Use these resources to find the perfect outdoor adventure no matter where you go
Have you ever found yourself on vacation, browsing yet another touristy store or laying on the beach for the fourth day in a row, wishing you were doing something a bit more adventurous? Or maybe you’re planning a hiking trip, but you don’t know where to start to find the best opportunities?
No matter where you travel and for what reason, it’s possible to get outside and be more active in a way that fits your interests, fitness level, and budget – you just need the right resources.
Business trip with an extra day? Connect with locals to get the scoop on the best area day hike. Solo trip and you want a paddle buddy? Someone else is looking for the same thing.
With the right app, website, or simply an intentional conversation with a local bartender, you can get connected to a world of recreation opportunities lying just beyond your Airbnb door.
Meetup started way back in the internet glory days of 2002, but it’s still one of the most used ways to connect with others based on shared interests. Simply head to meetup.com, select the category “Outdoors and Adventure,” and enter a city or zip code. You’ll find groups for every interest, age, fitness level and desired adventure possible – whether you’re seeking a local paddling group or other men who like to camp in the nude. (Seriously, that’s a thing. In Eastern Iowa. On Meetup.com.)
Jokes aside, the best part about Meetup groups is that they’re filled with locals connecting with other locals, so you can ask questions and get tips straight from the people who know the area best, in real time. So, if a trail is completely snow packed or ice covered, you’ll know. You can also snag tips on which hiking trails to avoid if you hate crowds, where to get the best price on good bike rentals, and so on.
While many of the groups you’ll find and join are meetups geared toward locals, there are also plenty of Meetup groups dedicated to travelers, especially internationally. Find a group before you go and ask questions of others who have recently traveled to the same locale.
You can use meetup.com or download the app on the App Store or Google Play. The app has the added benefit of using location information and notifications, so you know who else has arrived, who to look for, etc., if you’re meeting up with a group IRL (in real life, if you’re not up on your slang).
If you’re looking for one simple resource to help you find hikes anywhere, you’ll want to use AllTrails. This app features over 60,000 trails around the world so you can find the perfect one for your hike, bike ride, or run, wherever you find yourself. It allows you to filter trails by length, rating, and difficulty, and to search for dog and kid-friendly trails.
The interface makes it super easy to use. Each trail listing includes a difficulty level, user rating, directions to trailhead, and detailed map (which you can download in advance in case of spotty or no coverage). You can view trail elevation and grade detail for any point along the route. User comments include additional tips, corrections, and details. Download the app on the App Store or Google Play, or use the website at AllTrails.com.
If you are planning to do more serious hiking or going on a dedicated hiking trip, we recommend a more robust trail map app like Gaia GPS. This app offers incredibly detailed, high quality maps of virtually any location, and it also serves as a backpacking GPS. Your phone still accesses GPS satellites to get your location, even without Wi-Fi, mobile data or cellular network reception. So, you simply download maps of your planned hikes in advance, and you have the peace of mind of guaranteed access to your maps. Reviewers say that their phone battery lasts for days accessing only GPS, even when location tracking is on.
Gaia GPS is also useful for planning and researching a hiking trip, sharing routes with travel mates, and recording all your hikes. Your info syncs across devices so you can log in from anywhere and access your maps and past trips.
Guide books and beyond
Guide books are the old standby, and they’re all over the board – but a good one can be the difference between a missed opportunity and the experience of a lifetime on your next trip.
The best guide books are written by a local author who has completed most of the hikes, bike rides or climbs listed. Make sure you have a book that’s recently released, or the latest edition, and check reviews before you purchase.
If you’re traveling, stop into an outfitter or gear store for the advantageous two-for: a recommendation on which local travel guide book to buy, as well as advice on the best hikes/groups/outdoor adventures in the area straight from a local outdoor enthusiast (because they tend to work and/or hang out in outdoor stores – we would know).
If you’re looking to plan out a multi-day hiking/adventure trip, mainstream guide books like Lonely Planet are useful for planning itineraries, routes, and where to stay. The major downfall of guide books is that they can’t be updated in real time, so always check another source before you go. Your best bet is to get a general idea of your itinerary with the travel guide, and then use Meetup or AllTrails for real-time tips and advice from locals and travelers.
And if all else fails? Head to the local watering hole and strike up a conversation with the hiker at the bar. Really. If you make a real connection you won’t only discover the trails locals don’t want travelers to know about – you may even find a knowledgeable hiking buddy, which is more valuable than an app any day.