I love going on organized hikes – all the difficult decision-making is done for you, and you’ll meet many people from all walks of life with whom you can have interesting conversations during the hike.
But there are times when I’m not available on the date an organized hike is scheduled for, or the upcoming hikes aren’t ones that match my stamina. It’s times like these that I decide to plan a hike of my own.
There are advantages to choosing “my own path”, including being able to create a more intimate hiking group of friends, or hiking on my own for a more reflective and meditative experience. I can also control the location, date, start time, pace, and frequency of stops more, without worrying that I’m holding up the group for more than a few minutes because I’m mesmerized by a songbird high up in the canopy.
But choosing your own path requires asking yourself a few basic questions.
What kind of route do I want? A “Loop”, where the trail brings me back to where I started? A “There and Back”, where I follow the trail in for a while, then turn around and come back the same way? A “Shuttle”, which means I need to bring a friend and we drop one car at the end of our hike before driving in another car to the beginning of our hike?
What terrain do I want to hike on? For example, do I want to be in the forest or in meadows, and do I want to climb gentle or steep hills?
How far will I hike? The answer to this will be a combination of when am I starting my hike, when will there be daylight, how long do I want to be out, and what is my speed going to be (this will be based on my fitness level and the terrain).
If all this is starting to sound too complicated, there are some shortcuts you can take to planning your own hikes!
To begin with, our updated Self-Guided Hikes page has some suggestions for hikes you can do on your own. Some of these suggestions include our Sideways badge and Historical Hikes badge series, which have detailed hike routes that you can choose from, even if earning a badge isn’t for you.
Another place I like to look for hikes is in my personal library. In the 29th edition of The Bruce Trail Reference, Part V lists introductory hikes of varying lengths in all the sections that you can do on your own. Other go-to books for me are “Nature Hikes, Near-Toronto Trails and Adventures” by Janet Eagleson, “Hikes and Outings of South-Central Ontario” by N. Glenn Perrett, and the “Loops & Lattes” series by Nicola Ross et al.
But sometimes I want to really choose my own path. I want to chart it from scratch, so that’s when I plan my hike based on a map. For those, I’ll turn to my Bruce Trail Reference, because its maps and trail guide are essential tools in this process. These maps show the main trail, side trails, natural features of the landscape, and elevation changes. Notes to each map include information on parking and some points of interest which are all very helpful in planning a hike. There are also informative sections in the guide on how to prepare for a hike, read the maps, and use the Trail.
If you don’t own a Bruce Trail Reference, you can download from the Bruce Trail Conservancy pdf versions of any map in the Reference for only $3 each. Alternatively, you can purchase the BT App to access maps of the Trail on your mobile device.
As you can see, there are plenty of resources to help you choose your own path!
Once you have some experience planning and leading your own hikes, you may find yourself thinking about leading hikes for a Bruce Trail Club. If so, Hike Leader Training is being offered again in November, and registration is now being accepted.