How to Make Hike Planning Fun and Productive

February 27, 2019
Paula ChampagneThis is what careful hike planning looks like for one group at AMC’s Madison Spring Hut in Mt. Adams, N.H.

A lot more goes into planning a day hike than choosing your target elevation. Here’s a starter checklist.

  1. Consider the group. When choosing a route, think about the companions with whom you’ll be hiking. If you’re hiking with a novice, choose a trail that’s beginner-friendly; if you’re hiking with an experienced mountaineer, choose a hike that will challenge both of you.
  2. Research the trail. Before your hike, take the time to read maps and guidebooks, familiarizing yourself with the terrain, checking for river crossings, steep sections, water sources, and other factors that could affect your plan. Hiking with dogs? Make sure your trails allow them.
  3. Check the weather. Conditions can change quickly out there, so be sure to familiarize yourself with local weather patterns, as well as the day-of forecast via the National Weather Service, NOAA, or another reliable source, and plan accordingly.
  4. Set a turnaround time. Calculate the length of time your hike should take you and figure out where your halfway point should be. Once on the trail, if it takes you more than half of your estimated time to reach your halfway point, you may want to turn back.
  5. Take stock of safety factors. Make sure you have a first-aid kit in your pack, extra layers and rain gear should the weather change, and an emergency plan. Write down all of the emergency contacts in the area, noting that cell phone service may be spotty in more remote places, and share your route and expected return time with a family member or a friend who is not on the hike with you.
  6. Don’t forget the details. In some national parks and forests, you need a permit to camp overnight, and many shelters and parking areas in the White Mountains require a fee, so make sure to investigate any associated costs ahead of your trip. To stay up to date on the trails you plan to hike, check on the latest editions of AMC’s guidebooks, and go online to check trail conditions and other reports from fellow hikers or the land managers.


  • VIDEO: AMC experts explain why you should always plan the why, who, where, what, how, and what-ifs for any hike.
  • Have you committed to memory the ten essentials hikers should always have on hand?
  • Take to heart the tenets HikeSafe Responsibility Code as you plan your next excursion.
  • Ready to head out? Read through our Get Out archives for lists of our favorite hikes.


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Kelleigh Welch

Kelleigh is managing editor of AMC Outdoors.