When Was Hiking Invented? History Behind the Favorite Outdoor Activity

hike Appalachian Trail Grayson Highlands State Park

If you've ever asked yourself when was hiking invented, then you've come to the right place. The following timeline details the events and the history that eventually established hiking as a popular recreational pastime around the world.

Hiking Is a Part of Being Human

It's difficult to establish a "start" to the activity of hiking. Most people define hiking as trekking through wilderness in order to escape the daily rigors of everyday life and to reconnect with nature and our innermost sense of being connected to the Earth.

How to Decide When Was Hiking Invented

Given such a definition, there really is no starting point to the activity we call hiking. Some of the following examples are a few ways in which humans have always gone "hiking."

  • Ancient Native Americans explored their tribal lands for food and water, and went on long walking journeys as part of coming-of-age quests.
  • Medieval armies traveled by foot and horseback along ancient trails, like the 5,000 year old "Ridgeway" through Southern England.
  • Early American explorers, like Lewis and Clark or Daniel Boone worked their way through the wilderness of America on foot, horseback or by river through the 1700s and early 1800s.
  • From the Roman Emperor Hadrian climbing Mt. Etna in 121 A.D. to Hudson Stuck's ascent of Mt. McKinley in 1913, hiking has always been an essential element in the mountaineering throughout the centuries.

From the history of hiking and the variety of motives for trekking through the land and wilderness, it becomes obvious that there were two very distinct reasons why human beings chose to face the risks and struggles of long-distance walking. On the one hand, some cultures saw hiking as a way to reconnect with nature, while others saw act of wilderness exploration as an issue of "man against nature" or a way to conquer the Earth.

Historic U.S. Trails and the History of Hiking

If you're still wondering when was hiking invented, the easiest answer is that hiking was never really "invented;" it was simply an activity that was always a part of humanity. However, the motives for hiking have changed significantly through the years. While early hiking was an essential part of survival, as technology and transportation made walking unnecessary, people started using walking as a way to relax and temporarily escape from the fast-paced lifestyle of modern society.

This transition took place gradually, with no real defined historic landmarks, however the following historic trails paint a picture of the part that leisure hiking played throughout American history.

  • Pony Express Trail: During it's short 15 month history from 1859 to 1861, Pony Express riders raced along the 1,966 mile trail from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento, California. Today, the Hawley Grade National Trail tests modern day hikers as they attempt to reach the same Echo Mountain summit that Pony Express horses used to climb.
  • The Nez Perce Trail: Stretching 1,170 miles from Idaho to Canada, this trail was the route of the Nez Perce natives as they attempted to escape reservation lands and head into Canada in 1877. The escape failed, but today the trail still exists. The land it winds through is still considered sacred by the Nez Perce.
  • Lewis and Clark: If you love the legendary tale of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, you can follow their hike from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean along the well-marked historic trail.
  • Gettysburg: There were few hikes quite as dangerous as those marched by the Union and the Confederacy in 1863. You'll find 17 well-maintained miles of trail in this historic Pennsylvania trail system.
  • Washington Crossing: Most school children know that George Washington and his Army crossed the Delaware in 1776 to attack the British, but did you know that you can hike the same 2.5 mile trail from the Delaware to the 1740 building?
  • Appalachian Trail: In 1921, Benton MacKaye came up with the idea for the Appalachian trail, connecting the highest mountain in New England to the highest mountain in the South. The idea was finally completed in 1937. It stretches for 2,179 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
  • Continental Divide Trail: This trail, proposed in 1966 and stretching about 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, is actually a collection of various trails and roads from New Mexico to Montana. It literally divides the continental U.S. in two.
  • Pacific Crest Trail: This trail stretches 2,650 miles and parallels the Pacific Ocean at many spots and is one of the longest hiking trails in the United States. The idea for the trail came from Clinton C. Clarke in 1932 and travels through California, Oregon and Washington as it takes hikers all the way from Mexico to Canada.

Experience History for Yourself

Many people don't realize that one of the best ways to see and experience the history of a nation is to walk the same natural trails that their ancestors once walked. By seeing and experiencing the same natural environment and amazing sights, you get to relive those historic hikes all over again.

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When Was Hiking Invented? History Behind the Favorite Outdoor Activity