In most places there are many hiking trails readily available, ranging from simple, almost flat paved trails to extremely steep, rocky, difficult trails for the more adventurous. There are trails in or around many Forest Service campgrounds. Some are interpretive nature trails with either self guided or ranger led tours. Some trails are available for multiple uses: hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, even OHV riding. When using a multi-use trail, give appropriate consideration to other users and recognize they have as much right to be there as you do, even if they choose a different mode of movement. Do some research about any trail you choose before you begin. Know the difficulty and any special risks (weather, animals, water crossings, avalanche, fire danger, etc). Be sure to check in with the local ranger station and let them know when you are starting out on the trail and when you expect to return so they will know where and when to begin search and rescue operations if you fail to return at the expected time. Check the weather report so you can avoid going places that are likely to flood during rain or face avalanche danger if it snows.
Be sure to bring plenty of water. Even moderate hiking is fairly strenuous exercise and even on cool days you can work up quite a sweat. You'll need to replenish your water and your electrolytes to maintain strength and alertness needed for your excursion. Some trails have natural sources of water available along the way. Even very clear, clean, pure-looking water can be contaminated so be careful. Check with the local ranger to find out which water sources are safe. In most cases the most common affect of bad water is simply a case of diarrhea, which can quickly seriously dampen your spirits (and other things) but water around old mining or manufacturing sites may be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, such the deadly cyanide used in gold refining. Even when taking water from "approved" sources, be sure to check for contamination from animal carcasses and feces. Look as far up stream as you see and if the view is blocked, it is well worth taking a few minutes to move far enough to be sure the water doesn't contain anything unhealthy before you drink or fill your canteen. Even washing your hands and face in contaminated water can expose you to biological and chemical agents that could make you sick.
Like any other outdoor activity, you need to be properly prepared. First, make sure you have no health problems or physical limitations that will be a problem during your hike. Pre-hydrate your body by drinking plenty of water and/or sports drinks starting the day before your hike. Choose proper clothing according to weather conditions. Even on warm days it is a good idea to tuck in a light weight nylon jacket or a plastic poncho in case of rain. Even if rain isn't the the regional forecast, many mountain areas create their own local weather. Be sure you are wearing proper footwear. Comfortable running shoes are favorite among many hikers for easy trails but for more difficult terrain and for added safety anytime, wear good hiking boots. They will protect you from stubbing your toes on rocks and logs and will help guard against sprained ankles. Choose a good sock system to ensure your feet are properly cushioned and protected from blisters. Socks should be heavy enough to cushion your feet without overheating and should be made of a fabric that will wick away perspiration. Many times it is useful to wear a thin pair of socks under your heavier hiking socks to help prevent blisters. Usually the thin socks will stick to your feet and slide against the thicker socks instead of having socks rub directly on your skin. If you do get blisters, a product called "moleskin" is a good first aid treatment to cover and protect blisters. If you are prone to blister and know where, you might apply some moleskin to the affected areas before you start out to prevent blisters. Many hikers like to use a hiking stick. It is a good way to help stabilize yourself on the the trail and often eases the burden on your legs, feet and back, making it more comfortable. I have a collapsible aluminum Coleman hiking stick that takes up little room or weight in my pack when not in use and yet provides a lot of comfort on the trail. In a pinch it could be used to help splint a broken arm or leg.
First aid, having a proper first aid kit and knowing how to use it, can mean the difference between a minor injury causing a little discomfort and a more serious situation that ruins your hike. Blisters, insect bites, and small scrapes and scratches are likely to happen along the way. Each person should carry at least a small pocket first aid kit with bandaids, moleskin, and antiseptic cream. For larger groups, someone should bring along a more comprehensive first aid kit with sterile dressings, gauze, adhesive tape, and some pain medication. Everyone should have basic first aid training and advanced first aid skills are strongly recommended for larger groups and when hiking difficult or dangerous trails.
There was a time when navigation depended on topographical maps and a good compass. While these are still effective, inexpensive, and even fun to use, modern GPS devices provide easier and more accurate ways to know keep track of where you are and where you're going. You can also get "beacons" that transmit your location and status to be delivered to one or more designated recipients when the panic button is placed. Some are even capable of detecting unusual conditions, such as a fall or prolonged inactivity resulting from an injury or illness. Some can be programmed to deliver regular status reports to chosen locations to friend and family at home know where you are and that you are OK.
Modern electronic communication devices give us lots of ways to call or help or just keep in touch when on the trail. It is sometimes surprising to find cell phone coverage in some relatively remote areas. If you have the budget for it, a satellite phone will work almost anywhere, but beware, they are VERY expensive! CB and Ham radios generally required line-of-sight between stations but even that might be sufficient in some situations. Citizen Band walkie talkies are a good way to maintain communications between members of a common organized expedition. You can even get hands free, helmet mounted versions for use on OHVs, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Never hike alone is a good rule to follow. Even a simple injury like a twisted ankle may require some assistance and having help in more serious situations could literally mean the difference between life and death. In 2003, experienced solo mountaineer Aaron Raltson was trapped for days in a remote slot canyon in southern Utah when an 800 lb boulder came loose and trapped his arm against the canyon wall. After several days and having long since exhausted the two burritos and a quart of water in his backpack, in desperation he broke the bone in his own arm, then cut through flesh with dull multi tool to free himself from his predicament. You can read details of his story here. Aaron was a very experienced mountaineer, having scaled 59 Colorado peaks over 14,000, 45 of them solo. If YOU choose to do some solo hiking, be careful and be sure to leave details of your planned trip with family, local rangers, or law enforcement so they can send help if something happens and you can't get back. A simple hike on a popular, familiar, and frequently used hiking trail probably will probably be pretty safe for just about anyone. However, as Aaron's story illustrates, even the best qualified hikers can get in serious trouble in difficult and/or remote locations.
One of the good things about hiking is you can choose the level of difficulty and effort. That means you can start out easy and work your way up to more challenging routes and you can tailor each hike to your current physical, mental, and emotional condition. You can also customize hikes to accommodate the skills and strength of any other hikers in your group.
Take a hike!