camping

Tips for camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a world-renowned spot for rock climbing and one of the best places to go camping and hiking in Southern California. From the unique geological formations to the iconic Joshua Trees scattered throughout the park, there’s something for everyone in this park, no matter your interests. 

Camping in Joshua Tree may look slightly different from other National Parks, though, and the first thing you need to know is to plan ahead. Joshua Tree camping may take a bit of planning, but with a bit of extra effort, your trip with be stress-free as you experience the natural wonders of Southern California. 

To help guide you through planning a camping trip to Joshua Tree, we put together four of the top tips we have for camping in the park. 

Plan to supply water and for a lack of amenities 

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert. That means water is limited. Not all campgrounds have water. The two camping areas that do have water are Black Rock and Cottonwood. Potable water is available at the Twentynine Palms visitor center, the Indian Cove ranger station, and the southern entrance station. You can also get water in the surrounding towns. 

All of the camping within the park has access to a toilet, but not all of them having flush toilets. Do not plan for full access to a bathroom with full amenities. You should bring in all food, firewood, and water (1-2 gallons per person, per day) that you need. 

Please also note that not all camping areas have cell phone reception. 

Choose a camping location based on the activities you have planned

Joshua Tree offers a wide variety of different activities to enjoy. You can plan on doing short day hikes, rock climbing, taking geological tours, wildlife viewing, and more. With so many options, it is a good idea to plan regarding the activities you want to do while you’re visiting. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, try to pick camping near those hikes or climbs. This may enable you to walk to the trailheads or at least shorten the drive to the parking area closest. 

If you plan on equestrian camping, this is especially important because not all Joshua Tree campsites have horse stalls. Black Rock Campground and Ryan Campground are the only areas that allow visitors to keep their horses overnight. 

Joshua Tree Dirt Road

Reservations required September-May for some areas

While there are several campsites within the park, depending on the time of year you visit, you may not be able to get a spot. That’s because much of Joshua Tree camping is first-come-first-serve. However, during the busy season (September-May), some of the campsites are reservation only. Five campsites require reservations part of the year: 

Black Rock Campground
Number of sites: 99
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: High concentration of Joshua Trees
Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire grates, dump station, phone reception
Other information: 20 horse-stall sites

Cottonwood Campground
Number of sites: 62 (3 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: ideal for stargazing, hiking the Lost Palms Oasis and Cottonwood Springs
Amenities: dump station, water, flush toilets, fire grates
Other information: remote and usually the last campground to be filled

Indian Cove Campground
Number of sites: 101 (13 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: climbing and Wonderland of Rocks
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling, fire grates
Other information: water available 3 miles away at small ranger station

Jumbo Rocks Campground
Number of sites: 124
Fee per night: $20
Attractions: Skull Rock and other popular rock outcroppings
Amenities: dump station, vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: central park location

Ryan Campground 
Number of sites: 31
Fee per night: $20 ($5 for bicycles)
Attractions: hiking and climbing options nearby
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: 4 horse stall campsites, 5 bicycle campsites 

First-come-first-serve camping areas

The three camping areas that are strictly first-come-first-serve tend to have fewer sites, are less expensive, but they fill up much faster, especially on holiday weekends. 

Belle Campground
Number of sites: 18
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: closet to climbing routes at Castle Rock
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: great area for stargazing 

Hidden Valley Campground 
Number of sites: 44
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: hiking including Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Keys View
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: campsites dispersed among rock outcroppings, near visitor center

White Tank Campground 
Number of sites: 15
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: Arch Rock interpretive trail (good area for kids)
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: One of the last areas filled, good for stargazing 

Other camping options in Joshua Tree

If you are traveling with a group, some of the main campgrounds do have a few group sites, but they may fill up fast. There is one campground just for groups. Additionally, if you would like a more remote experience in the park, you can check out some of the backcountry camping. 

Sheep Pass Group Campground
Number of sites: 6
Fee per night: $50
Attractions: near Saddle Rocks and climbing crags
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: tent only, reservations required 

Twin Tanks Backcountry Camping
Number of sites: 25
Fee per night: no fee, but backcountry permit required 
Attractions: solitude, wildlife viewing, and coyote melons
Amenities: none 
Other information: Register your vehicle when you get your permit

Joshua Tree National Park black and white photo

Frequently asked questions about Joshua Tree camping

What’s the best time of year to visit Joshua Tree?
September through May is the best time to visit the park, but it is also the busiest time of year, which is why reservations are required for some camping areas. Summer months can be upwards of 100 degrees, making it dangerous for outdoor activities. 

Are there any free or boondocking campsites near Joshua Tree?
Yes, there is some BLM land located outside the park. 

Can I bring my dog to Joshua Tree?
Yes, but they are not allowed in all hiking areas. 

Wrapping things up

We hope that this info helps you plan a safe and fun adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. Now check out this video of 17 things to do in Joshua Tree.

5 National Parks to Visit this Winter

National Parks are a wonder any time of the year, but some are even better suited during the winter months. We picked out 5 of our favorite National Parks to visit in the wintertime. Whether you’re an avid cross country skier or you want to find a place warm enough to hike and swim, there will be a National Park that fit your winter adventure needs. 

Are you looking for a few other parks to visit? Check out these five must-see State Parks.

5 National Parks to Visit This Winter

All parks are subject to closures and limited access due to winter weather conditions and COVID-19 precautions. Please check for updates on National Park websites before planning your visit. 

1.   Big Bend National Park 

Instagram: @bigbendnps

Location: Texas

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking or Camping

The winter is the best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park in Texas, making it the busiest time of year as well. Spring and Fall can also be great times to head into the park, but high Summer temperatures make it dangerous to hike and camp.

Big Bend is widely known for its camping, hiking, and backcountry backpacking. No matter your skill level or desire for adventure, there will be a trail that you and your family can enjoy. Most winter nights, even during the coldest months, will reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it perfect for gathering around a cozy campfire and using a bluetooth speaker to sing along to campfire tunes.

If hiking isn’t your favorite activity, Big Bend also offers a wide variety of educational Ranger programs, a few scenic drives, and a must-see Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Learn more on the Big Bend National Park website.

2. Dry Tortugas National Park 

Location: Florida

Best Time to Visit: November – April 

Winter Temperatures: 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Bird Watching or Scuba Diving

The Dry Tortugas are just off the coast of Key West Florida, and it is a stunning location for any water lover to visit. From snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming, there is much to be explored in Dry Tortugas National Park. 

While the park can be visited at any time of year, it is essential to note the activities you would most like to participate in will vary from winter to summer. The Dry Tortugas essentially has two seasons: winter and summer. The winter is known for sporadic cold fronts, high winds, and choppy waters. This makes it more challenging to view ocean wildlife when snorkeling and can be unsafe for inexperienced boaters. 

However, the wintertime is the best time of year for bird watchers and tourists looking for fewer crowds. High winds tend to be more consistent from October to January, so if you’re looking for fewer people and still want to enjoy some snorkeling, February may be the best option. 

Be sure to plan your trip to the Dry Tortugas well in advance, as it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. 

Learn more on the Dry Tortugas National Park website.

3. Saguaro National Park 

Location: Arizona

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking 

Located in southern Arizona near Tuscon, Saguaro National Park is a wonderland for nature and hiking enthusiasts to enjoy. Like much of southern Arizona, the winter is the best and busiest time to enjoy outdoor activities. Saguaro National Park is well known for its hiking, and of course, the density of Saguaro cacti spread around the park and surrounding areas. 

Beyond incredible desert vistas while hiking or backpacking and the diverse flora and fauna, visitors can also enjoy the natural history by visiting area petroglyphs. 

If you’d like to camp in the park, make reservations early as camping spots fill up fast. You can make reservations as early as two months in advance. Be advised that hours and accessibility may differ due to COVID-19. 

Finally, a must mention for any trip in the Arizona desert is to take some time to view the sunset. Although sunsets are spectacular in most outdoor spaces, the sunsets seem richer due to the landscape’s natural warm coloring.

Learn more on the Saguaro National Park website.

4. Bryce Canyon National Park 

Instagram: @brycecanyonnps_gov

Location: Utah

Best Time to Visit: May – September

Winter Temperatures: 10-40 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Snowshoeing or Cross-country Skiing 

Although the winter is not deemed the “best” time of year to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, there is plenty to do for winter adventurers. If you are a lover of all things snowshoeing and cross country skiing, Bryce Canyon is a must-see park to put on your list. 

The winter is the least traveled by humans in the park, making it optimal for wildlife viewing and stunning nature photography. If you plan a visit to the park, don’t fret that daylight hours are shorter either, because the night skies in Bryce are an unforgettable sight. Study up on your winter constellations before you come, and enjoy a snowy night hike amongst the stars. 

Learn more on the Bryce Canyon National Park website.

5. Acadia National Park 

Location: Maine

Best Time to Visit: August – October

Winter Temperatures: 10-35 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Cross-Country Skiing 

The last park on our list is a bit further north in Maine. Acadia National Park is well known for its Fall colors, making Autumn the most popular season to visit. Still, if cross country skiing is a favorite activity of yours, then this is one of the best places to go this winter. 

Acadia’s backcountry ski trails are hard to beat since there are around 45 miles of groomed trails. Beyond that, you are also allowed to ski on unplowed park roads. Be warned that snowmobiles can also use the roads for travel though. 

Acadia National Park is also a stunning place to go for a winter hike or an afternoon snowshoe. 

Learn more on the Acadia National Park website.

Best Hobbies to Pick Up During the Pandemic

These are challenging times for everyone. It helps to have a hobby to occupy your mind and your time. The situation going on around us is unprecedented, but it’s full of opportunities if you know where to look. Rather than sitting around the house feeling bored, lonely, and worried, why not pick up a hobby? You can enrich your mind and entertain yourself, as well as your family. All you have to do is select the right activity for you. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Binge-Watch Your Faves

You might be stuck inside, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. During times like these, sometimes you need to do something soothing that will not only take your mind off of what’s happening, but will also numb you a bit and take you out of the situation. For that reason, binge-watching movies and TV shows might be your best bet. You can turn it into something fun, even something that has a purpose. For example, this is your opportunity to catch up on all the shows you always wanted to watch but never had time to enjoy. You could also sit down to watch an entire movie series, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or all of the Marvel movies—in order. To make it more enjoyable, consider Facetiming or Zooming with a group of friends while you watch.

Pick Up a Book

Speaking of immersing yourself in different worlds, all you need is a book to transport yourself to a faraway place. At the very least, you can get lost in a world where the pandemic isn’t happening. It’s hard for busy adults to find time to read even when they enjoy doing so. Right now, you have no excuses and no other commitments. You’re stuck at home, so there’s no reason not to pick up a book that you’ve been dying to read. Then again, why not reread your old favorites? Books and stories are comforting, and comfort is exactly what we all need right now.

Bust Out the Crayons

Soothing activities are unquestionably some of the best hobbies to start right now. Plenty of adults have embraced some of their childhood favorites because those activities give them a sense of calm and help them to believe that everything genuinely will be okay. Whether you want to color with crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors, take a look at some adult coloring books to see what strikes your fancy. In addition to funny adult coloring books with risqué pictures and naughty words, you can also pick out books with intricate designs and breathtaking scenes.

Get to the Kitchen

Throughout the course of the pandemic, people have understandably been cooking at home more often. Many restaurants are open for delivery, takeout, and social distanced seating, but with the economy the way it is and with growing numbers of furloughs and layoffs, cooking at home is often the more practical choice. Why not turn it into an adventure? Try your hand at gourmet meals that you’ve never attempted. Experiment with baking, chocolate, or pastries. You never know, your true talents may lie in the kitchen.

Stay Active

You may be wary of going to the gym, if they’re even open in your area. That’s entirely understandable. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy physical activities. Turn your home into a gym. There’s a wide world of videos and tutorials out there that can show you exactly what to do using basic equipment. You don’t need to spend a fortune to work out at home. Simply going for a local hike or doing yoga in the backyard is excellent for your mental and physical health. You can also opt to go for a run, but don’t forget your earbuds to entertain yourself while you’re on the go.

Choose a Craft

Are you into arts and crafts? Maybe it’s time to start crafting. There are all sorts of hobbies to learn. For instance, have you ever considered crocheting or knitting? You can order the supplies, have them sent to your home, and look up video tutorials to get started. The same goes for painting, felting, jewelry making, or woodworking. Just think about an artsy hobby that you’ve always wanted to try and jump right into it.

Turn Your Thumbs Green

Have you ever considered gardening? It’s a calming activity, it serves a practical purpose, and it gives you the chance to nurture something and watch it grow. It may not be the right season for gardening where you are, but that’s okay. You can set up an indoor garden, instead. Consider creating a container garden in your sunroom or treat yourself to an herb garden starter kit. You can grow herbs right in your kitchen. Not only are they beautiful and fragrant, but they can elevate all of your cooking endeavors, as well.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of hobbies. You may decide that it’s the perfect time for a few DIY home improvements. Learning a new language may be right up your alley. What hobby interests you the most?


5 Lesser-Traveled Spots to Check Out That Are COVID Friendly

The COVID-19 pandemic has been excellent for outdoors lovers. Bars are closed. Conventions and amusement parks are widely considered bad ideas. What’s left for simple recreation is getting outside to camp, hike, backpack, and otherwise enjoy nature and all its myriad attractions. 

However, many of our favorite outdoor locations have become crowded by groups who usually would have gone to Disneyland or stayed closer to home, sampling the local pubs and restaurants. This not only makes these destinations less enjoyable for a diehard outdoors lover, but it also makes them dangerous. A crowded campground can be just as hazardous as an overpopulated beach, from a disease vector standpoint.

Until there’s a vaccine, good sense and a spirit of adventure both dictate that we go to the lesser-known spots. Here are a few great ones from different parts of the country.

1. Pacific Northwest: Toad Lake Campground

This small patch of camping bliss is 12 miles west of I-5 near Mount Shasta. It’s one of the hike-in-only locations on the Pacific Crest Trail, a strong deterrent for casual campers. You can take your pick of developed sites with park benches and nearby toilets or hike the extra few miles for a back-country or primitive space. The farther you go, the more separated you’ll be from the crowds.

Its eponymous lake covers 23 acres surrounded by hilly forest. The shores vary from thick woods to rocky outcroppings to meadows. Boats are not permitted, making it great for fishing and swimming. There’s not much going on besides the beautiful, off-the-beaten-path nature, but that’s all we need. It might even be the perfect spot to bring out your Waterproof Speaker and lounge around for a bit.

Toad Lake Campground is open all year. Camping sites are first-come, first-served.

How to Get There

Turn onto exit 738 from I-5 near Mount Shasta, heading west. Follow Route 26/Barr Rd and turn off at the Toad Lake sign. Follow the winding road to the parking lot, then hike in following the marked trail.

2. Southwest: South Ruby Campground

A fishing and boating paradise located in the Ruby Valley National Wildlife Refuge, this campground is rarely close to as crowded as its location and amenities would suggest. It sits at 6,000 feet elevation around the coast of Ruby Lake in Nevada. Despite being a classic high desert location, its lake and marshlands attract stopover species from all around, making it one of the best bird and wildlife watching locations in the area.

The campground is located among pinyon pine and juniper, offering a shady place to pitch your tent in one of 35 sites, including one double spot and one wheelchair-accessible site. All sites have picnic tables and campfire rings, with vault toilets and running water available nearby. Besides being out of the way, the campground’s structure runs screens of trees between sites, making social distancing (and privacy) easy.

Unlike many of the out-of-the-way camping opportunities on this list, South Ruby allows boating, ATV riding, and off-road vehicles.

South Ruby Campground is open May through September, with exact dates announced one year ahead of time. You can book sites up to six months in advance.

How to Get There

Turn south off I-80 onto Route 227 near Elko. Turn right onto Route 228 and follow it past Jiggs. As the highway begins to turn north in a wide dogleg, turn right onto Ruby Valley Road and take it to the campground. If 228 turns into 767, you’ve gone too far.

3. Southeast: Linville Gorge

“The Grand Canyon of the East” is a rugged river valley in Burke County, North Carolina. The land is so steep and rough it was never harvested for timber, leaving much of it as pristine, old-growth forest rare on that side of the Mississippi River. The designated National Wilderness Area covers 12,000 acres deep forest, offering multiple rare plant species and excellent wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. The Linville River cuts a meandering path through granite walls, creating stunning falls, steep gorges, and multiple deep coves for swimming and fishing.

Trails here are not well-maintained or even clearly marked, but they offer unique, spectacular vistas to experienced hikers. Camping (with permits) is available both in established, primitive campsites and simple backwoods spaces. Motor travel is not permitted, and cellular reception is spotty. This is wilderness camping, so come prepared.

The Linville Gorge wilderness is open year-round.

How to Get There

You can access this large patch of wilderness from multiple locations, including simple roadside trailheads and a few logging roads kept open during the summer months. Aim your GPS for Spruce Pine, North Carolina. or Lenoir, North Carolina, and set off from there. Local guides can tell you what’s best and what’s least crowded at any particular time.

4. Great Plains: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Another sizable protected area, Wichita Mountain Wilderness contains Fawn Creek Campgrounds and Doris Campground. It covers more than 59,000 acres of scrubland containing rough hills, plains, and waterways. It’s one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the United States and home to roaming herds of bison and longhorns. Locals and road trippers visit for camping near the Visitor’s Center, but the hiking trails and boating opportunities go deep into the Refuge.

Camping opportunities are more strictly regimented here than in many other areas. Doris Campground offers hookups for RVs and pop-up tent vehicles (tents are currently prohibited). Fawn Creek Campground is reserved for organized youth groups. Everybody else is invited to enjoy backcountry camping, which is likely what you wanted anyway if you’re reading this article. All three options are by permit only, available up to three months in advance.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is open all year, though some facilities shut down or curtail operations during winter.

How to Get There

Drive west out of Lawton on Highway 62. At Cache, turn right onto 115 and enter the area Refuge near Doris Campground. For faster access to the Visitor’s Center, continue on 62 and turn right on Route 54. Turn right onto Hwy 49, which leads you straight into the Refuge and to the Visitor’s Center.

5. New England: Cutler Coast

This area is also known as the Bold Coast, and it offers some of the most extended tracts of undeveloped coastline along the East Coast. Activity here is centered on trail hiking, including the famed Caribou Loop and Black Point Brook Loop. You can access most camping by car, but some of the best views, hiking, and wildlife viewing are only available to those willing to reach them on foot (or by paddling).

The entire area is dotted with primitive camping opportunities, all first-come, first-served. The main areas include Fairy Beach, Machias River Corridor, Donnell Pond, and Stave Island. Bear in mind that hiking is often strenuous and consists of some hazardous conditions. This getaway is not recommended for families with small children or novice hikers, making it an excellent choice for experienced outdoors lovers looking to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cutler Coast is open year-round, but the hazards increase and the foliage decreases as soon as the snow starts to fall.

How to Get There

Follow 191 northeast out of Cutler (accessible via 191 by driving south, then east out of East Machias). You’ll find multiple turn-offs and opportunities on your right as you go.

Final Thoughts

Visiting these out-of-the-way spaces is no guarantee you’ll be alone or at no risk of COVID-19 exposure. Be sure to include hand sanitizer, face masks, medical gloves, and similar items in your packing kit. For the time being, they’re as important as your cooking supplies and first aid gear.

John Bradley lives with his family of six in Oregon. They hiked and completed a big trip across the country in an RV during COVID-19.

Hiking Or Camping? Here’s How to Spot Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Spending time outdoors is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health — especially right now. And if you’re looking for something invigorating to distract you from the pandemic, hiking or camping should probably be on your list.

Of course, you do need to take precautions when you participate in these outdoor activities. Although going outside can be one of the safest options right now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be hazards waiting for you. Many of those hazards occur naturally, so you’ll want to be mindful whenever you’re walking through wildlife. If you keep an eye out, you might even find a Mossy Oak Buckshot Pro hiding in the bushes.

As we move from summer to fall, you’ll still need to be aware of the animals and plants that can cause harm. Poison ivy and poison oak are among these dangers. It’ll behoove you to learn exactly what these plants look like so you can avoid them on the trail. That way, nothing can ruin your trip.

Poison Ivy Vs. Poison Oak: How to Tell the Difference

Both poison ivy and poison oak can cause allergic reactions (which typically show up in the form of a bodily rash) due to the urushiol they contain. In fact, 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy. Both plants are characterized by their lack of thorns and their three-leaf clusters. (If you’ve ever heard the expression, “leaves of three, let them be,” you’ll already be familiar with this aspect of their physical appearance). They also grow as either a vine or a bush, have red berries and white flowers, and come in a variety of sizes. They also tend to turn red in color during the fall.

However, poison ivy and poison oak also have some key differences that can help you know which plants to avoid. Poison ivy often grows close to the ground and has vines or stems that are fuzzy in appearance. Its leaves are almond-shaped and may look shiny. Poison oak has leaves that are a bit more rounded and “hairy.” They really do look similar to oak leaves. 

Avoiding and Treating Poison Ivy or Poison Oak

Knowing how to differentiate between poison ivy and poison oak can allow you to avoid making contact with these hazardous plants. But you may not always be able to rely on your quick reactions to keep you safe. When hiking, camping, or spending time in nature, you should consider wearing protective clothing to cover your skin. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts should be worn to provide a barrier between your bare skin and any plants you might brush up against.

But since reactions to poison ivy and poison oak aren’t immediate, you might realize too late that you’ve unknowingly touched them. You should first wash all exposed areas of your skin (or the affected area, if a rash has started to form) with soap and cool water. You can use cool compresses, calamine lotion, or antihistamines to treat the symptoms. Be sure to seek medical care if the rash becomes increasingly uncomfortable or if it’s accompanied by blisters, swelling, fever, or difficulty breathing. In most cases, however, the rash will eventually dissipate on its own within a couple of weeks.

Now that you know all about poison ivy and poison oak, you can hike or camp with confidence.

Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Hiking

Going out for a hike can span the time of a few hours, an entire day, or even days, weeks, and months. While hiking and backpacking are two different disciplines to prepare for, they do have many similarities. Getting off crowded metropolitan hikes and popular AllTrails picks can be both scary and extremely rewarding. Venturing into the backcountry should be built up to and takes a bit more planning than hikes you may be used to. 

As a beginner’s guide to backcountry hiking, we will be focusing specifically on hikes that can be completed in one day and require no overnights on the trail. Our goal is to give you the knowledge and reference points you need to feel confident, safe, and prepared on your upcoming backcountry hike. 

Take a Hike

Have Proper Hiking Equipment

Since you are only planning for a day hike, you will not need too much in the way of gear. While it may not seem like you need all of these things, keep in mind that you will be miles away from any roads and even further from any cities. You may not even have cell phone service for the majority of the day. So, you will need to be prepared and bring the necessary supplies. 

The most important things to bring with you when you are hiking in the backcountry include: 

  • Lightweight Daypack → If you don’t already have one, you will want to invest in a daypack that is intended for hiking. These packs are designed to be comfortable and have easy access compartments for organization of supplies. Many daypacks also come equipped with a hydration system. 
  • Hydration System and Snacks → Water is of the most essential things you will need in the backcountry. Water will also be the heaviest thing you carry, but that doesn’t mean to skimp out. Bring more than you think you need the first time you head into the backcountry. Don’t forget to pack a few trail snacks and maybe lunch if it is a long hike. 
  • Reliable Hiking Boots → The style of hiking shoes you wear will be up to you. Some hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes, while others like to have the classic ankle support high tops. Just be sure that your hiking shoes are broken in properly and have little chance of giving you blisters. Comfortable footwear is the key to an enjoyable hike! 
  • Map of Area, Guidebook, or GPS → Most hiking areas will have hard copies of maps and guidebooks, but you can also opt to download maps onto your phone. Better yet, you can take a backcountry GPS with you. If you go the digital route, keep in mind that your battery will not last forever. So, if you download maps on your phone, consider bringing a portable power bank as well. 
  • First Aid Kit → You may think that this is an unnecessary weight to carry, but better safe than sorry in the backcountry. This kit doesn’t need to be extreme, but it is good to have a few standard first aid supplies in case of an emergency on the trail. 

It can be tempting to kind of skimp on your first round of hiking gear and buy the cheapest options. While a limited budget may be a factor here, consider purchasing higher quality gear second hand or scoping out some discounts at retailers like REI to get higher quality, longer-lasting gear at a lower cost. 

Do Area Trail Research

Make sure you take time to get to know the area before you wander into the woods to get lost! This can be done in a variety of ways. You can go to old school techniques and talk to people from the area that may know the trail systems well. This can also include consulting park rangers and BLM land managers. Oftentimes, this is the most reliable way to go about things, because they will have access to the most recent trail conditions. 

Another common way of researching backcountry trails is to check out websites like All Trails, Hiking Project, and Summit Post. AllTrails can be especially helpful as you can download the app on your phone to have access to downloaded area maps when you’re hiking. 

If those maps aren’t detailed enough, you should invest in a digital or hard copy topographic map of the area. You can find these online and at many outdoor retail stores. 

Beyond knowing where you are going, you should be researching the area’s climate, wildlife, and plants. Look into the weather ahead of time to be sure that you pack accordingly. If you are hiking in a mountainous area, check for afternoon storms. Being aware of area wildlife and plant life will let you know if there are any dangerous animals or poisonous plants to avoid.

Prepare Physically for the Hike

If you are an avid hiker on familiar city trails or low key hiking trails close to town, then you are likely already in relatively good physical condition. Part of researching the area you will be hiking will include knowing the terrain to expect. 

If you are going to be hiking in a notoriously hilly area or a drastically different altitude than you are accustomed to, then you should prepare before attempting the hike. While you may be mentally ready, not being physically fit in the backcountry can be a serious danger. 

As you ramp up to your first backcountry hike, try to fit extra cardio and hiking time into your schedule. Get your legs ready at the gym by utilizing the stair stepper and doing squats. Building up your stamina and strength, will make a difference in safety, as well as how much you enjoy the hike overall. 

Leave No Trace

As you go out into the wilderness to enjoy the solitude and beauty, remember that we are sharing this Earth with other living plants and animals as well. One of the most important things you can take away from this article is to learn the Leave No Trace principles. Keep our wild places wild as we protect our outdoor spaces together!