An Open Letter to Hiking Trail Map Makers, Guidebook Writers and Website Owners

To the Hiking Trail Map Makers, Guidebook Writers, Website Owners and more,

We are fairly new to the hiking scene.

We moved from Northwest Florida where the hiking trails are mostly part of the state park system so they are well marked.  Now that we live in Denver, we have been hiking together as a family.

There is a lot to learn about hiking and hiking with kids.  My husband has section-hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, so hiking isn’t new to him, but hiking together as a family is  much different.  You have to figure out what you need in your day pack.  You have to decide what to wear and what your children should wear.  You have to decide which hikes are really family friendly.  Hiking with kids is lots of fun but it can be lots of work.


Bring in the hiking trail maps, hiking guidebook writers, and hiking websites.

In theory, these should be very helpful.  They are for the most part but there is a bit of a learning curve.  You have to be able to read between the lines.  Here are some of the things we have learned.

Parking is limited.  Parking is limited sometimes means there are four spaces.  Like one. Two. Three. Four.  Sometimes it means there are 30 spaces but they are all taken by 9am.  Experience is the only way to figure out how limited it really is.

The trailhead address is not always correct.  Example 1: We typed in the trailhead address.  We drove to said trailhead address.  The trailhead was not there but was located about another mile away.  Example 2:  The website said the trailhead was on 15th and a cross street.  No…the trailhead was actually on 12th street.  Example 3:  See Example 1.

Turn the map.  Sometimes, you need to turn the map.  One would think that the map should be viewed the way it was written.  Recently, we went on a hike that had numerous trails off of one and none of them were marked at the crossroad.  The  trail markers were about half a mile in.  We thought we were taking one trail.  About half a mile in, we discovered that we had taken a trail we didn’t want to take.  Had we turned the map upside down, we would have taken the trail we had wanted.

Parking is not always at the trailhead.  Some trail maps and guidebooks leave out the part that the hike actually begins about a mile from the parking lot.  This isn’t that big of a deal if you are an adult used to hiking.  Unfortunately, when you have children, a mile might be all you were planning.  We did a hike recently where we were supposed to park in a parking lot of a high school.  Once parked, we traversed several hills trying to find the trailhead with no luck.  About a half a mile of walking, we finally found it.  By the time we found the trailhead, are kids were already exhausted.

0.3 miles is sometimes 0.9 miles.  Or 2 miles.  Just because the map says that portion of the trail is 0.3 miles doesn’t always mean it is correct.  We have found that state parks are usually pretty accurate but we have run into a few that are off.

Easy. Moderate. Difficult.  This decision is in the eye of the beholder.  What I find easy, might be found moderate by someone else and vice versa.  We have hit some trails that were marked easy but seemed quite rigorous to me.


There are ways to counteract some of these issues.

Buy a guidebook by a reputable hiking book publisher.  If you are hiking with kids, I highly recommend the Mountaineer Books.  Hiking with Kids Colorado has not steered us wrong yet and we have hiked about 8 of the 100 hikes so far.

Cross-check your original source.  After finding a hike that interests us, I immediately check our books and several websites.  Do the trailhead addresses match?  Is most of the information the same?

Do a blog search.  The easiest way I have found to search for blog posts about different hikes is to search Google (or your favorite search engine) for the hike name and blog posts.  For examples, search “Matthew Winters hike blog posts” and see what comes up.  I received a number of hiking blogs with descriptions of the hike, parking, and more.  This will give you a real person’s view of the hike.  They often share tips and tricks.  They also share things that worked for them and things that didn’t.

Have you had a trail map disaster?

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday with Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels.


  1. 1

    How frustrating! But with your great humor mixed in, you make it all sound…no so bad 😉 We recently ran into the the easy, moderate, difficult problem…ALL the books and sites said the hike was going to be easy. While the mileage may have been low, to us, it was no “walk in the park”!

  2. 2

    As a hiking blog owner, this is good feedback. I’ve run into some of the same issues with mileage and parking. Most books will define what their definition of easy, moderate, difficult and strenuous is. There can also be “Class” ratings for scrambling sections (climbing over rocks, scree, etc). You’re lucky to be in CO. I’ve yet to hike there.

  3. 3

    Have we had a trail map disaster? Have we ever! Oh my gosh, when my kids’ were younger my husband and I had a great idea to spend an hour or so hiking at one of our state parks. We took a peek at the map provided and headed off for what we thought was a short hike. It turned out that the map wasn’t very detailed and the trail had numerous trails off the main trail. We mistakenly got off the main path, followed what we thought was the right trail, got lost and spent 2 more hours trying to find our way back to the main trail and out of the woods. The experience taught us a valuable lesson- Always Be Prepared. Since we set off for a short hike, we didn’t wear good shoes or take any water. Big mistake. My kids’ still talk about that fiasco.

  4. 4

    I’m definitely familiar with trail map errors, luckily none of them have been bad enough to call a disaster (yet). Just recently I’ve hiked places where the hike description didn’t begin at the parking area, adding about a mile, and a place where the trail mileage seemed way off. I write a blog with a lot of Colorado hiking posts and I always try to make sure I’m giving accurate information and add in some little things I think would be helpful to know before going.

  5. 5

    These are great tips. So far we have only done trails near us that we are familiar with. I would love to do more, but I’m scared of things like this happening!

  6. 6

    These are great tips and oh so true! I used to look forward to wandering around on hike trails but with a child, you really have to have a detailed, good map!

  7. 7

    This totally made me laugh. When we first moved to Colorado and started hiking we quickly learned you have to read between the lines. The books, sites and apps aren’t always rights. In fact, there is usually something that’s changed from when it was first published. One of the things we do now is write in our guidebooks – we write our own notes to help us find it again and remember what it was really all about. Good luck with your Colorado hiking adventures.