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Then and Now: Hike Planning

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Sep 30, 2016 03:40 PM |
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Planning and preparing for a hike was a little different 50 years ago. See how things have changed since the internet has taken over.

It’s a warm summer night in 1975 and you’re trying to plan a backpacking trip for the upcoming weekend. Where do you turn for information? With the proliferation of content on the internet in recent years it’s easy to take instant access to trip reports, weather, driving directions and route planning for granted. But planning a trip in the pre-internet era wasn’t quite so convenient.

That's largely why Washington Trails Association was formed 50 years ago--to give hikers a way to connect and share information on their favorite trails.

Then: before the internet

While guidebooks are still popular today, they’re supplemented by a wealth of information on the internet. In the past, guidebooks were the source for information. If you didn’t own a guidebook for the area you wanted to hike in you either went out and bought it or borrowed from a friend. If that failed, you might get lucky at your local library.

Older Guidebooks
Guidebooks ranging from the 1970s to early 2000s. These are great resources for planning and bringing on the trail.

Finding new trails to hike was also somewhat limited in that word of mouth was one of the few ways to learn about those “hidden gems”. Guidebooks were a good way to find scenic trails to hike, but more often than not, hikers got their recommendations from friends. If you didn't have other hiking friends then it became even more difficult.

Signpost, which would later become Washington Trails magazine, offered trip reports but they were limited to a handful of select trips mailed in by hikers and didn’t provide the absolute latest conditions. If you wanted to get the latest info on a trail you had to call a ranger station and hope they could provide you with details.

Now: instant access

The internet has changed the world and also how we hike. In 2015 alone more than 12,500 trip reports were filed on the WTA website, giving updated conditions and photos of trails all over Washington at the click of a button. Our Hiking Guide also gives you trail mileage, elevation gain and driving directions instantly. Tools like Google Maps, Gaia and CalTopo make route planning and driving easier and even allow you to track your position in real-time while in the car or on the trail.

Modern hike planning
Modern hike planning can include guidebooks as well as online resources like WTA, CalTopo, Gaia and more.

If you need to check the weather you can get an extended forecast with the click of a button. Need advice on what to pack in rainy conditions or how to dig a cathole? There’s a YouTube tutorial for that. Nearly everything you need for planning, packing and getting to the trailhead can be achieved with a smartphone and internet access.

There are also a few constants throughout the years that haven’t changed. Getting in touch with ranger stations and land managers is still a great way to get info on trails and roads, and is one of the things that hikers have been able to utilize over the years without need for an internet connection.

Guidebooks are also incredibly useful since you can take them with you on your trip as well as use them for planning purposes. If you don’t have a phone signal or access to a computer these resources can be a lifesaver when planning a hike. Guidebook authors spend tons of time out on the trails making sure they're giving you the most accurate and up-to-date info. Check out Mountaineers Books for the latest offerings in Washington.

Have you noticed any other major changes in hike planning through the years? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Read more about our history and anniversary at



In the last several years we have seen so many roads washed out and not repaired, become impassible or just shut down. Now when you plan a hike you cannot count on the road being open, the status of the roads needs to be checked before heading out.
The other change I've notice is the huge increase in hikers on just about every trail, so now you have to really search and drive much farther to find any solitude.

Posted by:

Muledeer on Oct 01, 2016 09:41 PM


Another advantage of web-based trip info is the ability to make corrections easily and quickly. So many of my guidebook-based hikes involved wasted time because the book said to turn left instead of right, forgot to mention an intersection, etc. (And of course the worst case of getting lost is worse than wasted time.) Our local guidebook authors do an outstanding job but with so many details, a few errors are bound to sneak by, and then guidebook users were stuck with that erroneous info for years until the next edition (even assuming they bought every edition). Now the error can get corrected immediately through the "Update page" button or through a trip report.

Posted by:

Bruce on Oct 03, 2016 03:38 PM