You've got the gear, and you're ready to hit the trail and enjoy the surrounding beauty. The only problem is that your friends aren't really outdoorsy, and you don't want to venture out on your own. Fortunately, there are many hiking organizations which offer companions and resources for your hiking adventures.
Conservation-Minded Hiking Groups
Many national and local hiking organizations exist, in part, to protect the land and wildlife they treasure. Joining one of these groups will allow you to network with other stewards of the Earth and take part in preserving natural spaces.
- Founded in 1976, the American Hiking Society (AHS) is perhaps the best-known advocacy organization for the protection of foot trails in the U.S. Every June, AHS sponsors a National Trails Day in celebration of natural spaces around the country. Activities include events from hiking to birdwatching and trail maintenance. Through its Alliance of Hiking Organizations, this organization also maintains a network of other hiking groups around the country with missions of protecting trails. You can become a dues-paying member of AHS for a small yearly fee.
- Leave No Trace sets out to promote environmental stewardship, especially in young people, through an appreciation of trails and natural places. The organization has a state-by-state listing of its activities, along with Master Educators in each state who can offer resources and training.
- The Mountaineers have been teaching outdoors skills, protecting land, and sharing adventures for over 100 years. Based out of Washington state, most activities offered by their nature centers occur on the West Coast, but people around the country can still get involved in the organization's conservation mission as members.
- Sierra Club claims to be the country's largest environmental grassroots organization with a mission statement of "explore, enjoy, and protect the planet." There are over 60 local chapters that host an array of conservation events, from campaigning against pollution to visiting and exploring parks and other natural spaces.
Regional and State Hiking Organizations
Some hiking organizations are specific to geographic regions or individual states. Whether you're planning a vacation to the Rockies or you want to explore the natural gems around your area, many of these types of organizations can help you get started.
- The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), founded over 130 years ago, protects wild lands specifically in the Appalachian Mountain region from Washington, D.C. to Maine. The group operates chapters throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, which can help you become active in your outdoor community not only through hiking, but also through skiing, cycling, paddling, and more.
- Another East Coast hiking and preservation organization, the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association hosts events which include a yearly gathering in the fall to bring outdoor enthusiasts together. The group welcomes all hikers, from beginners setting foot on their first trail to veterans.
- The Pacific Crest Trail Association protects 2,650 miles of trail between Mexico and Canada on the West Coast. Events include an annual meeting, volunteer opportunities, and trail maintenance projects.
- Traveling west to east, the American Discovery Trail spans over 6,800 miles of mountains, plains, desert, and other terrains. Communities are linked nationwide through this first coast-to-coast, non-motorized trail. You can join the society that maintains the trail to get involved.
- With over 28,000 members, the Adirondack Mountain Club encourages responsible recreation and stewardship of this New York-area mountain range. The organization offers day trips and even week-long outings filled with hiking, paddling, and historic tours.
- Conquer the Canyon offers individualized hiking training programs which culminate in a trek through the Grand Canyon. Throughout the process, participating members raise funds for their charity of choice, from fighting poverty to combatting disease.
- State groups like the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) exist to bring residents together to enjoy their state's natural treasures, often while also protecting these spaces for the enjoyment of generations to come. There are also statewide agencies that use public funding to maintain and protect natural areas and trails.
Special-Interest Hiking Groups
If you want to explore your local area with other folks who share a specific interest of yours, there are groups that focus almost everything from hiking with dog companions to community service projects.
- If you're searching for a way for your kids to become involved in outdoor activities and stewardship, consider scouting. There are many opportunities for parents to come along on trips, and children who participate develop leadership and outdoor survival skills. Visit the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts websites for more information.
- A Christian organization with chapters around the country, Trail Life USA helps young men develop leadership skills and follow their faith, all while exploring wild places.
- For climbing enthusiasts, the American Alpine Club offers guides and extensive resources for hikers who prefer to move vertically rather than horizontally when venturing outdoors. Social events, outings, and trainings are held for members nationwide.
- The American Birding Association maintains a nationwide list of birdwatching clubs, many of which sponsor hiking and camping outings to observe their feathered friends.
- Barefoot Hikers has chapters across the U.S. for folks who love adventuring outdoors without shoes. According to the organization, going shoeless helps connect you to the Earth and is a more natural and less damaging way to enjoy nature.
Meetup.com boasts over 6,000 hiking groups with nearly four million members in more than 60 countries. The site allows users to create and participate in groups which match specific interests on a local level. In the Atlanta, Georgia, area, for example, there are dozens of hiking meet-up groups run by Meetup.com users, including groups for singles, women, twenty-somethings, dog enthusiasts, the LGBT community, African Americans, and more.
Find Your Hiking Organization
The key to finding the best hiking organization for your needs is to focus on your goals and interests. Do you want to hike mountains or take an easy outdoor stroll with other families? Maybe you'd like to hike with an all-women's group, or you want to engage in some conservation work while you explore. In your local area, there are likely hiking clubs which meet each of these needs and many more. Choose a group of hikers who travel at your pace whether you're part of a budding family or a senior who hopes to become more active. This will make it much easier to zero in on the best organization for you.
If you still need more resources on local groups or special interest hiking events, visit the website for your state or local parks and recreation department or tourism board, or take a trip to the nearest visitor center for your area and check brochures and bulletin boards. There, you're sure to find advertisements for upcoming hiking events or meet-ups. With these resources at your fingertips and a pair of boots laced up on your feet, you'll soon be on your way to your next great adventure!