Scouting a trail leaves only the good surprises

Before I head down the trail with a batch of hikers, I do a bit of scouting. Even if I’ve hiked the trail before, the nature of things might have changed. If it’s a trail I hiked just last week, I might just scout the website to see if there’s been any flooding or tree falls. But if it’s been a while, and maybe in a different season, I’ll head on over to the trail and see for myself what’s new. Because, although it’s true that part of the delight of hiking is discovering new things, we don’t want to discover that a trail is impassable or there’s not enough space for overnight camping or there’s no water source for miles.

Good to know well beforehand, while you can alter your plan.

So, with an upcoming trip to the Uwharries, I took note that the last time I took a group there was in February, in the dead of winter with an absence of undergrowth. On that trip, everyone slept in the mountaintop shelter and we didn’t need firewood. This upcoming trip has different requirements: space for seven tents, access to water, and enough firewood to cook a meal for fifteen people.

So, I headed on down to the Uwharries to scout.

And I discovered several key things that should make this trip go smoothly:

  • Tent space. I was able to identify nine solid campsites. Woohoo!
  • Firewood. Our destination is a mountaintop bald; there’s some decent wood on the east-facing slope, but it’s not a bad idea to haul in some dried, cut oak, just in case.
  • Fire ring. In February, we were too tired to build a fire, so I didn’t really take note of the campsite fire ring. It turns out it’s a good one, with sturdy walls and a sufficient draft.
  • Water. The nicest discovery on my scouting trip: A spring has been identified about three-tenths of a mile below the summit, and it has a white-pipe stream that’s almost like having running water at the site.
  • Trailhead. I viewed the trailhead as a place that will be new to the backpackers, rather than as an access I’d been to several times. And I decided that the unmarked road will be a challenge to find to newcomers. So we’ll bring a signboard to flag down our crew.
  • Vista. The view from the summit was every bit as wonderful as I remembered—we can catch sunrise over the Uwharries to the east, and sunset over the mountains to the west. And the night sky, clear of light (and, we hope, clouds) should be worth hanging out under into the wee hours.

I expect to sleep well on this trip. And, because of my early-morning scouting, I should sleep well on the nights leading up to our weekend trip.

To find a well-scouted GetHiking! trip near you, and to subscribe for our weekly GetHiking! enewsletter, go here.

Happy trails,


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