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What's important to know about trail conditions?

Hi all, as I get more involved with my local wilderness I'm curious, what should I know about trail conditions, or in other words, what would be smart to know about a trail before entering?

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Several things - level of maintenance - is the trail reasonably clear of brush and debris? thus being easy to follow.

current conditions - is there snow, especially at higher elevations?  Have recent rains produced muddy sections?

Is the current trail accurately shown on topo maps? - this is not always the case

Are water sources accurately shown - especially critical in drier areas.

"Trails" vary tremendously.  I have been on some where I was essentially bushwhacking, due to overgrowth and lack of maintenance.  others are miniature highways (major trails in the Grand Canyon)

A decent topo map and the skills to use it effectively are a boon to wilderness travel.  When the weather hinders visibility, a reliable compass comes in handy

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Good points all around, thanks @hikermor. Curious, what sources do you use most to find information about trail conditions?

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@sauerApple  that's actually a pretty good question!

I am also extremely concerned about this before heading to the wilderness and do a lot of research.

(I know it's all season and place dependent)

are the trails still covered with snow?  will they be icy? will I need traction?

Is there water?  how are the water crossings?

are there fire warnings or restrictions?

are tree blow downs making the trails impassable. this happens more than you think.  In september 2020 a freak wind storm blew down a coupla hundred thousand trees in the bridger wilderness, departure from several popular trail heads was impossible until clearing was accomplished (shout out to the forest service)

are the mountain passes clear of snow?

have the grizzlies killed anyone lately? (just kidding...or not)

what are the food storage requirements?

I have found that the best bet for finding info is telephoning the district ranger stations directly, several times, until I find someone who really knows or until I figure they don't know because they don't leave the office.  this happens.

I also call local outfitters or shuttle services, sources of great intel.

pro tip:  I also compare my maps with the trails on google earth to see if they actually line up.  sometimes when trails end on the map, in a canyon say...google earth will show a well worn path leading up and out joining with another marked trail.

this is also the case where local outfitters are heavily in use, they will create their own trails, better suited for their purposes and livestock, which will vary from, say, a forest service map, and become the 'de facto' trail.  happens all the time in Wyoming wilderness for example.

good luck

teton wildernessteton wildernessnear the headwaters of the yellowstone, teton wildernessnear the headwaters of the yellowstone, teton wilderness

REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes

Thank you for in-depth response here! Couldn't agree more to most, if not all, of your points / things to check. Agreed that ranger stations are just not that reliable. I get it (i.e. underfunded, underpaid, etc.) , but we should definitely be working on an alternative solution, possibly an app just for trail conditions. 

Duly noted on local outfitters or shuttle services as well as overlapping Google Maps with a Forest service map, pro tip indeed!

Cheers!

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Difficulty level, Weather, Animals, ongoing issues such as the smoke in the west, Traffic level, resupply sites, and Emergency egress points. 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Thanks @Gary2. Curious, what sources do you currently use to find more about this information?

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Difficulty level: https://americanhiking.org/hiking-resources/
Weather: https://appalachiantrail.org/explore/plan-and-prepare/hiking-basics/safety/weather-hazards/

Animals:https://appalachiantrail.org/trail-updates/
Ongoing issues such as the smoke in the west:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGAM_tlf2QiicHxk0gfsPGA

Traffic level: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGAM_tlf2QiicHxk0gfsPGA
Resupply sites:https://map.appalachiantrail.org/interactive-map/?campaignid=12164095800&adgroupid=120580500681&adid...

Emergency egress points:  Gut Hooks and the trail guide

These are examples of sites that you can leverage both prior to departing to hike or while out there.  You can find supporting sites easy with a quick search of the hiking trail name and the topic you are reseearching....Hope it helps.... 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Solid list, thank you @Gary2 !

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but we should definitely be working on an alternative solution, possibly an app just for trail conditions
@sauerApple  @Gary2 There is an app, check out https://trekko.app It's got a pretty good list of trails, weather conditions, air quality, and up-to-date trail conditions. Check it out!