Summary: What apps to use, how to find trails you see on Instagram, find hidden gems, find trails that fit your fitness level, how to find the best trails, find instagram worthy trails.
The more time I spent hiking and spending time in National Parks, the more I learned to find hikes that fit my needs. Finding the best trails to me looks like hikes that are not overcrowded, have photography opportunities, and fit my fitness level. Learn how I find the Best Trails that are, of course, also Instagram-worthy.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I want to stress that trails and outdoor spaces can be fragile and not meant for an overwhelming amount of people. My hope is that you use these tools to find trails that bring you joy and that you respect the land by practicing Leave No Trace Principles as well as adequately prepare (appropriate gear, adequate water and tools to filter water, 10 essentials, etc). This is a constant battle for me as a travel blogger, as I want to share all of the lovely places I visit with you all, but unfortunately some areas are not capable of handling an influx of people YET.
- Things to Think about Before you Geotag a Location:
- My thoughts on the "Tag Responsibly" Campaign
- I'm going to break this post down into 3 categories:
- APPS to Find the Best Trails for Hiking, Backpacking & Instagram Pictures:
- Websites to find the Best Trails for Hiking, Backpacking, and Instagram Photography:
- How to use Social Media as a Tool to Find the Best Trails and Instagram Worthy Spots
Things to Think about Before you Geotag a Location:
- If the location does not have the infrastructure to support large amounts of people (parking, toilets, maintained trails, trail information)
- That area is fragile and could be damaged easily (not a maintained trail, doesn’t have established camping spots, delicate plant life, prone to erosion)
- The location isn’t already well known. We’ve all seen examples of this: Horseshoe Bend, Colchuck Lake are some spots that have seen significant increase in foot traffic over the years. Horseshoe Bend now has the infrastructure and workers to support tourism.
- If tagging will negatively impact the community living there by bringing in increased traffic (cities reliant on tourism vs small private communities)
Additional Note: As newer hikers or people that are new to an area looking for hikes/trails, it is really easy to use Instagram as a tool for finding those places, but proceed with caution. I suggest following these other tips first before asking someone where a location is, as unfortunately influencers will most likely not respond to your requests asking for locations if the location is not tagged. They may be trying to practice responsible tagging as outlined above, but there are also cases where elitism, exclusion, and gatekeeping are problems in the outdoor community and you may experience them having a negative attitude towards you asking. Avoid the drama altogether and instead join local hiking groups/meet ups that are inclusive and do your own research as I will outline below.
My thoughts on the “Tag Responsibly” Campaign
Okay, one more thought (I promise the actual content is below this). So I’m sure you all have seen large influencers tag the location as “Tag responsibly, keep ___ wild”. If you’re not familiar it’s a movement where people are tagging this as a way to promote thoughtful tagging and responsible tourism. The principle behind it is very important. It’s an effort to encourage people to find their own adventure to reduce traffic from viral photos.
HOWEVER, I cannot help but cringe when I see it over and over. TO ME (this is my OWN opinion) it feels like a “holier than thou” situation. Especially since so many of those people have never had a conversation about WHY they are using that tag and are not using their platform to educate. And have you noticed – the people tagging this are not Black people, Indigenous people, or People of Color?
I did not always hike. When I came to the PNW and was trying to get into hiking – it was honestly REALLY discouraging interacting with Instagram accounts. If they did respond, it would be rude and elitist. I’m not saying this is everyone, but there’s my mini rant on it. Slapping a “Tag Responsibly” up on your photo does nothing for the people consuming it except make them feel excluded unless you’re doing more and educating to make places like it accessible for EVERYONE. There’s a great article put out by Conde Nast HERE.
I’m going to break this post down into 3 categories:
- General finding trails
- Finding trails from photo inspiration
- Finding hidden gems
General: Finding The Best Trails
There are an overwhelming amount of apps and programs out there to find trails. I recommend getting familiar with all of them and narrowing it down to 3 sources that work for you. I like to keep 3 different apps/search programs on my phone because often some apps are lacking trails – especially if they are more off the beaten path.
APPS to Find the Best Trails for Hiking, Backpacking & Instagram Pictures:
- Gaia GPS
- Avenza Maps
- Peakfinder AR
- Google Maps
This app offers trail maps, reviews of trails, photos, recordings of how long the trail took them, and so much more. This app is continuously contributed to by an outdoor community of hikers, trail runners, etc. I use AllTrails the most and pay $30 a year to download the maps so that I have them offline while hiking!
Very similar to AllTrails, Gaia offers features that allow you to explore trails, track and navigate. Used for backpacking, hiking, hunting, camping, skiing and more.
Strava is geared more towards athletes. If you’re a trail runner or biker this could be the app for you. Strava allows you to find routes and engage with others using the app.
This app is geared more towards backcountry explorers and offers filters such as fire maps, USGS Topographical maps, planning tools and collaboration tools.
Avenza is a detailed offline map app service. Browse and download various maps and routes.
This app allows you to browse nearby peaks/mountains and also point your phone at peaks in nearby areas and identifies them for you. It’s a great way to add more hikes to your list when you summit a peak.
Google has a lot to offer, whether its search “hiking near me” or scouring nearby parks/forest areas for campgrounds and trails, you can find a lot. I love saving spots and labeling areas I want to go so that I have them saved and ready to go.
Tips for Using Apps to Find the Best Trails:
Some things to help you get the most out of some of these apps is to explore the filters and features they offer. For example: AllTrails offers filters that allows you to choose a difficulty level, length, elevation gain, as well as trail traffic ratings. I like to also use the map feature located next to the filters icon to see where trails are when choosing. I typically click on the pictures and browse through and save the hikes into folders by location!
Websites to find the Best Trails for Hiking, Backpacking, and Instagram Photography:
- Google Earth
- Google Maps
- Outdoor Project
- WTA.org (for Washington residents/visitors!)
- National Park Government Website NPS.gov
I can legitimately spend hours on Google Earth looking for alpine lakes and new mountain ridges to explore. If you find an area that looks great on Google Earth, find out more about it by searching the area with the navigation apps mentioned above.
I use Google Maps like a search engine a lot of the time. You can search “trails”, “state parks”, “national parks near me” and find trails this way. I also like using Google Maps to save spots and organize them into different folders. This way when I’m on the road and pull up maps, I can see if I will pass by any of my saved spots I’ve been wanting to check out. I also like to use google maps to zoom into Forest areas and find National Forest roads to explore!
Outdoor project has some incredible inspiration on their website OutdoorProject.com and includes an interactive map to find hikes near you. Their site is made up of posts from many different contributors, ensuring you’ll find something near you!
I have multiple guides that share my favorite hikes with you all! Find some blogs you like, subscribe to them for updates so you’re always getting new inspiration. If there are some people you follow on social media that inspire you, see if they have a blog! I also like to search for blogs specifically when traveling to a new location. For example if I’m planning a trip to Utah I would google ‘best places to visit Utah blog’ and then have access to so many incredible resources that people have spent hours putting together. MAYBE I’M BIASED, but I personally feel like blogs are underutilized as a resource. One of my personal favorites is TheMandagies.com .
This is for all of the Washington residents, soon to be residents, and visitors! The Washington Trails Association is an incredible resource. The website helps you not only find the best trails, but it tells you if you need a pass to park your car, if dogs are allowed, and gives you access to reviews so you can see how it was for people that just went! I really find this helpful during season changes if a hike could potentially have snow. Check the reviews to see what the person that just went had to say!
NPS.gov gives you access to any unexpected road closures, trail closures, permits for backpacking and webcams (important for snow and fire season!). Each National Park on the NPS.gov website has hiking recommendations as well as ranger contact information if you have specific questions. I find this website especially helpful in planning trips to new National Parks and during those times when seasons are changing and weather could impact your trip.
How to use Social Media as a Tool to Find the Best Trails and Instagram Worthy Spots
If you read my intro rants before getting to this point, then I’m sure you understand my hesitancy to list Instagram as a reference, but lets get into it:
Instagram to find the best hikes
Instagram offers endless inspiration… I mean it has the infinite scroll. I am absolutely guilty of wanting to go to a spot because of a photo posted by an influencer. INFLUENCERS INFLUENCE YOU hahah. And it is okay. It is okay to want to go somewhere that looks beautiful.
I want to point out that there are absurd amounts of beautiful places that are not viral instagram photos. An example of this was when I went to Antelope Canyon and was shuffled through with hundreds of other people. I asked the Navajo guide if this was the most beautiful slot canyon in his opinion, and he responded, “absolutely not. There are dozens of others that are more beautiful and unique. This one is popular because National Geographic posted it”.
Use Instagram to find trails, but do your own research too. You may find something even better where you can get your own UNIQUE photos. And see my rant at the beginning of this post if you think messaging an influencer to get the location is a good idea hahaha.
Facebook to find Instagram worthy hikes
Have you ever joined a Facebook group? They can actually be SO informative and offer a great sense of community. There are millions and this is one of the first things I do when I move to a new area. I search hiking groups, women’s hiking groups, backpacking groups, travel nursing/occupational therapy groups…the list is endless. Here people can share their hiking adventures with a trusted community and you often find local, hidden gems that you aren’t going to see an Influencer going to when they are in the area. Engage with the group. Post a couple photos of your hiking adventures and introduce yourself and what you are looking for. People love to share places that bring them joy.
Pinterest to Find the Best Trails
Pinterest is freaking great. It’s something I’m recently getting back into. Pinterest is a visual search engine! I love to get inspiration from other people posting their own adventures and photo compositions. It is also a great way to get connected with blog posts that tell you exactly how to safely get to places you want to go. I currently have so many boards going on places I want to travel to within the PNW, North America and internationally! Follow me on Pinterest 🙂
TikTok for Trails
I stayed away from TikTok for so long and really didn’t spend much time on there when I did download it. I must say, the travel TikTokers (is that a word now?) really produce some inspiring content. I’ve added several locations to my road trip wish lists from there now. Find a few travel photographer, bloggers or whoever that are posting content in your area or in areas you want to go!
YouTube for the Best Hikes
I haven’t had as much luck with YouTube for FINDING trails. However, I do enjoy using YouTube to find more information on certain trails that I’ve found. There’s usually someone out there that has put together a vlog or info on lesser known trails and I find that information really valuable. I recently started posting on YouTube more about my road trips and backpacking trips! If you’re interested Subscribe HERE.
Finding Trails from Photo Inspiration
Let’s play a game called ‘can I find that place?’ I know it’s tempting to ask influencers where a photo is from if it’s not tagged, but the chances are very low that they will respond. And wouldn’t it be more satisfying to find it yourself?
Do your Research: What general area were they in when they took the picture? Use Google Earth as mentioned above to look for it on your own! Or scroll through AllTrails to find similar places. You might stumble upon something even better.
Use Google! Example: Umpqua hot springs is very popular and I was asked hundreds of times where this place was. I had tagged Oregon in the picture. I googled “Best hot springs in Oregon” and it took me 2 minutes to find it. Sometimes I’ll do this to find hidden gems. I’ve googled “strange places to visit in Utah” and have found some incredible places that I’ve added to my list. Doing your own research can be so much fun!
Look at other platforms: I’ve found a few influencers will post locations of places on their blog or on their twitter where they have a smaller audience. It can be helpful to follow your favorite adventurers on these other platforms for inside info!
Search the Image: I’ve done this myself with mild success. Did you know you can reverse image search on google? This usually only leads me back to the post itself, but sometimes it will lead me to blogs and information about a place if it is an established place or hike. If someone has a problem with this – ask why they are trying to keep people out so badly. The outdoors is for everyone. Stop the elitist, exclusive mindset. Moving on…
Finding Hidden Gems
At this point in this blog, I feel like we’ve already gone over the ways to find hidden gems, but to recap:
- Google Earth
- Random Google Searches. Like literally just google “Hidden gems of ____” See what you find!! Other search terms: “off the beaten path”, “off grid”, “secret spots”
- Explore hiking apps
- Join local hiking facebook groups
If you have any questions about any of these tips, let me know in the comments! Happy to help you find your next adventure!
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