One morning last summer, after yet another subway commute spent spooning strangers on a crowded train, I decided to burn up my vacation time, blow my savings, and just go hiking. In the 11 years I'd lived in New York City, I hadn't so much as seen a trail, but I had always wanted to do a multiday trek someplace way off the grid. I kept thinking, Maybe my pal, Jennifer, will come with me when her schedule clears up, or, Maybe my next boyfriend will be into backpacking. Finally I figured, What the heck, I'll go solo.
With a few clicks, I signed up online for an excursion to Mount Everest Base Camp. Before I knew it I was standing at 17,598 feet in Khumbu, Nepal, having spent eight days climbing the equivalent of eight 100-story skyscrapers. Now back in my fifth-floor walk-up, I've discovered easier ways to get my nature fix than flying to the Himalayas.
"You can find a hiking tour and trailheads a short ride from just about any city," says Jessica Wolinsky, a wilderness guide for Discover Outdoors, a New York City-based company with day trips as close as 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan. The point is, you don't have to pine for a scenic path, because hiking is one of the most doable activities no matter where you live. (And quite a calorie burner to boot: The average 140-pound woman melts about 224 calories an hour walking versus 384 when trekking uneven terrain.) Plus there's a route for everyone, whether you want a Kilimanjaro experience or something more kid-friendly.
"Hiking was always a way for me to clear my mind, so when I had children, I found a way to bring them with me," says Helen Olsson, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and is the author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. "When my youngest was a baby, I toted her in a carrier, and we would maybe get half a mile before the other two kids got tired. Now that they're 11, 8, and 6, we do full-day treks of up to four miles." The key is starting with supershort distances, stopping for regular breaks, and packing lots of snacks and water, Olsson says.
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