Want solitude in the wilderness, whether day hiking or backpacking? Sure, many trails are often crowded, but you can find lots of space to roam away from the crowds by following these nine tips.
Hiking Solitude Tip #1: Hike Less Popular Places
I do most of my hiking in Northern California, and Northern California has some extremely popular trails in some extremely popular places. The last time I hiked to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall from the Yosemite Valley floor, the entire trail was a line of people going up and a line of people going down. Never again for me!
So go explore the places the herds avoid. For example, instead of the hikes in and around Yosemite Valley, take Tioga Pass Road and explore the many trails there, or come into the park from the east via Highway 395,. Better yet, stay out of the park altogether and hike into the Sierra high country on national forest lands.
Typically, 95-99% of hikers congregate on 1-5% of the trails: don’t hike on those popular trails if you want to be alone!
You can also choose areas that are more remote and see fewer visitors overall. For example, Lassen Volcanic National Park has many trails, but, outside of the truly popular ones like Bumpass Hell, Kings Creek Falls, Cinder Cone, and Lassen Peak, most of the paths see relatively few hikers, especially when you get a few miles from the trailhead.
Hiking Solitude Tip #2: Hike on Weekdays
The same reason this may not work for some of you is the same reason it will work for the rest of you, and the key here is the other main meaning of work, i.e., a job. Most people have jobs that keep them occupied Monday through Friday. That means they aren’t on the trails on those days, leaving more room for you — if you don’t have to work, that is.
Hiking Solitude Tip #3: Hike Early
Beat the crowds by getting to the trailhead at dawn, or as early as you can in the morning. Most people aren’t early risers, so you can have a normally crowded trail all to yourself by starting while they are still in bed or getting ready for the day.
Hiking Solitude Tip #4: Hike Late in the Day
Conversely, wait until late in the day, when most people have already left the trail and headed home for dinner. Just make sure you time it right so you’re back to the trailhead by dark.
Hiking Solitude Tip #5: Hike at Night
If you’re truly adventurous, consider hiking at night. A few suggestions for night hiking:
- Do it when the moon will be nearly full and relatively high in the sky. One to three days before a full moon provides the best combination of the moon being both bright and rising before sunset.
- Choose open terrain with few trees or slopes to block the moonlight.
- Choose hikes you’ve done before so that you are already familiar with the terrain and aren’t likely to get lost.
- Choose paths that are mostly smooth, with few obstacles to trip you up.
- Consider using a hiking app to make sure you don’t get turned around or lost in the dark.
Hiking Solitude Tip #6: Hike Cross-Country
Most people stay on or very near hiking trails. If you have the requisite skills, hiking cross-country is an excellent way to win solitude, always keeping safety in mind. Make sure it’s actually allowed; some places, including many national parks, require you to stay on the trail, at least in certain areas (the Lassen Peak Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park is one example).
Hiking Solitude Tip #7: Hike the Shoulder Seasons
For much of Northern California and the West, especially the higher elevations, the prime time to backpack or day hike is Memorial Day through Labor Day. The shoulder seasons are the month or so either side of that main summer window: May and September. Depending on where you hike, the shoulder season can include a good portion of spring and fall. (And keep in mind that low-elevation areas with temperate climates offer beautiful places to hike nearly year-round. See my posts on spring backpacking in Northern California and my tips for hiking in autumn.)
As with any hike, make sure you research the current trail conditions and check the weather forecast. In the fall you also need to be aware of hunting seasons and regions.
Hiking Solitude Tip #8: Hike Off-Season
Far fewer people hike from late fall through the winter and into early spring. There are many places you can hike that are below the snow line and where you’ll see almost no one, or you may enjoy snowshoeing or winter backpacking.
Just make sure you check the weather report and make sure you’re prepared for the worst that could happen.
That said, Nature occasionally gives the gift of a stretch of unseasonably warm and sunny weather. For example, It’s not uncommon to get several days in February when the temperatures are in the 60s along the California coast, including the trails in Redwoods National and State Parks.
Hiking Solitude Tip #9: Hike Alone
All the previous tips for finding solitude on Northern California hiking trails focused on decreasing the overall density of other hikers around you by going either to destinations where other hikers aren’t (less-popular places, cross-country), or going hiking when other hikers can’t or won’t (weekdays, shoulder seasons, off-season).
The final tip for solitude? Hike alone. This guarantees you don’t have to talk (or listen) when you don’t want to, and you can go where you want, when you want. Of course, you need take extra safety precautions.
Your Take: How Do You Find Solitude When Day Hiking or Backpacking?
Which of these tips do you like the most? Any tip you’d add? Share in the comments below. And I added a couple of tips from the excellent suggestions given by two commenters below: thank you!