Hiking trails have historical roots as places of transportation for people, goods, livestock, and wildlife with long-distance passages connecting villages and towns. Walking for leisure took place along garden paths or local forested trails. Recreational hiking grew dramatically in North America in the 20th century as leisure time increased post-war. A surge of outdoor recreationists coincided with the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. People felt an attachment to the outdoors and hiking became a means to explore nature, increase fitness, and express individuality.
I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors, walking through nearby ravines and parks, or travelling to the badlands of Alberta or the Canadian Rocky Mountains for a hike. One of my most memorable hikes was a short trip along a popular backcountry trail – the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park. My friends and I spent a few hours hiking to Kinney Lake and back and were amazed by the changes in the landscape over a short distance. The trail took us through an old-growth cedar and hemlock forest, through patches of wildflowers, and eventually the beautiful glacier-fed Kinney Lake.
This trail has a special place in my memories as it is what really inspired my love for hiking and exploring the Alberta landscapes. I spent time taking in my surroundings, struck by the beauty of the area, and paying greater attention to the different types of wildlife within the landscape. I was already planning my next adventures before even returning to the trailhead.
Over the years I have spent more time in Kananaskis Country, an area very popular with locals from Canmore, Banff, and Calgary. It is now rare to hike a trail alone in Kananaskis, even during a weekday. The area draws interest from both seasoned and new hikers, but an increase in visitation does come with implications to the management of the environment. Kananaskis, as an easily-accessible and scenic hiking destination, inspires many to explore mountain trails and camp in the backcountry.
Many feel a connection with nature while exploring areas like Kananaskis Country. The development of place attachment occurs through meaning-making experiences in parks and protected areas. Hikers feel energized by nature as time spent away from busy urban lives allows for relaxation. These feelings may also inspire an environmental consciousness that motivates hikers to seek out information about environmental issues that impact the areas they love. Kananaskis Country is also important to wildlife like grizzly bears who require large protected areas as home ranges with minimal human disturbance. Increases in tourism, recreation, and development in Kananaskis Country will have implications for grizzlies and may also increase the chances of human-bear incidents along the trails.
Some of my more recent adventures have been in the beautiful coastal mountains of British Columbia. Here is one of my most memorable backcountry hikes, where I traversed over 50 kilometres in a few days, ascending and descending into four different valleys with remarkably diverse vegetation, as well as walking along the rim of an extinct volcano.
The final valley (not shown in pictures) leads through forested trails to end at a beautiful lake. The forest is buzzing with hummingbirds; I had never seen so many at once. We stopped for lunch at an old campsite and enjoyed the sounds of insects and hummingbirds. The trip back was exhausting, but there was lots to gaze upon again as we ascended and descended the ridges between the valleys.
It is difficult to express in words the enjoyment and peace that emerges from hiking. I feel relaxed, even while struggling to breathe, as I climb up towards a ridge. Inhaling the different smells and observing the sights wishing I could remember them perfectly later. Hiking offers a slower pace to take in one’s surroundings and develop an appreciation for our planet’s protected areas.
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Be sure to sign up for The National Hike for the Environment. It's a great way to help fund the urgent work of Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and it's fun and easy.
Ask 10 friends to sponsor you $10, pick a date to hike in October, and get out and take a hike for the environment! (And receive a great prize or two while you're at it.)
So go on. Get out there. Get a little mud on yer boots!