Just How Hard is This Hike You're Doing?

There are several factors that determine how difficult a hike will be, and most resources on hiking provide information about each trail that will help you make a decision.

Learn how to decipher all the information you need to determine whether or not a certain hike is right for you.


While many hikes are great throughout the year, others are most scenic—and safest—during specific seasons.

Recently, during a hot August weekend, a hiker had to be air-lifted from the Santa Monica Mountains.?Last winter, a woman fell from Mt. Baldy's infamous Devil's Backbone during snowy conditions.

While a hike's scenery doesn't directly influence how easy or safe it is, it can certainly make the effort seem more worthwhile; whether it's the springtime Giant Coreopsis flowers of Anacapa Island and Point Mugu State Park or the fall foliage on the Fish Creek Meadows trail.?

Elevation Gain and Distance

These are pretty self-explanatory, but having some perspective may help. Ever walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator??Each flight is between ten and fifteen feet of climbing.?The Stairmaster at the gym (and even some treadmills) may give you similar information.

Remember the track around the football field at high school? Quarter mile. On the trails, factors such as temperature and terrain may come into play, but a mile is still a mile and a foot is still a foot.?Keep track of what distances and elevation gains are comfortable for you.

If you've never hiked before, start with routes of two or three miles round trip, with less than 500 feet of elevation gain.?The two statistics together can tell a story: while a mile long hike that gains 800 feet of elevation might be shorter than a two mile hike that gains a thousand, it will seem much steeper and may require more overall time and effort.


Some people might be sensitive to high altitude. Often, people not accustomed to it may start feeling the effect of thinning air at four or five thousand feet above sea level. If you're new to high-altitude hiking, pick a trip that's shorter than what you're used to at lower elevation, such as the short but scenic route around Idyllwild's Lake Fulmor, or perhaps do a "reverse hike" such as the Devil's Canyon in the San Gabriel Wilderness, which goes down and then up, not forcing the hiker to climb at high altitude immediately.

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