The crisp, clear days, thin crowds, and vivid colors that define the high country this time of year are all the motivation you need to lace up your boots and hit the trails until the Christmas music starts. Here are just a few things to keep in mind to ensure a fun and safe season of hiking:
Be mindful of hunters
For sportsmen, fall is the most anticipated time of the year. Hunting season is in full force and hikers should take precautions. Pack a blaze orange vest if you will be near an open hunting area—they’re cheap, widely available at sporting goods stores, and could save your life. If you happen to come upon some hunters, make sure they are aware of your presence. If you hear gunshots, judge the distance, keep your eyes open, and remain visible. If the whole lot makes you uncomfortable, stick to national or state parks.
It’s important to be prepared on any hike, but especially in the fall. If you’re staying overnight bring the essentials: food, water, map, compass, headlamp with fresh batteries, etc.
An emergency blanket with a decent length of parachute cord or survival bracelet is useful as an emergency shelter or tarp.
It goes without saying but rain gear is essential. I usually have a shell with me any time of the year, but I always pack waterproof pants in the fall. Opt for straight wool socks too. A lot of synthetics lose their warmth when they’re wet. I always pack extra socks before anything else because hiking on soggy feet is worse than instant coffee.
I also really like to bring a reliable fire starter like petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls (trust me it works) because dry tinder can be hard to come by. And don’t forget the camera! You’ll need it to capture all that gaspin’ in the aspens.
Choose your destination wisely
The best fall hiking experience is a perfect combination of timing and location. Many trails this time of year will be bursting with fall colors, while others many be under a foot of snow. If you’re not familiar with your local area, chat with a ranger and get recommendations for best hikes in your area or find a regional hiking blog. This is a great time of year for hikes to hot springs, deciduous forests or spotting wildlife during the middle of the day.
Keep an eye on the forecast
In November, the mercury can drop faster than the leaves. Make sure you’re well prepared for the weather conditions in your area. There’s no shortage of online resources for weather, but NOAA is one of the best.
Keep an eye on trail and road conditions in your area. If you’re hiking in a national park, take the time to visit their website and get up to date information regarding your hike. If you think you’ll be running into snow bring some yak-trax and trekking poles at the very least.
Trust your gut
Only you know your limitations and what you’re looking for in a hike. If a trip feels forced or the weather turns sour, hold off for another weekend. Always give someone your itinerary or let them know where you’re going if you plan on going alone. If you’re going into a new area, stay within your boundaries. A combination of longer nights and lower temperatures make it especially important to be cautious this time of year. Don’t let the shorter days set you back, now is one of the best time for soaking a few last rays of sunshine before winter sets in.