Spring is a favorite time for dedicated hikers seeking solitude and natural bounty. The lingering cold and the ever-present threat of rain tend to keep fair-weathered hikers at bay, while year-round trekkers get to enjoy serene, empty trails and views speckled with vibrant wildflowers and roaring streams.
But it’s not all good news for hikers this time of year. With April showers comes May mud, not to mention slippery ledges and treacherous terrain, so preparation and foresight are always essential.
Here are some of our top spring hiking tips that will help you avoid any roadblocks — or should we say trail blocks — and enjoy the beaten path.
Keep Out: Always Obey Posted Trail Closures
One of the most important things you need to know during winter and spring hikes is that portions of trails are often closed or off-limits due to slippery and dangerous conditions.
They may also be temporarily closed to protect wildlife. For example, the National Parks Service frequently closes portions of trails in the spring to protect the habitat of mating peregrine falcons.
Check with the National Park Service before heading out to ensure that you don’t drive to the trail only to discover that it’s wholly or partially closed. The Park Service will typically post closures on its website and social media.
Stay on Track: Don’t Veer Off the Trail
A common first response is to dodge wet, muddy trails and opt to walk along less messy trail edges. But trampling the vegetation off-trail can damage the natural habitat, destroying livelihood for worms, insects, snails, and fungi.
These important ground-dwellers provide essential nourishment and fertilization to the soil that allows vegetation to flourish.
The area surrounding the hiking trail is a very carefully balanced natural habitat, and the pathway has been consciously designed for the least possible damage, so always stay on track!
Get Up Early: Hike in the Morning or Late Afternoon —
Colder air translates to harder soil, which means less mud. Keep an eye on the weather report and try to find cooler pockets of the day to get out and get some fresh air.
Often, the ground is harder and drier in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun hasn’t yet softened the soil. You may also want to stick to south-facing trails, which tend to be drier.
Gear Up: Wear Apparel for Wet Hikes
Rain is a blessing and a curse for spring hikers. With rain comes vibrant wildflowers, gushing rivers, and waterfalls at their peak — a hiker’s dream! — but it also brings slippery rocks and lots of mud.
Investing in the appropriate all-weather hiking gear is essential for year-round trekkers. Before you spend your spring on the trails, make sure you have the following items.
- High-traction, waterproof hiking boots for good grip on slick surfaces.
- A packable raincoat and poncho that you can stick in your pack just in case.
- A waterproof case or camera backpack for gear, phone, and binoculars.
- Moisture-wicking, hydrophobic apparel that keeps you warm and dry.
- A pair of trekking poles to help you gain footing on wet terrain.
- An absorbent bandana or towel so you can wipe off any moisture.
- A pair of hiking socks designed to keep feet warm and dry, even in the rain.
- A pair of gaiters to cover the tops of your shoes and shield out water and mud.
Stay Dry: Find Trails That are High and Dry
Trail selection is extra-important this time of year because, as a seasoned hiker, you know that some trails can turn into total mud baths really quickly.
If you have the option, head up to higher elevations to enjoy less mud and sludge. It’s also a fine time to make use of your park system’s paved or boardwalk paths, which tend to be much less wet and more regularly maintained by the parks.
Use AllTrails or other hiking trail directory apps to find paved trails and read reviews to discover which ones are wet or dry around the time you plan to head out.
Blaze a Trail: Bring a Light Source Along
During the spring, there tends to be extra mist and fog as well as perpetually cloudy skies that can result in low lighting conditions, even in broad daylight. We always recommend hitting the trail with some light source, such as a lightweight LED headlamp.
You may also consider stashing a bright, rechargeable flashlight in your hiking pack for more targeted and precise light along the trail. Just make sure to pick one that’s rugged and resistant to water damage.
Bring Fido: Know How to Hike with Your Dog —
For many hikers, taking the dog is just a given, but muddy trails can be a nightmare for those with canines who pull and have no concept of keeping clean. Always obey leash laws, especially this time of year when wildlife can be unpredictable.
At the same time, if you find yourself hiking down a slick, rocky pathway and your dog is pulling, it may be safer to temporarily let the leash out or unleash altogether (do not attempt if your pup is a runner).
Better yet, if you can predict slippery terrain, leave your four-legged pal at home. But don’t let a little basic mud deter you from bringing Fido — dog boots, a towel, and a car seat cover will help.
Forage: Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Valuable Fungi —
As the season of new growth, spring is also the best time of year to go scouting for edible plants and fungi, including valuable wild truffles and morels.
Before you head out on the trail, read a little bit about foraging for morels and other delicious, high-value mushrooms so that you don’t accidentally trek right past some tasty shrooms. Note that the Park Service probably has regulations surrounding foraging.
The National Park Service allows a small number of edible mushrooms to be collected for personal use (one gallon per person per day for morels), but state parks and other public lands likely have their own rules, so check first!
Spring is undoubtedly one of the best and most fruitful times to hit the trails, but it also brings some unpredictable weather and tough terrain.
As long as you prepare ahead of time and have the right gear, you’ll be a seasoned all-season hiker in no time!