The Best Website to Help You Discover Adventures in Your Own Backyard
By: Will Heaps
Today I decided to get caught up on social media. I cleared away the cobwebs of emotionally charged political comments and “share if you care” posts. What remained was a series of inspiring shots of nature that got me itching to just pick up and go. My Facebook newsfeed was full of beautiful red rock shots of the canyons in Zion National Park near where I used to live; Instagram was a series of open sky views in the Rockies of Montana and Canada; and Pinterest was waterfalls found only in places Eastern Europe or South America. I was looking up my bank records, crunching the numbers, and researching plane flights, I found my fingers typing keywords into a search bar to learn about climate, best seasons to explore, and busiest time of year and then, just before I pulled my wife aside to try and convince her that we should go, and before I could muster up the courage to ask for the time off, I had a thought that brought me back to reality and quenched my thirst for adventure.
You don’t have to look very far to find something worth looking for. Every adventure starts by stepping out of your comfort zone and heading in a new direction. Some of the best adventures that await us are hiding in our backyards and we don’t even know it.
While a college student in Utah, I was always within a weekend adventure of some of the most amazing outdoor activities, but I spent the first few years of my college career completely unaware of my resources. I had been born in the area and remember trips from my youth, but they always seemed to be out of reach and so I began my college career pretty bored with what I had. It wasn’t until I began trail running that I discovered how close I was to some of the best adventures in the world. By 2012 I was trail running every day, rock climbing twice a week, and spending at least two weekends a month elsewhere in the state to climb, hike, or just camp. In more recent years I have lived in North Carolina, Colorado, and California and have traveled all over the country and parts of the world and no matter where I end up, there is always something worth exploring.
Today I wanted to share with you a couple of resources I have found useful as I research a new area. Local bookstores and outdoor shops are usually crowded with travel guides and trail maps, so the best place to start would be by asking your local outfitter, but once you have an idea of where you will be or what you want to do, there are some amazing resources that you can use for free on the internet to get you started:
A service that allows you to type in the name of your city, a local park, destination or a trail name and find everything from maps and elevation profiles to trail ratings and recent testimonials. You can often find the most up to date information regarding trail damage, photographs of trail conditions, and trail closures. If you know nothing of your area and want to find what is within reach, this is the best place to start. Use the app version of this service on your smartphone to help you arrive at your destination without incident. The greatest thing about this service is that it is non-specific. You can be a mountain biker, a backpacker, a climber, or just a day-hiker and you will find everything you need to see the best of the best in your local area.
If you live in the US and are already well acquainted with your area and want to take a look at the areas you haven’t seen, then Caltopo.com is your best resource. This online map service has taken all of the official maps created from the United States Geological Survey and stitched them together so you can zoom in and out and create your own map of an area you wish to explore. When I am trying out a new trail or exploring a new area, this service allows me to get in close and add layers to my map to help me find the best representation of the area I wish to explore. It fills in the gaps that many out-of-date maps leave and can restore older versions where new maps have left out some detail.
If you already know the name of a trail or mountain that you wish to climb, you can head over to Summit Post and look up photographs and reviews that people have left over the years. When I wanted to hike to the top of Mount Jacinto, I used this website to get an idea of what it would look like and the details I got there allowed me to reach the summit even though the trail signs were covered with snow. Be aware that some of the information might be old, so if you find changes in the conditions of the trail that were not reported in the summit post you used, please update the website with your own trip review so others can be informed about their trip.
Aside from discovering new areas to hike, there are many resources for specific areas and activities. Mountain Project is a website supported by REI and is designed to give climbers the best information possible about the various climbing areas in the world. If you want to climb and know you will be in a specific area you can find out what routes exist, the difficulty ratings, the type of climbing, the type of rock, etc. and you will be prepared to face whatever challenges come your way. There is even an app that allows you to download all the information in a given area so you can use the information even when you are off the grid. I even used this service when I was in Peru and found some climbing areas that are never visited, but have some amazing sport climbing routes.
Should you happen to be into canyoneering, there are two websites that when used together will provide you the best information. Candition is similar to Summit Post, but specific to canyon conditions and rating and CanyoneeringUSA is a Utah specific site that will give you detailed maps and walkthroughs of the best canyons in the state. The information at Candition needs to be updated each year, so please put your input on the site to help others enjoy their trips. This resource has helped me walk away from some very difficult canyons without harm because I was prepared for what awaited me.
If you are unable to find anything close by using those resources, then pull up your Google search bar look for hikes, rock climbing, or mountain biking trails in your area and I can guarantee you will find something that is close enough to turn into an amazing adventure.
For me, the jury is still out on technology and adventure, but one thing is for sure, the almost infinite knowledge on the internet allows us to find adventure wherever we find ourselves at any given time. I use it almost every time I head out on a trip, a day hike, or even a walk. Knowing what is around me opens my eyes to just how big the world can be.
– Happy Adventuring –