In recent years, a LOT of people have discovered the value of getting outdoors and enjoying nature. That's awesome, but it's coming at a steep cost. I saw a news story this morning about how crowds on the Appalachian Trail are exploding with images of erosion and other physical damage to the trail, trash on the trail, liquor bottles in fire pits and food stuff lying around everywhere (a fed bear is a dead bear). My "home trail" has gotten beat up by people cutting switchbacks and making "shortcuts" to the point that it's hard to see the actual trail in many places and it's now uncommon NOT to find the little doggie doo bags just tossed on the trailside (I'd much rather you just let the dog poo on the side of the trail, at least that will break down, but that's another post). Part of me would love to find a way to fix the problem but another part of me, probably the selfish part, just wants to find a place to go that's not beat up, littered and crowded. Is it just me? Are there any "unpopular trails" left to just walk out a few miles, hang a hammock or setup a tent or whatever (bivy, tarp, bedroll, etc.) and just be outside with no artificial noise, no artificial light and just unplug?
Yeah, I hear ya! And with two Summers of pandemic-living, more and more people who normally wouldn't be venturing out onto the trails have been doing so. On the one hand, I am happy to see people returning to the outdoors. But it's certainly taking its toll.
Around here (Northern Illinois), to get away from people is requiring less trail time and more river time - hopping into a kayak or canoe, paddling down a river, and finding a piece of quiet shoreline to hang out on.
Nearly all trails are unpopular if you start hiking at 6:00 AM (the benefit of being a morning person).😴
I find that the best way to find unpopular trails is, identify trails with a famous popular destination (an overlook, waterfall, etc..) and go there. Then take the other fork away from the famous thing. This is especially effective in places that locals avoid due to overcrowding since literally everyone is there specifically to see the famous thing.
I look to the less-popular areas... state parks, national forests, other management agencies. Here in Florida the water management districts have a lot of land, and outside of hunting season most of it is seldom visited. In Oregon, the wilderness areas in the eastern part of the state seem to get relatively little traffic compared to the western half. Of course, it takes a bit longer to get there from Portland, and you don't get views of Mount Hood!
One trick I learned years ago was to leave on Friday afternoon and hike in a few hours that evening... sometimes you can get far enough ahead of the crowd that you won't see anyone else until you hike out on Sunday! And, of course, hiking on weekdays helps, if you're able to do that.
Bottom line is, especially near major cities, it can be a challenge to find anything approaching solitude. We should probably consider restrictions on numbers of people in a lot of places... camping and even hiking permits, etc.
My best friend’s daughter and her fiancé won a lottery drawing reservation for a choice camping site at Yosemite NP.
I am very happy they were able to share that special experience together.
Advanced online reservations, permits and lotteries at established trails and campgrounds, may be the new normal, if not now, in the near future.
Blessed are the people of which, have in the past, and or still can enjoy the true wilderness experience.
A true gift of self awareness and Nature’s complexity.