Urban hiking has always been around, more or less. People have been walking the city streets since there have been cities. But it never really became a movement until author and columnist Dan Keoppel showed us it was possible to rethink our urban surroundings. He organized a two-day event in L.A. called The Big Parade in 2009, which encouraged neighborhood walks in and around the area. A few articles later and the concept of urban hiking became an actual thing to do. It’s hard to say if the event will occur this year, but they do have a Facebook page you can access to find out.
Urban hiking is hitting the concrete trails instead of the dirt paths, to explore the city or neighborhood you live in. It is just as strenuous as hiking in the wilderness; one of the goals of an urban hiker is finding as many stairs as possible to climb. Ultimately, though, it’s just a way to get out and hike when regular hiking isn’t possible. And it has great side benefits.
you don’t need to pack your backpack full of stuff.
Urban hiking means that you are generally well within reach of a store or place where you can get food and drink. An although you can’t pee outside like you can on a regular hike, you can make sure your route has public washrooms along the way. Which generally means you can wash your hands. Just saying. Here’s a basic list of what you’ll need for a day hike in an urban setting:
- An extra pair of shoes and socks–your feet will get tired and sweaty. Refresh them with a new pair of socks part way through and a change of walking shoes.
- A bottle of water. Any more can be purchased during the hike, along with food.
- A snack or two. Just to keep you going if you don’t want to stop.
- A map with your route marked out.
- Your camera!
- A notepad and pen. You’re going to discover things! Stores, buildings and restaurants you want to check out, a library you didn’t know about, a little urban park you’ll want to revisit. Mark these things on your map and record the details in your notebook.
- A rain jacket. (Rain always shows up at the least convenient time.)
- A bank card or credit card. For that water and those snacks, and maybe even an impulse buy or two. Also, if something happens like a sprained ankle, you can call a cab and get home.
- Your cell phone. For obvious reasons.
- Small first-aid kit with aspirin and blister packs.
You don’t need to travel far to start your hike.
Out your front door. Literally. If you find it’s exciting and fun, you can make plans to travel to nearby cities and urban areas for new hiking adventures. But it’s not necessary, making urban hiking one of the most convenient adventures you can take up.
Ever wish you had the “oomph” to exercise regularly, maybe get in better shape that you are now? Urban hiking will do that for you. It’s absolutely free, and you can make it as long or as short as you want. Like any hiking adventure, it’s exercise you’re not really aware of doing, because you’re too busy enjoying the surroundings.
the joy of discovery.
Perhaps the coolest thing about urban hiking is the fact that you find areas and corners of your city or neighborhood that you had been completely unaware of. You learn about the structure of it, become familiar with it in a way that intrigues and inspires you. My nephew and I urban hike while we geocache. We discovered that some of our neighborhoods have Little Free Libraries set up–and if you don’t know what they are, you really should find out about them here. Free books 24/7? Yes please! The point is, we never would have known had we not discovered them urban hiking. Parks we never knew about, too. Amazing ones. Some not so little!
you don’t have to depend on anyone to urban hike.
You can go with a group (just type in “urban hiking groups” and your area to find out where they are), or you can go with friends, or by yourself. You’re not dependent on anyone else’s time schedule or fitness level unless you want to be. Granted, this is also the case with standard hiking, but urban hiking gives a person the opportunity to hike safely when on their own; they just have to map their hike in busy, populated, well-lit areas, which is what most of urban hiking consists of.
a few things to remember.
- If your route takes you into areas where you may not feel safe, or if it takes you into even temporarily isolated areas, obey the rules of safety and common sense and take precautions. It may be going with others, taking your (big) dog, keeping pepper spray on your person, or talking on your cell phone with someone as you walk. And if it is a place that looks dangerous and isolated, don’t travel it alone. Ever. There are predators in the city and your neighborhoods, just like in the wilderness. They may walk on two feet instead of four, but they’re there. Don’t take chances.
- Tell someone your route, when you are going to leave and when you are going to be back, even if it’s just for a few hours. You can never over-plan safety.
- Mark out rest stops and stores on your route, so if you get tired, you’ll know how far away you are from the nearest one.
- Check the weather before heading out. Prepare for the weather that is, and that might be.
- Take lots of pictures!
- Plan a circular route, that is, a route that won’t have you back-tracking. That way the whole trip will be fresh.
- Start small and work your way up. If you rarely hike, or don’t hike at all, begin with a small route. Plan it as if it was a large one, but keep the overall distance easy to cover. That first trip will tell you if you can do a longer one, and you’ll gain confidence and experience as you go.
Although urban hiking isn’t as huge as other outdoor adventures, it is easy to find groups and you can find trails already mapped out in most urban areas. You can also find information about urban hiking gear and all sorts of advice to help you along.
So don’t feel down about being unable to get to the wilderness to go hiking. It’s as near as the street you live on.