Hiking conditioning

Get those legs in shape for summer hiking

The weather is finally turning springlike, which means that many of you are starting to think about the epic hikes you have planned for summer. Since nothing can torpedo an ambitious mountain hike quicker than legs that aren’t up for the hills, it’s time to start getting your gams ready for game day.

There’s a lot you can do starting right now to get in hiking shape.

Every day

First, on a daily basis walk, walk, walk. If you use a step-counter and your goal has been 10,000, up it to 15,000. Make yourself cognizant of the need to walk as much as possible. And take the stairs whenever the opportunity arises. If it helps, as you trek up the stairs in that dank, gray stairwell visualize one of the most scenic climbs you know.

Training hikes near home

On the trail, train on the hilliest trails you can find close to home. Here are some of our top choices for hilly hikes:

  • Charlotte. Crowders Mountain State Park: From the Visitor Center, the climbs to both Crowders Mountain (Crowders and Rocktop trails) and The Pinnacle (Pinnacle Trail) have some steep sections; the 1.8-mile Tower Trail from the Linwood Access probably offers the best bang per vertical foot. At Morrow Mountain State Park, Sugar Loaf Mountain (2.8 miles) and Hattaway Mountain (2 miles) trails will build up your quads.
  • Triad. Pilot Mountain: Start from the Pinnacle Hotel Road access and hike the Mountain Trail from the base of the mountain up to the Grindstone Trail, up to the top, gaining more than a thousand vertical feet in 4.5 miles. At Hanging Rock, start from the Flinchum Road Access on the Dan River and hike up the 3.6-mile Indian Creek Trail to the Visitor Center, then catch the 4.7-mile Moore’s Wall Loop Trail to the top of the park, a total elevation gain of about 1,700 feet. GetHiking! groups will be taking trips to Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock this weekend and next; see below for details on how to join us.
  • Triangle. You can find some steep but short climbs in Eno River State Park (try Cox Mountain and Holden Mill Trail hiked clockwise), but your best bet for prolonged climbs is to drive to the Uwharrie National Forest and hike the 6.3-mile stretch from the Jumpinoff Rock Trailhead to Pisgah Covered Bridge Road, over Little Long Mountain and Kings Mountain.
  • Greenville. Raven Rock State Park is a two-hour drive: there, you could get in a few laps on the 135-stair staircase leading down from 150-foot-high bluff to the Cape Fear River, and the 5-mile Campbell Creek Trail has some elevation.
  • Charlottesville, Va. Having the Shenandoah National Park in your backyard is like having the best natural stairclimber around: so many good options. Leading Ridge Trail in the Central District offers the best elevation change: about 1,650 feet in one mile.
  • Virginia Beach, Va. The bad news for mountain training when you live at the beach is that you live at the beach. But when it comes to natural stairmasters, you’re hard-pressed to top Mount Trashmore. Spend 30 minutes on the trash heap three or four times a week and you’ll be ready for most any climb.


Crowders Mountain, Morrow Mountain State Park, Pilot Mountain State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, Eno River State Park, Shenandoah National Park

For information on hiking the Uwharrie National Forest, check out Don Children’s “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide,” Second Edition, Earthbound Sports. Learn more about the book here.

Join us on a challenging hike

This Saturday, our Piedmont Explorer group will be getting in some elevation at Hanging Rock State Park. Learn more here.

Next weekend, our GetHiking! Classic Hikes crew visits Pilot Mountain for a 10-mile hike starting from the base of the mountain, climbing as high as you can legally go, then heading back down. Learn more and sign up here.

Happy trails,


p.s. Stay tuned next week for information on a special workshop to get your core in shape for backpacking this summer!

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