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Tips for Leading a Successful Hike

Guided hikes can leave a lasting impression on those who go on the journey. Parents may connect with their children over an insect they observe. Another person may realize that they want to pick up hiking as a hobby. The ability to be what sparks that connection between nature and someone can be powerful and may help them realize the importance of conserving our natural spaces.

Back in 2020, before the pandemic, I signed up for a guided hike in Morrison, Colorado. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to be hiking with someone that knew the area. It was transformational. The woman who led the hike set it up to be a mix of an interpretive and mindfulness walk that helped me slow down and take in the beauty of the snow-covered mountains, the smell of the trees, and the sound of the snow crunching beneath my feet. I was living in the moment. It changed me. This experience made me pick up hiking and start volunteering for outdoor organizations, which ultimately led me to become a hike leader a year later.

If you are someone who leads hikes or plans on doing so in the future, here are some tips you can use to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time out on the trail!

Know Your Route

As the leader, it’s essential to know exactly where you'll take your crew. Take the time to map out your route and note any trail markers so you remember exactly where to guide the group. Another component to elevating the hike is researching the park or area you are in. This includes any history, landmarks, wildlife, plants, or other information you could share. You do not need to know it all! Absorb what you find the most interesting and share it with your hikers. Telling a story of how Native American’s used the Twistedleaf Yucca for rope or how rock walls were used to border gardens can connect your group to the space around them.

The Safety Talk

A safety talk should let everyone in the group know what to expect out on the trail. As the hike leader, make sure that everyone comes prepared for the hike with the proper attire, shoes, and enough water for the conditions! After checking that everyone came with the essentials, discuss the length of the walk, trail conditions, weather, and potential hazards. Will there be poison ivy? Ticks? Let the group know how to avoid any potential threats and advise them to stay on the trail. Mention if there is a designated sweep who will make sure that no one falls behind the group.

On top of this, talk about any first-aid or emergency supplies you have. Items include a first-aid kit, extra water, a GPS communicator if service goes out, etc. At this moment, explain any applicable Leave No Trace Principles to make sure your hikers know how to minimize their impacts in the outdoors. A safety talk will reassure everyone that their well-being is a top priority. Including respect for the natural area around them!

Engage Your Group

Engaging your participants is key. Don’t just speak at them; have a conversation. Give yourself the time to know why they came out that day and ask them questions throughout the hike. You can also take it to the next level through hands-on activities. For example, when speaking about the Golden-Cheeked Warbler and how it weighs as much as five paper clips, bring five paper clips for people to pass around. Visuals allow them to connect to the information you’re speaking about at a deeper level. And don’t forget, as you get to know your group, make sure everyone feels included.

Take Breaks

During the hike, check in with your fellow hikers often. Plan for snack and water breaks so the group can stay energized. Use this time to assess the condition of your group. Is a more extended break needed? Does the group have enough water for the weather? Let everyone know where you are on the hike and tell them if anything is coming up, like steeper sections or a river crossing. Have a backup plan if you need to change your route to adjust it to your group's ability level. Making sure everyone is comfortable will allow them to have fun and cherish the outdoors. That is the goal!

Final Thoughts

When you end the hike, thank everyone for coming out and allow them to share how their experience was! Before waving bye to everyone, let them know about any other upcoming hikes or if there are ways for them to get involved in the area as a volunteer. You never know; they may bring out a friend or share how wonderful their experience was with a family member.

There is so much advice out there on how to give a guided hike. I wanted to share the main components. Think about the guided hikes you have experienced that have been impactful or inspirational. What did you like about them? What did you dislike? Use those observations to create your guided hike style.

If you are interested in becoming a hike leader for Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, check out their website for future opportunities!

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