Sports Woman's legs in running movement

Fall colors and crisp, clear days make autumn one of the most beautiful seasons to get outdoors and hike. On top of that, hiking is great exercise—and great for your peace of mind, too. So why not jump into the car this weekend and get out for a day hike?

Hiking gives you all of the health benefits of walking—and then some. Brisk walking gets your heart and lungs pumping. Think of it as an effective way to boost your heart, lung, and metabolic health Now add hills and rocks and fallen logs to that walk. You can see how hiking becomes great exercise. And, if you add hiking poles to get your arms moving, your heart gets an even better workout.

Now, could you get the same workout at the gym? Or even around your neighborhood? Probably. But what you’d be missing is the restorative effect of nature. Breathing fresh air, seeing the fiery orange and gold leaves, spotting wildlife through bare branches, enjoying the solitude of nature … all of this can lower your stress and bring you back to a slower rhythm.

Ready to hit the trail? Here are a few tips to make your hike safer and more enjoyable:

  • Pace yourself. If you haven’t hiked lately, then start off with a short, easy hike. Begin the hike slowly to let your body gradually warm up. If you’re hiking in a group, go at the pace of your slowest member—especially if that’s a child.
  • Load up on water. Yep, it’s heavy to carry, but you need it. Don’t skimp here. You can chug most of a bottle before you hit the trail to lighten the load a bit. Then make sure to stop for regular water breaks. You can also use a sport hydration pack that doubles as a small backpack if you prefer to take sips while keeping your hands free for other activities along the way.
  • Pack snacks. You’re burning calories, so bring fuel for your body. Choose snacks that combine some carbs with protein like trail mix and granola bars.
  • Watch the weather (and daylight). Fall brings short days and unpredictable weather. The sun sets earlier, and a beautiful day could turn rainy (or snowy) on a dime. So check the weather forecast before you leave home. Bring layers, warm clothing, and rain gear just in case. And get an early start, so you can be off the trail well before dark.
  • Don’t get caught unprepared. The great outdoors can be unpredictable. So always pack a few essentials—such as matches, a first aid kit, and a cell phone—even for just a day hike. You can find lists of the 10 key essentials to bring on any hike by Googling “hiking essentials.”

P.S. Did we mention that by autumn the bugs are usually gone? Have fun hiking!