How to find hiking partners and hiking challenges to help build your hiking skills
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Do you have any big hiking goals for the new year? Whether you want to summit your first mountain or just want to get your kids outdoors more, having a supportive group of hikers will help get you there.
Finding a hiking tribe can be a challenge, especially if you don’t live in an outdoorsy area or have any outdoorsy friends. Luckily, hikers are generally a welcome and friendly bunch. The hiking community is also well connected so once you start making friends it will be easy to meet other outdoorsy folks.
This guide will help you find a community of hikers to help support your hiking goals and level-up your hiking skills. There are so many groups out there that you’re guaranteed to find some like-minded companions, even if you’re looking for a super-specific niche, like a hiking group for beginners or a hiking club for seniors.
How to Build Hiking Skills
Hiking has a low barrier to entry. Despite what’s shown in the REI catalog or what outdoor bloggers say, you don’t need a fancy backpack, technical clothing, or the latest hiking boots. An old backpack filled with water, snacks, and basic essentials; a pair or athletic shoes with good tread; and some comfortable clothes are all you need for a day hike.
But, before you start hiking with strangers you do need to learn some essential skills. Learning a few basic skills can help keep you safe on the trail and increase your confidence.
You should arrive at every hike with a backpack loaded with the 10 essentials. You should also make an emergency plan, or at the very least tell a friend or family member where you’re hiking, who you’re hiking with, and when you expect to be back.
Too often accidents happen when people get separated from their group. It’s easy to become complacent and go with the flow on a group hike– before you know it you have no idea where you are or how to get back to the car!. Even on a group hike, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
You should learn how to read a map and feel confident navigating trails. Before the hike begins, ask the hiking leader to show you the planned route on the map, and then mark it! That way you’ll know where to look for the group if you get separated, or at the very least be able to navigate back to the parking area.
You can practice basic navigation skills by navigating with a map around your neighborhood, or if you want to take your skills to the next level and learn how to read a topographic map check out this post.
Organizations like the Sierra Club and outdoor outfitters and stores like REI offer classes to help you build your hiking skills. Many of these classes are free or low cost. And they can be a great way to meet some future hiking buddies.
Many states have their own Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program. BOW is a non-profit educational program offering hands on workshops to adult women. The workshops cover a variety of outdoor pursuits including hiking, camping, orienteering, backpacking, hunting, fishing, kayaking. These affordable workshops are open to women of all ages and experience level. Check this list to see if your state participates in the BOW program.
Finding Hiking Groups and Outdoor Clubs
Hiking with a stranger can be intimidating, especially if you’re an introvert like me. I look for smaller groups and women-specific meetups to help curb my introvert anxieties. Once you find a group that you like, continue to attend events to create a network of hiking friends. You’ll soon have a list of hiking friends and will never have to hike alone, unless you want to!
Below are 16 hiking groups with chapters across the United States. I’ve organized the list by specialty so you can find a group that fits your style.
Finding a group of hiking friends or a fun challenge to participate in can take your hiking to the next level.
Co-ed Hiking Groups
REI Hiking and Camping Events
From in-store info sessions to organized multi-day trips you can find an active community of hikers at your local REI store. These events range in price, and many are free, but they do fill-up quickly. If you want to meet some folks at an REI event you better RSVP quickly!
There are thousands of hiking groups on Meetup. The beauty of Meetup is also its downfall. Anyone can start a Meetup group and organize hikes. This means that you can find both general hiking clubs and small, specialized groups. Since anyone can lead a group the group policies and the leader’s qualifications vary drastically. Meetup groups get a lot of flak because some communities aren’t always respectful of the environment. Large meetups can sometimes have over 50 attendees, and with that many people it is difficult for the organizer to enforce leave no trace principles or even share the trail with other hikers. Meetup organizers aren’t always trained in Wilderness First Aid, or backcountry travel. Since you’re an awesome navigator (you read the tips in the section above, right?) you can get yourself out of any situation that may make you uncomfortable. Find a Meetup group near you on their website.
Down to Meet
Similar to Meetup, Down to Meet is an online platform that allows organizers to create their own groups. The platform is smaller, but I’ve included it here because a lot of established Meetup groups are now found on Down to Meet.
The Sierra Club offers both co-ed and women-specific hikes and backpacking trips. The Sierra Club has chapters across the country and each chapter offers different things. Check the calendar for your local chapter to see a list of current events and sign up to learn more about future trips. The Sierra Club trains all the guides who lead hikes and group trips, and prioritize safety on their hikes. You can find a list of all the Sierra Club chapters on their website.
Hike It Baby
This national organization is a co-ed hiking group that connects families with babies and young children to the outdoors and each other. The hikes are organized and led by volunteer ambassadors. The group also has an active Facebook group and is a great resource if you have any questions about hiking with young children. Learn more about their family hikes on their website.
Hiking Groups for Women
Women Who Hike
Women Who Hike is a worldwide organization that empowers women on and off the trail. They have Facebook groups and volunteer ambassadors that lead hikes in all 50 states. Through their Facebook groups you can find a group hike to join, or connect with other women for unofficial hikes or hiking trips. If you’re not on Facebook you can become a member (membership costs $16). Women Who Hike members receive a patch and a sticker and receive notices for all group hikes and events via email.
Girls Who Hike
Girls Who Hike is a Facebook community with chapters in every state. It’s a community of like-minded women who can connect, network, and discover together through local trails. All events are posted through private Facebook groups and the official hiking events are organized by volunteer ambassadors.
Hiking Group for Minorities
The vision for Latino Outdoors is to create “a world where all Latino communities enjoy nature as a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place. A world where the outdoors is a place to share and celebrate stories, knowledge, and culture, while growing leadership and an active community of Latino outdoor users, mentors, and stewards.” The hikes and outings are led by a dedicated group of volunteers. You can learn about future hikes and events on their website and on their Facebook page.
Outdoor Afro is where black people and nature meet. This national non-profit is growing each year. It currently has 80 leaders across 30 states, and the group hiking and camping events celebrate and inspire African American connections and leadership in nature. Check out their website to find a community near you.
Outdoor Clubs for Hikers Who Like to Volunteer
If giving back is your thing check out your local regional parks, state parks, and local land trusts and environmental non-profit organizations. Many of these organizations have an events calendar with group hikes and volunteer days. Volunteering to do trail maintenance and restoration work is a great way to meet outdoorsy folks while giving back and supporting your local open spaces.
Below I’ve included some groups that support long trails that cross state lines.
Continental Divide Trail Coalition
The Continental Divide Trail runs 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada and passes through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. The Continental Divide Trail Coalition is a volunteer-based organization that organizes trail maintenance projects that range in length from 1 day to 5 days. Their website lists all of their volunteer needs.
Pacific Crest Trail Association
Since 1977, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has protected, maintained, and advocated for the 2,650 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT stretches from Mexico to Canada and runs through California, Oregon, and Washington. In my humble opinion the PCT has some of the most beautiful and well-maintained trails in California, and I’m sure that’s thanks to the efforts of the PCTA volunteer trail crews. Check out their website to learn more about their volunteer efforts.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is the world’s longest hiking-only path. It is 2,185 miles long and it passes through 14 states as it runs from Georgia to Maine. The AT is actually part of the National Park System, but it is managed under a unique partnership between the public and private sectors led by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. They help keep the trail in tip-top shape for the 3 million visitors and 3,000 thru-hikers. Check out all of their events and volunteer opportunities.
American Discovery Trail
The American Discovery Trail is a new breed of national trail; the 6800 miles of continuous, multi-use trail stretches from Delaware to California. It cuts across the U.S. and runs through 16 states (California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah and West Virginia). Volunteer state coordinators for each state help organize volunteer event and trail maintenance. See the full list of coordinators on their website.
Friends of the Ouachita Trail
The Ouachita National Recreational Trail is a 223-mile long hiking-only trail through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Friends of the Ouachita Trail is an all-volunteer force dedicated to the trail and its uses. They need volunteers to adopt a section of the trail or join trail maintenance work parties. Check out their website to volunteer.
North Country Trail Association
The North Country Trail is the longest National Scenic Trail. It stretches 4,600 miles over eight states. As the trail cuts west to east it traverses through a National Grassland, 10 National Forests, more than 150 federal, state, and local public lands, and through the famed Adirondacks. The trail currently runs through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, but it is growing and trail extensions through Vermont are in the works. North Country Trail Association is always looking for volunteers to help with trail maintenance, lead hikes, or help with development efforts. Fill out the volunteer interest form on their website to learn more.
Appalachian Mountain Club
The Appalachian Mountain Club was founded in 1876 to promote the protection, enjoyment and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The group has chapters from Maine to Washington D.C., including groups in many large cities in the northeast. The group offers outings, events, volunteer opportunities, and of course their famous lodges and campsites. Check their website to learn more about their volunteer positions.
Participating in a hiking challenge can be a fun way to accomplish your hiking goals. There is often a lot of community around these challenges and you can meet people online who share a common goal.
Many regional parks and organizations host hiking challenges. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area my favorite hiking challenge is the East Bay Park’s Trails Challenge . The park provides detailed trail guides and maps to take the pain out of planning. (Sometimes deciding where to hike can be a challenge in itself, am I right?) Check out my post for other Bay Area hiking challenges that make planning hikes easy.
Hiking challenges aren’t limited to the Bay Area. Many regional parks and trails throughout the U.S. organize their own challenges. The North County Trail has a Hike 100 challenge, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a Four Thousand Footer Club challenge, and the Carolina Mountain Club has a Waterfall Challenge. Check out the local parks in your area to see if they host a challenge. Who knows, you might inspire them to create a challenge if they don’t already have one!
Below are three popular hiking challenges that you can participate in, no matter where you live.
National Hiking Challenges
Set Your Own Goals Hiking Challenge
The Ultimate Hiking Challenge lets you set your own hiking goals. You set a personal hiking goal from 100 miles to 1,000 miles a year, and they send you support materials! It’s free to register and download a tracking grid. The challenge organizers changing things up each year so you can check out their site for more details.
52 Hike Challenge
One of the most well-known hiking challenges, the 52 Hike Challenge has six challenges to choose from. Most people participate in the original challenge to hike one trail each week. It’s free to sign up, but if you want some motivational challenge swag you’ll need to pay. If you want to take your challenge to the next level check out some of their other challenges like the National Parks Series, Pet Series, Explorer Series, or Adventure Series.
365 Mile Challenge
Want to hike one-mile each day? Then, the 365-mile challenge is for you! While other challenges often have a free component, this challenge requires participants to register and pay at least $25 before accessing the challenge materials. While I haven’t registered for the challenge myself, the progress tracking sheet shown on their website appears to be designed to track your progress each day. This is a great challenge if you are trying to make hiking a daily habit.
What are your hiking goals?
Did you set a hiking goal for the new year? Share your plans for accomplishing your goal below. If you need some inspiration for future goals, check out some of these posts:
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