Planning Your Hikes & Goal Setting For Your 52 Hike Challenge

Photo courtesy @freerangemandi

Are you just starting your #52HikeChallenge and need a little help finding trails and/ or planning your hikes?

Planning your hikes may seem challenging when you first begin the 52 Hike Challenge.

Since you’re going to be getting outside a lot, we would like to guide you through how to plan your hikes and set goals to help you succeed on your 52 Hike Challenge journey.

A huge thanks to the 52 Hike Challenge community members that chimed in to help us with this information gathering!

First, you will need to research local hikes in your area. 

Tips For Finding Trails & Planning Hikes

There are many ways to find trails:

  • Search online and look up local hiking podcasts, blogs, and websites. For example, Washington Trails Association and 
  • Online Search: “Hiking trails in _______(your city),” etc.
  • Find books on local hikes at your local bookstore like Jerry Schad and Scott Turner’s “Afoot & Afield San Diego County: 281 Spectacular Outings Along the Coast, Foothills, Mountains, and Desert.”
  • Ask employees at your local REI or outdoor retailer. 
  • Ask your friends for recommendations. 
  • Join your local 52 Hike Challenge Facebook Chapter and see where challengers are going.
  • Join a hiking meetup, local hiking group, or gather friends and family for an excursion.
  • You can also lookup hikes on Yelp, Google Earth, etc. 
  • Visit your local parks: Regional, State, National, etc. 
  • Look on Instagram by following other hikers, state parks, organizations like @zionnps. Search hashtags, for example #hikingmassachusetts, #52hikechallenge, etc.
  • Review visitor websites, guides, and pamphlets for the location where you will be hiking.
  • Download an app like AllTrails or Hiking Project.

How To Use The AllTrails App & Why We Love It

One of our favorite ways to find hikes is through the AllTrails app.

This is a great resource that contains tons of hikes in your local neighborhood. One of the features of AllTrails is that you can get directions to the trailhead. The GPS will work as long as you have reception, and it will show you when you are on or off the trail.

We recommend upgrading to the Pro version though because is it allows you to download maps for use when you're offline, which is literally a lifesaver to help you from getting lost. You can also record your tracks so that you can always find your way back to the car. 

Check out our video tutorial on using AllTrails here

Our friends at AllTrails have also hooked us up with an exclusive list of the top 52 trails in all 50 U.S. states. Download the excel sheet here! 

No more researching for hours to find a good trail with this list and their app containing all the information you need to get going quickly. Just be sure to download the maps while you still have cell phone reception.

Lastly, we recommend downloading the app and playing with it before you get on the trail, so you understand how to use it. Learn more here: (P.S. When you upgrade and purchase our current limited-edition finisher medal you get a 33% off AllTrails Pro coupon.)

Note: Medal design changes each year

Pre-Hike Planning: What To Know Before You Go

Now that you’ve found your trail, it's time to learn as much as you can about that trail.

First, check the length, difficulty, elevation gain*, and popularity of a hike.

*Elevation gain refers to the steepness of a hike or how much you are climbing.

When you are first starting out, we recommend you stick to 2-mile hikes with little elevation gain; no more than 500 feet. You can work your way up as you get more and more comfortable.

Photo courtesy @freerangemandi

A few more helpful hike planning tips:

  • We highly recommend you stick to maintained trails.
  • You may want to research the parking and costs, etc.
  • Look up weather conditions (VERY IMPORTANT!).
  • Understand risks: animals, flora and fauna you will come across. You can learn some of this by reading reviews, etc.

Don't Want To Go Alone? Find A Hiking Buddy!

Other options when you're just starting out include joining friends on their hikes.

If you don't know any hikers, you can join local hiking groups; find a list here.

You can also find hikes at your local parks which usually have well-marked trails and maps. Some parks also offer docent-led hikes. This is a great option when you are first starting out. This way, the leader sets the hikes and guides you. Make sure to call or research your local parks to find out what services they offer hikers.

Hike Planning - Important Reminders

IMPORTANT: You should always be responsible for yourself and research the trail, carry a printed map, etc. We know of countless times a friend followed someone on a trail, and they got everyone lost. 

One of the most proactive things you can do is take a class to learn how to read a map and compass! As a backup we recommend you ALWAYS carry a printed map in a waterproof bag and know how to navigate it. You should also consider investing in a personal GPS unit such as a Suunto / Garmin watch or a Garmin / Spot GPS device. 

The day before your hike, familiarize yourself with the trail and let someone know where you are going. Check out the Lifeline feature in AllTrails which can alert your safety contact when you're hiking and back! Cairn app also alerts your safety circle when you start and end your hike and shows you where you have reception in case of an emergency.

Lastly, make sure to double-check the weather, especially if going in the backcountry!

Photo courtesy @michahastattoos

Action Items For Planning Your Hikes

1. Download our official 52 Hike Challenge logs or purchase our Journey Journal.

2. Journal or create a sheet with the next 10 hikes you wish to accomplish. Write this out in a list format. Start with listing Hike 1, 2, 3… and so on. Next to the hike number, write where you would like to go, and when you will complete the hike by. Push yourself out of your comfort zone every three to five hikes or so, and go longer; maybe adding in a little elevation gain, etc. Use this list as a guideline for your next hikes, and then check back to see your progress, and where you are with your goal setting. We also recommend you pencil in these hikes on your calendar to help keep on track and committed! 

Example of Hike List:

Hike 1 – Top of the World – Complete by 05/15

Hike 2 – Car Wreck Trail – Complete by 05/22 

Hike 3 – Barbara’s Lake – Complete by 05/29 

3. Lastly, always have your pack ready to go. Make sure it includes your 10 Essentials, snacks, rain jacket, GPS, water, etc. 

4. And finally, and most importantly, just get out there. Start with short and easy hikes. You’ll get better each time and be on top of a mountain in no time.

Photo courtesy @lovekarlaamador

Safe & Happy Hiking!


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The 52 Hike Challenge: A guide to planning your hikes and goal setting

The 52 Hike Challenge: A guide to planning your hikes and goal setting

The 52 Hike Challenge: A guide to planning your hikes and goal setting

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