Right now I am in Tustin, California for a couple days. Like I do on most business trips, I went for a little hike late Thursday afternoon; actually almost evening. I had to use the Photon II micro-light on my key chain for part of the route. Tustin is in Orange County, a heavily populated area. On my way to the client’s location this morning, I noticed a hilly area without any homes. When my work was finished, I drove to this area, parked on a residential street where I saw a trail at the end of a cul-de-sac, and went for a hike. As it turns out, the area is a regional park with about 350 acres of open space and lots of trails.
During my hike I was thinking about all the requests I see on the Internet asking for suggestions for places to hike. So I decided to share my thoughts on this.
I often travel for business and usually to places that are new to me. My work schedule is not well defined ahead of time. I really don’t have time to research areas for hikes, and I may not have time to get to a trail head and then do a hike. So I play it by ear. I always bring XC flats, and hiking/running clothes.
When in a new city, if I see an area that looks promising, and time allows, I go check it out. I might look at some of the literature that is typically left in hotel rooms for guests. I might do a Google search once I am at my destination. Usually I just get a road map and look for areas without streets. Sometimes I bring my overnight ultralight gear in my suitcase. I have, on occasion, found perfect overnight opportunities close to my hotel room. After work I park my car at the trail head, and then hike until dark or even a little later. Spend the night. Then hike out early in the morning, drive to the hotel, shower, and then go to work. I have done this many times, especially in New Jersey.
This is similar to my method for finding areas for multi-day hikes. Get a large road map and focus on large areas without roads. From there, distill down using resources such as the United States Geological Survey website for free topographical maps (topomaps.usgs.gov). I look for areas that allow cross country travel and have few if any trails. There are millions of acres in the US that meet these qualifications.
In most metropolitan areas in the US, I can find great places to hike or even backpack overnight. What is important is not to look for dramatic scenery and maintained trails. Keep your vision small – that is; consider a macro look at the places you are hiking in. Focus on plants, insects, wildlife, textures, and land and rock formations. The small world can be as large and expansive as a sweeping panoramic mountain range.
When I backpack in an area or am driving home from a hike, I keep an eye out for points of interest. Maybe a large canyon or a peak. If it looks interesting, it is probably a place to come back to. Trails are not needed.
Last year I was in Colorado Springs for four days. Granted, this is not your typical metropolitan area, as the city sits in the shadow of Pikes Peak. But my schedule was to be a busy one. All day meetings, dinner and social gatherings at night. I was staying at the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort and all activities were onsite. Before arriving, I figured I would be lucky to even find time to go to the hotel’s workout room. I left Palm Springs Monday morning and flew into Denver. My new team, for a new project, assembled at the Hertz counter and we drove two vans to Colorado Springs, arriving around 3 pm. We would spend the next 3 days at the hotel.
The next morning, Tuesday, I decided to get up at 4 am and go for a run in the residential area near the hotel. Many homes are over 100 years old and on mansion-sized lots. I ended up doing about 10 miles and was surprised that the 6,300 foot elevation did not affect me too much.
Wednesday morning I did the same, but did a loop around the hotel’s golf course and through some other residential neighborhoods. Back at the hotel, I did an Internet search for trails in the mountains behind the hotel. The Broadmoor sits at the base of Cheyenne Mountain. I found there was a state park, but it is gated and closed until 8:00 am. So I decided to just run the 2 miles to the forested area behind the hotel and check it out the next morning.
On these kinds of short hikes I never take a camera. These are short jaunts and I want to immerse myself in the hike. Since the mornings in Colorado were cold, I wore a wind jacket and wind pants. Again I left my room at 4 am and headed out to the back of the hotel resort along the perimeter of the golf course. After a few minutes I noticed my cell phone was in my jacket pocket. I had worn the jacket the night before and forgot to remove it. This irritated me, because the thing was bouncing around as I ran, but I didn’t want to go back to my room.
Reaching the back of the Resort, I found it completely surrounded by an 8 foot fence. All gates were locked. Finally I found a tree stump and climbed over the obstacle. Steep roads wound up through residential areas and soon I was at the edge of the forest. I found a use trail and followed it for a couple of miles. It appeared that this trail was going to follow the base of the mountain and I wanted to go up. I found a small canyon and worked by way up following game trails, which were plentiful. Looked like a lot of deer had been traveling through the area. And sure enough, I suddenly found several deer. Remembering I had my phone, I took a few pictures. As dawn was approaching, it was that gray period of the day transitioning from night to day light. The flash startled the deer and they fled. Oh well, the pictures weren’t going to turn out well any-how. It was too dark and I had to use the zoom feature.
It was starting to get light, so I worked my way up to a spot over the trees so I could watch the sunrise.
The horizon behind the Broadmoor.
I got up and started up the mountain again. Heading east I noticed the full moon. The landscape was wonderful. Rich red dirt, pines, and cacti. An incredible transition zone.
As I gained altitude, I saw a long ridge-line above me and too the right. I slowly worked by way towards a large rock outcropping that required constant zigzagging around shrubs and yuccas. Reaching the ridge-line I found that it was a boundary of a rather large canyon. I took some pictures and worked my way down the ridge and eventually came to a trail.
The trail terminated to the southeast east of the resort and a paved road. I ran back into town, and ended up traveling around the perimeter of the resort to the main entrance on the west side. Back in my room, I took a shower, put on a suit, and went to breakfast to meet my team. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I was sitting in an airplane, taking off from Denver International Airport. It was Thursday afternoon. Friday was spent in my home office. Saturday I hiked the Desert Skyline Trail. I spent Sunday with my wife.
A typical week for me.
Great hikes can be found in city parks, county parks, regional, parks, state parks, national forests, national parks, national preserves, other government holdings. Many offer overnight and extended opportunities. Don’t ask for someone to recommend a hike. Go find one. Be surprised by what you find. Micro-climates can be as enchanting as large vistas. You don’t need a trail to hike.