Today is the first day of fall, and there's nothing quite like fall in New England, with the leaves changing and the temperature and humidity finally dropping.
All of which make for great hiking, either alone or with friends and family — especially when you bring the right snacks.
Radio Boston took listener calls about all things hiking with Sarah Holman, creator of the blog "She Hikes Mountains," and Becky Cushing Gop, director of Mass Audubon West.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Cushing Gop on why she enjoys hiking:
I think what really stuck with me — and I didn't even realize until later adulthood — was I loved hiking because of how it made me feel, physically and mentally. I just loved the feeling when I was out in the woods of not being plugged in and just breathing in fresh air and noticing views and then just that sort of invigorating feeling of hiking up some steep terrain. And I think the reward at the end, whether that's a beautiful view or just a nice relaxing rest. And I think I recognized the mental health benefits of of getting out into nature.
Holman on what she considers 'hiking':
I hike a lot in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and often the trails are this wonderful combination of ... walking through the woods and, you know, taking it all in and you're not breathing hard. And then slowly, the terrain changes and then you're walking up over some rocks and then it's a really, really steep. And so I think hiking can be anything where you're out in the woods and you're on a trail and you're pushing yourself. Of course, that's different for everyone — whether it's a little bit or a lot. I call that hiking.
Cushing Gop on staying safe while on a hike:
Some of it depends on the time of year. A lot of it depends on knowing trail conditions, weather conditions. For instance, knowing when the storm may be coming in or some weather might be expected — being prepared if things could get cold or rainy and making sure you have the right layers.
Another thing this time of year that we start reminding folks is that the sun sets a lot earlier. And so, to make sure you're giving yourself enough time to really get to wherever you want to go and get back before the sun sets — unless, of course, you're planning to hike during nighttime, in which case you have to bring a different type of equipment. If people are unfamiliar, they could [also] join a group and kind of gain some familiarity that way. [When you] think about fear, a lot of it is in the unfamiliar. So it's really just gaining some confidence in a skill set.
Holman on overcoming the fear of hiking alone:
I think so often, our brains like to create the worst case scenario and kind of [get] attached to it. And so I just recently hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness [trail] alone in Maine. And while that's a very real fear about doing that — mostly around bears and bad people — I really try to, when people ask me [about how and why I hike alone], say, well, 'What exactly are you afraid of? Are you afraid of an animal or someone approaching you? Are you afraid of getting hurt?' Because in most cases, there is an answer to that fear. You know, there are safety devices there. There are GPS devices you can take if you're going on a long hike. There's pepper spray, there's bear spray. There are lot of ways that you can counteract that fear. And then I think a lot of it is just in our minds. I found that the more I hiked and the more comfortable I became with my own ability to take care of myself in the woods, the less I felt those fears.
Where To Hike
Interested in going on a hike? Here are some recommendations from Cushing Gop and Holman:
- The Lime Kiln/Quarry/Ovenbird/Taconic Vista Loop at Mass Audubon’s Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, Mass.
- Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H.
- The Yokun/Beaver Lodge Trails Loop at Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, Mass.
- Parsons Marsh (accessible) also in Lenox, Mass. (Find more accessible trails here.)
- The Cheshire Cobbles in Cheshire, Mass.
- Gulf Hagas, known as the "Grand Canyon of Maine" near Brownville, Maine.
- The Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton and Easthampton, Mass.
- Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, Maine.
- The Great Neck Island Trail in Wellfleet, Mass.