How Trip Reports Kill Trails

Over the last decade digital trip reports have been a growing resource, with widespread rise of the internet access. Connecting hikers with trail information and the ability to explore new places, from the comfort of their couch. For years this website was one of the early resources for that type of information regarding the Olympic Mountains. One of the biggest goals of wilderness areas is preservation and us hikers are not doing a good job saving these places for the next generations. Let's go over some reasons why I stopped publishing this type of information on the internet.

National park crowds
Overcrowded Trailhead with hundreds of cars double parked in Olympic

Send Too Many Hikers to One Concentrated Area

Some hikers often scour websites and social media for the next best place to explore. This is good that they are getting outside; which we all as humans love to do. However, when you post a specific area on the internet, it sends way too many people onto a trail, which they are not designed to handle. You see that the tread on trail must be built up enough, to handle the erosive factors of our footwear.

Backcountry campsites are not built up to handle excessive tents on the fragile soil. Tent footprints kill soil and anything living under them. So if you always have a tent in a specific area everyday in the summer months, everything under it permanently dies.

It is a fact, place a specific trail on the internet. It won't be long before that trailhead parking lot is full of cars.

I suggest following these rules to lessen our digital impact on the land.

What About the Rest of the Trails?

It is proven that placing a specific area brings a surge of hikers that area, but what happens to the other trails? A trail system is a balancing act between neglect and overuse. My time in the woods have shown, trails that don't get attention or negative press, get forgotten and brushed over, and areas that are trendy, get trampled and mismanaged. This will cause more and more trails to be abandoned.

  • Example 1: "This trail is too brushy and overgrown". This will kill the trail and cause it to be neglected, because of a steady stream of foot traffic needed to keep it alive. 
  • Example 2:  "It was amazing, check out my photos!" Posting too much attention to an area will cause a sudden flux of hikers. Trails are often not built to handle sudden or prolonged surges of people. 

Third Party Trip Report Websites Kill Trails!

Third party trip report websites (such as this one in the past) will destroy your favorite trail. It is important that we maintain a balance between usage, preservation and funding. Funding is the biggest monster to tackle these days. There is major issues with trail maintenance on a federal level, now more than ever. It is important that federally paid trail crews are able to continue doing their work. They are what keep the trail systems held together.

By posting a trip report on a non USFS or NPS website (or telling a ranger). You are killing our trail systems, by averting funds and digital presence away from the source land management. Without land management, these areas could not exist. These third party websites make money off of ads, donations and digital branding presence. By supporting them with web visits, clicks or funds, you are killing our trails. This money and web traffic is crucial for the NPS and USFS long term survival.

Funnel Hikers to Trail Guide (Paperback) Books

For generations well written and broadly detailed trail guides have been used by hikers. These paperback books list dozens of trails in a specific area. This is what we should get back to, back to the basics. By referring a hiker to a trail guide, you spread concentrated impact crowded trails have, into more manageable broad streams of people. A well written trail guide does not state, "go check out this one awesome trail", but rather give a variety of different options for a hiker to chose from. This is the solution to help stop overused trails and prevent others from getting neglected.

I have found that hikers that take the time to study and research an area, are a thousand times more likely to respect the land. A quick fix or short term gratification type individual, is much more likely not to follow trail rules and leave a very high impact in the area. Which is quickly apparent if you go into an area that has been heavily published in the digital world.

Need suggestions for Olympic? Check out these trail guides!

Article by Barefoot Jake