How I Plan a Trip

The other day, someone suggested I do a blog post on how I plan a trip.  I wasn’t quite sure what to say, since I often plan months or even years in advance without knowing exactly where we’ll be going, but I decided I’d give it a go.  Here’s one general way I plan – from the inception of an idea through hiking the trail.



Step 1: An Idea is Formed

Hiking in the Medicine Bow Range, Wyoming

I saw pictures of the Medicine Bow Range in Wyoming and knew we had to do that hike!

Sometimes I start with an idea, such as “We might go to Colorado this summer; let’s see what good hikes I can find” or “I just saw a really cool picture on the internet; I wonder where it is and if there’s any other hikes we could do in the area.”  I may know very well we won’t be visiting Utah for another year at the soonest, but if I find a cool trail now, I know I’ll have the idea when it comes time to use it.


For example, a social media friend recently told me about the Wind River Range in Wyoming (thanks Mike!).  I don’t know if we’ll be going there this summer or not, but I’m pretending that we are at the moment and researching accordingly.  The pictures on the internet have been stunning thus far!


Step 2: Research

Hoodoos in the Bisti Wilderness Area, New Mexico

Researching the internet brought us to Bisti Wilderness Area, New Mexico

Some people hate this step; others revel in it.  I do both.  I love finding the new trails and sites, but sometimes I get tired of looking and wish I could do it now J


Anyway, after an idea is formed, I go looking for information about hiking in the area.  My first stop is usually the internet; for example, early on I did a search for “day hiking in the Wind River Range”.  If I found a trail that sounded good, I’d do some more internet research on that specific trail to make sure it’s really something I want to hike and think we can do (it makes quite a bit of difference if one person says a trail is 9 miles long and another says it’s 14 miles).


Doubtful Lake on Sahale Arm in North Cascades National Park, Washington

Sahale Arm in Washington definitely passes my view snobbery test…!

Sometimes I’ll also look at books.  I happened to have a few minutes in our downtown library last week, so I picked up some books about Wyoming (I think these are likely the only books in the entire county about the Wind Rivers).  Amazon has a good supply of titles if you’re into buying books (which I’m not).  If I read about a trail that sounds good, I’ll look it up on the internet.  Some of these books are 50 years old (seriously!), so it’s a good idea to check them out before trying to find trails that have long since disappeared or are now private property.  Also, I’m a bit of a view junkie, so I try to find photos of the area to see if it passes my view snobbery test J.  All the internet information I find I copy and paste into a Word document, which I’ll pint out later.


Step 3: Decide Where We’re Going


Palm Bowl, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

We didn’t mean to go to California…but when the weather didn’t cooperate in New Mexico, we had a wonderful time in Anza Borrego Desert State Park!

Deciding where we’re going is always a bit of touch-and-go.  Often, I don’t know until a week or two before we leave (that’s why I always try to have hiking ideas on hand – I don’t like a last-minute rush to research what we’re going to do!)  Every once in a while, we’ll either leave without knowing where we’re going (one time we found ourselves completely across the country without really trying) or have our plans change at the last minute (like the time I found out 16 hours before we were supposed to leave that every trail I’d planned was still snowed in from a late snowfall – should have planned that one better!)


I won’t bore you with the details, but usually deciding where to go is based on weather reports (not too hot, too cold, or too rainy), trail conditions, how much time we have (you can go a whole lot further in 3 weeks and 2!), and where we went last year (chances are you won’t find us in South Dakota two years in a row, for example).


Step 4: Collecting the Information

Climbing Ypsilon Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I planned a big hike up Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon Peaks in 2006…and we finally did it 7 years later. Yahoo!

After we’ve decided where we’re going (at least down to the state level), I can start collecting information.  I print all the Word documents I’ve been collecting, and go through that information to see if we have enough to do or if I should do some more research.  (If I need more hikes, or an area seems sparse, it’s back to the internet – I probably don’t have time to go to the library at this point.)  We also have big envelopes in our attic of all the brochures we’ve collected from parks and places we’ve visited.  (This is useful if we enter a park before it’s open, if the park personnel neglect to give us a map on our way in, for planning, or if the maps have changed over the years and the new ones are useless.)  I take all the printed information, brochures, books (if any), and state maps and tour books from AAA (free for members) and put them all in a duffle bag (which usually sits next to my feet in the van so it’s out of the way – lol).


Step 5: Deciding on Hikes

Hiking the Tonto Trail between the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Hiking the South Kaibab Trail to the Tonto Trail and then up the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon was a “must do” hike a few years ago

To be honest, I rarely decide on all the hikes we’re going to take until we’re on the road, often within 24 hours of reaching the park or doing the hike.  There are always some hikes I know I really want to do – Mount Elbert, for example, or the Golden Gate Bridge – but the exact specifics of what we’ll do in between these major hikes is one way to fill the hours on the road.  Another piece of the reason I don’t plan ahead is weather – we’ll leave an area and move on to somewhere else if the weather doesn’t cooperate (I recall one trip where we’d planned to go to Colorado, but an early snow storm and cold weather was seriously hampering our trip, so we moved over to Utah with only a vague idea of what we’d do there!)  So, I try to be flexible, and base our treks on weather, what my group is up to that day, and where exactly we are at any given moment, working around my “must do” hikes.


A good example of this happened when I was in Colorado last summer – we’d just left the Flat Tops Wilderness after hiking all the trails I’d planned (yay!)  The weather for Mount Elbert (a must-do hike) and the surrounding area didn’t seem very good, so we ended up at Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a couple days ‘til the weather cleared.


Step 6: Follow Up

Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking Coyote Gulch was a clear favorite last year in our after-trip “poll”

At the end of every trip, we ask each group member to name their favorite three things they did on the trip.  Usually the younger ones mention sand dunes, historical sites, or other places they had an especially fun time, while I’m more likely to list especially challenging but rewarding hikes to spectacular views J.  The lists are a good reference to look back on several years later when we’re returning to an area…what did we really enjoy, anyway?


Do you have a fairly strategic way of planning…or do you prefer to play it by ear and see where you end up?  Any good tips on how you plan you hikes / trips?


This Week’s Featured Product!

With some fairly good photography and plenty of places you’ve probably never heard of before, I’ve used this book on several occasions to find good places to visit.  It’s especially good for its museums and historical sites.



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