Check the Weather Forecast
In many places of the world, fall weather is unpredictable. One minute it’s sunny and warm, and the next it’s breezy and starting to drizzle. Check the weather conditions before you hike and always pack an extra layer of clothing. Even if it’s not rainy or windy when you leave, pack a rainproof windbreaker for good measure. A warm hat and a pair of gloves wont’ take up much room in your backpack either. If you’ve graduated to longer hikes, consider investing in a NOAA weather radio to keep up with changing conditions.
Verify Trail Conditions with a Ranger
It’s a park ranger’s job to know everything about the trails in a particular park. Trust rangers’ expertise over your own intuition, especially if you’re a beginner hiker. Park rangers can give you advice about good hiking trails to try based upon the trail conditions, your time commitment, your interests, and your skill level. Some hiking areas are prone to dust storms, mud pits, and flash floods. If no ranger is available, look for signs about trail closures and check in with other hikers as you pass them by.
Start Easy, Especially with Kids
If you’re not sure what your hiking limitations are, start easy and build up from there. Many national, state, and local park trail maps are marked with ratings, which indicate the hike’s level of difficulty. Beginner hikers, or hikers with children, should first begin with easy or moderately-easy hikes. Hikes with “strenuous” or “difficult” ratings should be reserved for experienced and well-prepared hikers. Take breaks if you become tired and turn around if you begin having second thoughts about your adventure. If you complete one loop of a hike and you still have energy, you can always choose a second loop and explore a different section of the park too!
Keep an Eye Out for Hunters and Wildlife
Not only is autumn the prime season for hiking, it’s also the prime season for hunting. Before your hike, check your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife website for hunting season information. Wear bright and reflective clothing so that you aren’t mistaken for prey if you wander off the designated trail. Become familiar with wildlife that lives in the area so that you’re prepared for encounters with snakes, feral hogs, bears, or any other creatures that may be living nearby.
Devise an Emergency Plan
You should always study the trail map before your feet hit the dirt so that you understand the terrain that you’re getting into. You should also be wearing sturdy, comfortable hiking boots and packing in an ample supply of water and energy-rich snacks. However, even the most prepared hikers sometimes encounter emergencies. Make sure that you have a first aid kit, a whistle, a flashlight, and extra batteries in your backpack. If you are hiking with children, have a discussion with them about what they should do if they get lost before the hike. Since cell phones don’t often get reception in the wilderness, you may want to look into getting a compass, mobile GPS, and walkie-talkies for your hikes as well.