Tips For Hiking In The West

The American West is home to predatory animals, dry climates and high elevations. But the hikes are beautiful and worth it. Here’s seven things to know before planning a hike out west.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

Here’s seven things to know before planning a hike out west.



Our bodies are approximately 70 percent water. With a dry climate and higher elevation, the body will tend to deplete fluids more rapidly. Bring plenty of water with you (and/or a way to filter water) when heading out to hike. The University of Utah recommends to be well hydrated before you even head out on the trail.

Get Out Early

During the summer in the West, afternoon lightning is a common occurrence. For this reason, it is recommended that you get out in the morning to hike. The sun is also more intense because of the altitude, so avoiding the heat of the day is recommended to avoid sunburns and dehydration.

Dress In Layers

There is a saying out West (especially in Colorado), that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes. Weather can change rapidly, especially in the mountains. Check the day’s forecast before hitting the trail. Be prepared for weather changes by dressing in layers that you can take on and off.

Wear Good Footwear

Trails in the West tend to change surfaces often as you hike along them. You may start on dirt, walk along sandstone ledges, cross water and work your way through sand, all on one hike. This means that wearing good footwear is essential. Do some research prehike to check what conditions you may encounter. Good traction is key, along with ankle support, as surfaces can be uneven. I recommend packing extra socks and bringing along water sandals if you need to cross water sources.

Get To Know The Wildlife

The wildlife in the West may vary greatly from where you typically hike. Take some time to read about and familiarize yourself with the wildlife that you may encounter while hiking in the West. Do not touch, feed or harass the wildlife. Check with the National Park Service (NPS) for viewing distance regulations. Learn and research what to do in case you encounter predators, such as grizzly bears. Know some basic wildlife precautions for the most aggressive animals before heading out on the trail. If you encounter a snake, back away slowly and give it space. Maintain eye contact with a mountain lion. Back away slowly. Make yourself larger, wave your arms and make noise. If attacked, fight back. If you come across a bear, give it space. If a bear does attack, what you should do will depend on the type of bear. If it is a brown or grizzly bear, you will want to play dead. Lie on your stomach and spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to flip you over. Stay still until the bear retreats. If an attack continues, you may begin to fight back. With a black bear, you do not want to play dead. Try to escape to a car or building. If attacked, fight back. Concentrate on hitting the bear in the nose and face if you fight back. *All information is sourced from

Don’t Rely On Cell Service

One of the best parts about hiking in the West is your ability to get away from it all. With the solitude comes the likelihood that cell service will be spotty at best where you are hiking. Download maps and directions ahead of time. Use an app that doesn’t require cell service to track your hike. You can check out these suggestions from REI. Be sure to sign in at all trailhead and trail points if a logbook is present. Don’t forget to tell someone who is not in your hiking party where you are going and when you should be back.

Sun Protection Is A Must

A study conducted by Ronald O. Perelman with the Department of Dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine showed that for every 1,000 feet of elevation you climb, you’ll experience an 8 to 10 percent increase in ultraviolet intensity. Thus, sun protection is very important when hiking out West. Wear and reapply sunscreen. Throw on a hat and sunglasses. Wearing SPF clothing including long sleeves and long pants is also a great idea. Windy conditions are also common, so these precautions will help protect your skin from windburn.

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