, but we think aluminum is important for backpacking because it’s strong and has some flex to it, unlike carbon, which can completely shatter when torqued. Given how easy they are to swing, we didn’t notice the weight at all. You adjust these three-section telescoping poles using two external lever-locks, which we found easy to use and reliable at keeping the poles extended. Once we flicked the locks shut, they didn’t budge for the duration of our hike.

You can use the Black Diamond Ergos in all four seasons; with the purchase of powder baskets, they convert to snowshoe-capable poles. In addition to carbide tips, they also work with interchangeable rubber tech tips that screw into the bottom of the poles. We preferred these over the type of rubber tip that slides over the end of the poles, as they allowed us to plant our poles more precisely. Designed for use on hard surfaces, the rubber tech tips are quieter than the carbide tips and grippier on slick rock; they also make less of an impact on the trail. If you don’t like the idea of changing your tips on the trail, they are compatible with larger, slide-on tip protectors for use on paved trails or rocky terrain.

The drawback to telescoping poles is that they aren’t as easy to pack as folding poles. At collapsed lengths of 25 and 27 inches (women’s and unisex), these poles won’t fit inside your backpack. They’ll need to be secured to the exterior of your pack when not in use. We think that’s worth the trade-off for how secure we felt. Another reviewer agreed, saying that the Black Diamond Ergos are “essential for mountain hiking,” and that “the steep and sometimes scary ridges that I hiked felt safer with these poles.”

Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles

The Best Collapsible Trekking Poles for Trail Runners and Fast Hikers

Versions: Women’s and Unisex

  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Collapsed length: 13–16 inches
  • Locking mechanism: Slide Lock and External Lever Lock
  • Weight (pair): 14.6–17 ounces
  • MSRP: $139.95

Trekking poles for trail-running? You bet. Many trail runners consider them an essential accessory worth adding the extra weight. For thru-hikers, lightweight poles are indispensable. When you’re moving quickly over changing terrain, you need a set of poles that can move with you while still providing stability and support. That’s why we chose the Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking Poles as the best lightweight poles—because you get the ease-of-use of fixed-length folding poles, with one major bonus: The top section allows you to adjust pole length on the go by up to eight inches. They’re streamlined, durable, easily packable, and above all, they allow you to move quickly.

Everything about these trekking poles is low-profile: The minimal foam grips are designed with ridges that allow for airflow, which keeps hands sweat free. The aluminum shaft manages to be both thin and durable—a great feature in a lightweight pole. Aluminum also offers a little added flexibility, which we like for trail-running poles, because it means they can better handle some of the twisting that comes with quick traversing than carbon poles can. And the small trekking baskets don’t get in the way when you’re moving fast.

The wrist strap on the Black Diamond Distance FLZ is our favorite of those we tested because its design is easy to slide in and out of. It felt secure across our hands; we liked that the mesh construction allowed our hands to breathe, and the hook-and-loop closures were easy to adjust. The straps are also marked “left” and “right.”

At a collapsible length of 15 inches, these poles easily stow away in a backpack or small luggage. Their packability doesn’t compromise their strength either; the Black Diamond FLZ trekking poles are very durable for folding poles. One reviewer said, “I was a little nervous that the collapsible feature might make them flimsy, but not so. They offer rock-solid stability, reduce stress on my knees, and help me hike longer with less fatigue.”

Another reviewer attested to their durability, calling them “well-built and strong,” saying, “I'm 6'2" and 250 pounds and these support my weight hiking.”

Once we extended our FLZ poles, they remained locked and sturdy throughout or adventure.  Admittedly, it took us a few tries to master extending the poles, but once we did, deploying them took just a matter of seconds. Collapsing the poles is equally easy. The trick is in the sliding lock, and once you figure that out, it’s very easy to use. The added adjustability at the top of the pole allowed us to customize the length to suit our exact heights and made them more versatile for changes in terrain than other fixed-length folding poles. It also means these poles can be used as tent poles for setting up your backcountry shelter.

The Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles come with two sets of interchangeable tips: a carbide set and a rubber set. The rubber tips are a lot more technical than you’ll find on most trekking poles. They screw into the bottom of the pole rather than slide over the end, which means you can plant your poles more precisely. If either set of tips wear out, you can purchase replacement carbide tips and rubber tips to fit these trekking poles. They are snow-basket compatible, although as of March 2019, REI does not stock the baskets; they need to be purchased through Black Diamond Equipment directly. It should be noted that these baskets are designed to make the FLZ poles more adaptable for winter-season trail runs; they are not ideal for snowshoeing.

If weight is your ultimate consideration and you don’t care about adjustability, spare yourself packing the few extra ounces and go for the Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles (which come in four fixed-length sizes). They’re identical to the Distance FLZ every way except for one: They don’t adjust in length. They have the same grips, straps, shaft design, baskets and tips. The trade-off for non-adjustability is that they weigh a few ounces less (between 11.4 ounces and 13.4 ounces depending on the size). Eliminating the top adjustable section also means that they collapse down a couple of inches shorter, folding down to 13 inches.

REI Co-op Flash Folding Trekking Poles

The Best Travel-Friendly Trekking Poles For Light Packers

  • Adjustable: No
  • Collapsed length: 14.5–18 inches
  • Locking mechanism: Push-button Lock
  • Weight (pair): 13.5–14.6 ounces
  • MSRP: $149

The travel-friendly REI Co-op Flash Folding Trekking Poles are light, stashable and incredibly easy to use. They felt dependable when we needed them for maneuvering through tricky areas, yet so featherweight we hardly even noticed we were carrying them. We missed the adjustability that you get with other poles, but we loved that they were trail-ready within seconds. And they’re among the most collapsible trekking poles available, so fitting them inside a backpack or small suitcase is no problem.

Trekking poles do not get easier to set up and take down than the REI Co-op Flash poles. As folding, fixed-length poles, they extend, lock and are ready in-hand in less than five seconds. Extending them requires that you hold the pole in one hand, and pull down on the top section of the shaft with your other hand; the internal cable pulls the sections together, and once full tension is reached, the pole locks in place with an audible “click.” Collapsing them is as easy as pushing a button. Literally. You press the button-lock to disengage the internal cable, push the top section back up into the shaft, and then fold.

There’s a hook-and-loop strap on the shaft of the pole that wraps around the collapsed sections, holding them in place for easy stowing. And since there aren’t any mechanisms on the outside of the poles, there’s nothing for the contents of your backpack to get caught up on. Even the trekking baskets are only about 1.5 inches in diameter, so they’re unlikely to snag. And the poles’ carbon-composite construction makes them very lightweight; even a pair of the heaviest REI Co-op Flash poles weighs less than 15 ounces.

We found the foam grips soft, breathable and nice to hold onto for both small and large hands. The grips also extend down the shaft about six inches, offering slight adjustability with hand positioning. The wide straps are sturdy and not too hot, but sizing them just right does take some fiddling with the little plastic wedge that locks the straps off. All in all, we loved the simplicity of these poles and think the balance of weight, comfort and durability make them a great go-to choice for almost any trekker looking for a fixed-length pole.

You can purchase rubber walking tips to fit these poles separately. The tip protectors they come with aren’t made for the trail—they’re for travel or packaging purposes only. Rubber walking tips are a good idea if you plan to hike in high-traffic, high-impact areas, or if you plan to hike on paved trails. They also double as tip protectors for travel. These trekking poles aren’t designed for snow use and there are no compatible powder baskets.

Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

The Best Trekking Poles for $100 or Less

Versions: Women’s and Unisex

  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Collapsed length: 25–27 inches
  • Locking mechanism: External Lever Lock
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 0.8 oz. – 1 lb. 1.2 oz.
  • MSRP: $99.95

For right around $100, the Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles manage to be both durable and light, without compromising comfort. What we liked most is that they’re easy to adjust and tightening the tension on the external locks is done by hand-turning a dial, so they don’t require any extra tools. And because of the three-section telescoping design, they can be adjusted to fit just about anybody.

The grips are a mixture of natural cork and rubber and feature ventilation to help cool your hands while hiking. The wrist straps are the least bulky of the bunch we tested and made of a thin moisture-wicking fabric that’s easy to adjust. To adjust, flick the top up on the pole handle, pull to loosen or tighten the strap, and then flick the top back down. Though we did find that we had to fine-tune the placement of the straps to ensure they laid flat around our hands. They’re also angled 8 degrees forward to allow for a more neutral resting position, which helped us gain forward momentum when pushing off into our next step.

Weighing about 1 pound, 1 ounce (per pair) for both the women’s and unisex versions, we found these trekking poles to be light for how durable they seemed. They felt supportive and the carbide tips planted solidly into the ground as we hiked. When extended, two external lever-locks hold the aluminum shafts in place, for the most part. One of our poles did begin to collapse on the trail, but the issue was easily remedied by turning the dial on the lock to tighten the tension. There’s no need to pack a separate tool to tighten the locks, which we found to be a major bonus.

The Leki Legacy Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles are suitable for year-round use. You can even make adjustments to the straps, locks and length with gloves on, so if you’re out in the cold, you don’t have to expose your hands. If you plan to snowshoe or splitboard, snow baskets are available for purchase separately. Rubber walking tips are also available, should you plan to use these poles on pavement or in heavy-traffic areas where you want to help protect the trail from wear and tear.

Kelty Discovery 2.0 Trekking Poles

A Good Set of Trekking Poles for Around $50

  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Collapsed length: 27 inches
  • Locking mechanism: Twist Locks
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 6 oz.
  • Anti-shock: Yes
  • MSRP: $59.95

The Kelty Discovery 2.0 Trekking Poles are not high-performance trekking poles like the others on this list, but they are a comfortable, get-the-job-done set that won’t break the bank. For someone just starting out, or a family looking for a relatively inexpensive set of poles they can all share, the Discovery 2.0 poles cost half as much as some of the other poles to make this list, and they do what they’re supposed to. They’re “an excellent value,” said one reviewer, further adding that they “make hiking safer [by providing] balance on rocky, steep and root-filled trails and also help absorb shock on downhill sections. As unisex poles, they’re suitable for most heights, and they also come with all the accessories you need for travel and four-season use.

The cork grips are fairly comfortable in hand; they’re just slightly larger in circumference and less ergonomic than the other grips we held. They also feature foam extensions on the grips, which is nice for when you need to adjust hand positioning on tricky sections of the trail. The wrist straps are padded and have a similar design to those found on some REI Co-op and Black Diamond trekking poles. They also have an..

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