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Happy Trails: How to plan a group hike

Canadian Rocky Mountains, photo by Dan Prat

Regular exercise helps maximize people’s mobility and enjoyment throughout life, and there is no less expensive and more enjoyable, fulfilling and inspiring way to do it than by hiking.

I’m not talking about dangerous rock climbing or exhausting multiday treks to the summits of towering peaks. Most everyone in decent physical shape can enjoy moderate hikes of a few hours or less. I love to spend my leisure time on day hikes through the incredible variety of mountains, canyons and forests throughout the American West. Along the way, I invariably encounter fellow hikers of all ages, from mere toddlers in family groups to older travelers.

I recently took a four-mile roundtrip hike to an awe-inspiring mountain lake at an elevation of about 10,000 feet by way of a trail that involved a vertical ascent of some 400 feet. Along the way, I met a woman who was enjoying one of her favorite hikes for the first time since having a knee replaced.

Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on exercise contraptions, exotic spa treatments or health club memberships? Instead, for free, we can easily commune with the glory of nature, explore great cities and historical sites in uncommon depth and meet fascinating people along the route of a day hike or a simple walk around town.

Here are several ideas of how walking and day hikes can be incorporated into group travel programs.

Planning a Group Hike
To plan a hike or “city walk,” you’ll first need to add enough free time in your itinerary to allow the flexibility of giving your guests a choice of activities. An “afternoon at leisure” might allow for simple relaxation, shopping, a museum visit or an organized hike.

You might want to consider hiring a local guide to escort your group on a selected trail. Such assistance is helpful in explaining history and geography, or identifying whatever flora and fauna your group encounters. However, guides can also prove to be deterrents, since some folks invariably want to walk faster than the pace a guide is keeping, and others are slower and tend to lag behind. With no formal guide, the pace and the distance of the hike become an individual decision.

Another way to include a relatively short hike or simple nature walk is to plan a picnic lunch at a suitable area near the desired trailhead. Those not inclined to join the postmeal hike can easily linger around the picnic area in comfortable surroundings until the group returns.

A number of suppliers offer formal hiking programs. For example, the Durango and Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad in Colorado offers “moderately difficult” two- to three-hour wilderness hiking “add-ons” with lunch included to its steam train excursions.