New to hiking? Tips to enjoy the trails this spring

With its mild temperatures and fresh greenery, spring is the perfect time to get out and enjoy the trails at West Virginia state parks and forests. If you’ve never been hiking, don’t feel intimidated. All you need are some comfortable clothes and shoes. Carry water and a park map, and you’re all set to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in Almost Heaven. 

You might want to start out with a guided hike, like the Green Day Hikes or Wildflower Walks that take place at many parks in the spring. You’ll find these posted on the Events Calendar.

Want to hit the trails on your own? Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Dress accordingly

Check the weather forecast before heading out. You don’t want to get caught in a storm without a raincoat. This time of year it’s also wise to bring a jacket; better to have one and not need it than need one and not have it! As for footwear, hiking boots are great if you need ankle support, but any pair of comfortable shoes with good treads will do. Just prepare to get them wet or dirty.

Know your trail

Stop by the park office and pick up a trail map. You can also find trail descriptions and maps on each park’s web page. Take note of the difficulty level, trail length and whether the trail is for foot traffic only or if mountain bikers or horseback riders will also be using the trail.

Carry supplies

Always carry water, which is especially important on sunny days. For longer hikes, pack a snack and bring a bag to put your trash in. On late afternoon hikes, you might want to pack a headlamp or flashlight in case you get caught out after dark. If you’re a little unsteady on your feet, you might also want to grab a set of trekking poles or a walking stick for balance.

Leave no trace

Practice the hiker’s code, “Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.” Those wildflowers might be beautiful, but please don’t pick them. Leave them there for the next person to enjoy. And pack any waste out of the forest with you. Trash receptacles can be found in most trailhead parking lots.

Leash your pets

Even if you have the world’s friendliest dog, leashing him is for his own safety. This keeps him safe from encounters with wildlife or other not-so-friendly dogs. Remember, too, that some people are fearful of dogs and may not know how to react if approached by an exuberant dog. And of course, pick up after your pet.

Leave the headphones at home

Listening to music on your headphones might be great for the gym, but you need to be able to hear if a mountain biker is approaching you from behind. Besides, who needs music when you have the soothing sounds of nature?

Practice the buddy system

For safety reasons, it’s best to hike with a friend. But if you set out alone, always tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back. Carry a whistle in case you need to call for help. Cell phones are beneficial but be aware that there may not be cell service where you are.

Pick your park

This is the best part! What kind of terrain and scenery do you prefer? Trails range from easy to challenging, so keep this in mind before you start out. Here are a few suggestions:

Hike to gorgeous waterfalls at Blackwater Falls State Park, Holly River State Park and Camp Creek State Park and Forest

Take in stunning overlooks at Coopers Rock State Forest, Hawks Nest State Park and Lost River State Park

Enjoy peaceful lake views at Bluestone State Park and Tygart Lake State Park. That’s just for starters. There are hundreds of miles of trails to explore in the state park system.

Once you have decided on your hiking adventure, book your cabin, lodge room or campsite in advance. The only thing left to do now is have fun!

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