New to hiking? Tips to enjoy the trails this spring

If you’ve never been hiking before, you’re in for a treat! The West Virginia state parks system features hundreds of miles of trails that showcase some of the most beautiful terrain in Almost Heaven. Many parks and forests frequently offer guided hikes. Check the events calendar for upcoming hikes.

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 on the trail in a storm without a raincoat. The forecast may call for sun, but the air can get chilly in the spring, so you may want to bring a sweater. 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 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 a dog.

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 hiking are you interested in?

If you want something easy, try the ADA-accessible Spotted Salamander Trail at Kanawha State Forest or the gentle grade of the North Bend Rail Trail.

Do you like stunning overlooks? You’ll find them at Coopers Rock State Forest, Hawks Nest State Park and Lost River State Park, among others.

Satisfy your love of waterfalls with a hiking trip to Blackwater Falls State Park or Camp Creek State Park and Forest.

Enjoy lake views at Bluestone State Park or Tygart Lake State Park. The possibilities are endless!

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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