When the hillsides at Mission Trails turn bright green and the parking lots at Torrey Pines fill up by early morning, you know it is the peak of hiking season in San Diego. Follow these simple tips to boost your San Diego trails experience. As always, consult a doctor prior to beginning any physical fitness program.
Before you go:
Study the trail ahead of time.
Whether it's one of our 10 best hiking paths in San Diego or another local route, make sure you check the trail difficulty, length and estimated time to complete before you go. "Be sure to familiarize yourself with where to fill up on water and the location of any emergency exit paths should you need one," says Ariel Showalter, a rehabilitation aide and trainer at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital.
Check the weather.
Keep an eye on the forecast before you head out for a hike. Getting stuck in the rain can be both disorienting and unsafe. And for those bright, sunny days, don't forget to pack sunscreen and sunglasses.
Invest in proper footgear.
For short hikes, trail shoes and regular running shoes will usually work as long as they offer good traction. For longer treks with more technical terrain, hiking boots offer greater reinforcement.
Put safety first.
Let someone know where you will hike and when you expect to return.
Out on the trail:
Know your limits.
"Start small, and work your way up … literally," says Showalter. For the inexperienced hiker, paved and flat paths work best. Try walking the 5-mile loop around Lake Miramar or short out-and-back path at Lake Murray. If you want to move away from the asphalt, Balboa Park offers easy trails that allow you to stay away from the massive Balboa crowds. It's also important to pace yourself so you can maintain some energy for the returning trek.
Find a partner or join a hiking group through websites such as meetup.com. "A great way to hold yourself accountable to show up for the hike is to have someone depending on you," says Showalter.
"If you want quiet time to yourself, go alone," says Showalter. You can pick your speed, distance and time without factoring anyone else's fitness level into your decisions. In larger hiking groups, you are only as fast as the slowest person, but by yourself, you control everything. Be sure to keep your phone charged and follow all the safety precautions.
Follow hiking etiquette.
- Walk through mud puddles if you can. This helps to not widen paths and cause erosion.
- Hikers walking downhill yield to those going uphill.
- Keep pets on a leash.
- Keep all the trash with you, even biodegradable items.
When you return:
Drink lots of water.
On average, you lose approximately 1 liter of fluid per hour of exercise. Start rehydrating with water and if the weather was exceptionally hot, drink a sports beverage to regain lost electrolytes.
Change your clothes.
The dampness of workout gear can trigger infections and make you chilly, which can weaken your immune system.
As one of the lowest impact forms of exercise, hiking improves your overall health and fitness. Best of all, it's free! "Don't forget to enjoy the scenery and nature around you," Showalter says. "There are so many benefits to immersing ourselves in nature, including both mental and physical health." Learn more about the health benefits of time spent outdoors.
This story was updated in April 2020.