10 Ways To Ease the Stress on Busy Trails

In recent months, more and more people have been turning to the outdoors for fun. While it’s great to see so many people hiking and trail running, it’s also stretching resources and threatening delicate landscapes across the Northeast, especially at popular destinations like the White Mountains and Adirondacks. Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize your impact on these well-loved places. Here are 10 great ways to ease the stress on busy trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Choose Less-Popular Objectives

The summits of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers and the Adirondacks’ 46 High Peaks will always draw a crowd. However, lesser-known summits like those on the 52 With a View deliver spectacular scenery, often without the crowds and elevation gain. If you just have to bag a 4,000-footer, try tagging one that most people avoid or one that doesn’t count toward the NH48.

2. Pick Less-Popular Routes 

Trails like Franconia Ridge and the Crawford Path are always popular destinations, but there are plenty of excellent trails that the masses overlook—many of which take you to the same coveted summit. Get off the beaten path and take the trail less-traveled to popular summits, or open your mind to a new type of adventure with a trip like Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Travel Farther  

There’s a reason some mountains are busier than others—it often has to due to their proximity to people and ease of summiting. Selecting destinations that are off the beaten path—whether it’s a parking lot or summit—is a great way to find some peace and quiet in the mountains.

4. Plan for Flexibility 

It’s tough to tell how busy the trails are from your home—after all, you’re a hiker, not a mind reader—so always have a Plan B in place. The great thing about places like the White Mountains is the abundance of trails and peaks close together, which allows you to consider multiple trips from the same general area so you can quickly pivot in the event of an unexpectedly busy trail.

5. Pass Responsibly 

The current climate is a delicate balance between the long-term health of the trails and the health of their users. Staying six feet apart isn’t easy on busy, narrow trails, but stepping off of them disrupts ecosystems and can lead to widening and erosion—especially in above-treeline alpine zones. Keep your eyes peeled for other users, both ahead of and behind you, and try to step aside when the trail widens, or onto rocks or more durable surfaces. If you need to step aside, simply step off and wait rather than hiking outside the boundary of the trail and potentially widening it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Let The Trails Dry 

Normally, a rainy-day hike is one of the greta joys of the late summer, but with more people getting out, it might be best for the trails to dry out and full recover before being pounded by boots. Wait a day or two after it rains to avoid creating deep footprints, ruts, or doing other damage to water-compromised trails. Look for more durable trails—either paved or rocky—for your wet-weather adventures.

7. Practice Responsible Behaviors 

With so many hikers and trail runners in the mountains, it’s more important than ever to practice responsible behaviors in the mountains—both to reduce your impact and to serve as a role model for newer hikers. Understand and follow seven principles of Leave No Trace:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors
Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Clean Up After Others

There are a lot of new hikers hitting the trails these days and they’re not all familiar with practices like Leave No Trace. While we can’t all become rangers, we can help minimize the impact of other hikers by picking up some of the trash that’s becoming an increasingly common sight on the trail. Pack a ziplock bag and collect wrappers, gel packets, and bottle caps that you come across. Picking up someone else’s trash with your hands sound gross? Try tucking a few rubber gloves in the hip pocket of your pack.

9. Bathroom Basics 

Hikers in the Whites have long benefited from the presence of the AMC’s huts for everything from refilling water bottles to a quick snack. The huts are also a convenient place to go to the bathroom. While they are closed, it’s always better to pack a wag bag and carry your waste out—the less we leave behind the better, especially as more and more people start digging cathodes. If that’s not an option, carry a toilet kit (trowel, TP, used TP bag, and hand sanitizer), make sure to “go” at least 200 feet from the trail and 200 feet from a water source, dig a hole at least six inches deep to go in, and cover the hole when you’re done.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Give Back 

Many outdoor organizations are under-staffed and under-funded—leaving them stretched thin. From gifting your time by volunteering to work on a trail crew to making a monetary donation, every little bit helps. Additionally, while you’re out on the trails, be conscious of the little things you can do to help out, like removing downed branches that are blocking the path, keeping drainage ditches free of debris, and sticking to the main trail instead of the numerous side paths that have developed over the last several months.

With so many people discovering (or rediscovering) the outdoors, it’s an extremely exciting time for activities like hiking and trail running. By taking a few simple steps, we can help preserve these important spaces for the future.