Finding local trails used to be so difficult, in fact, the whole process was pretty much trial and error. I certainly had my fair share of trail runs and hikes that ended early because I found myself on a trail that was too overgrown to carry on. To be fair, this can still happen if a trail hasn’t been maintained properly, for example. Nowadays, you don’t have to worry about choosing the wrong trail, instead, you can easily find popular trails near you that are beautiful, well maintained, and provide as much of a challenge as you would like.
Before I list the best apps to find local trails, quickly go through this checklist of things to consider before choosing hiking or trail running routes. CLICK HERE if you just want to jump to the app list.
Things to consider when choosing a trail route
It’s always worth being prepared before you explore somewhere new, so here are a few things to consider before choosing your next new trail to run or hike:
- How much time you have for your run/hike? It’s important to consider how long an activity may take you to complete because you don’t want to still be out on the trails when the sun goes down. This is less of an issue if you go prepared with a good headlamp.
- How far are you comfortable running/hiking? Think about how many miles and hours you’re comfortable hiking. An average walking pace is about 3 mph, but your hiking pace may be slower than that depending on terrain, elevation gain and how much weight you’re carrying on your back.
- How much elevation gain? The amount of climbing/elevation gain on a hike is another factor that determines its difficulty. You’ll learn to know what’s challenging and what’s easy with experience. If you’re looking for some steep trail challenges, then consider reducing the overall distance of the run/hike.
- How fit are you right now? There are so many different levels of difficulty when it comes to trails for running and hiking, so be conservative and choose a milder trail if you’re not sure how you’ll fair out there when starting out. Remember, this is supposed to be fun so don’t end up draining yourself of all your motivation. Feeling strong and happy after a trail run will fast track your progress more so than putting yourself through the wringer.
- What time of year is it and how’s the weather outlook? Some trails won’t be accessible in early spring because they’re covered in snow, so make sure you check with whoever manages the trails before turning up ready to roll. Remember to always check the weather forecast before heading out so you can dress and take the necessary gear.
- Logistics. Certain run/hikes require a bit more planning. For instance, if you end up doing a hike that starts and finishes at different places, you’ll need to shuttle cars to your endpoint. Some popular trails may have a shuttle bus running for this very purpose, others may happen to be near a bus or rail station, or somewhere you can pick up a cheap liftshare if you’re not too far from your car (assuming there’s phone service in the area!).
- Wear the necessary gear. Depending on whether you plan to fastpack or trail run your next new trail, see the appropriate gear guide below:
So, how do I find trails near me? Use one of these 5 Best Apps to help you find trails near you:
1. Hiking Project App/Website
The Hiking Project app is a crowd-sourced trail guide built by outdoor enthusiasts. These hiking trails can be used for trail running too but REI also has a dedicated Trail Run Project app if you would prefer to use that one. Hiking Project and its sister sites showcase thousands of routes and trails in your own backyard, across the U.S., and also around the globe.
When our favorite outdoor gear store, the REI Co-op acquired Hiking Project — and the rest of Adventure Projects — they sought to solidify the future of this amazing resource for the trail loving community. The Hiking Project website and the mobile app can help you plan trips, connect with others, share information and navigate while on the trails, all within the app.
Although being able to follow a trail directly within an app is a nice feature, I wouldn’t recommend draining your cell battery for long hikes or trail runs because it’s very important to ensure you have mobile phone battery reserved in case of an unexpected emergency on the trails. Instead, I would recommend taking time to look at a map and elevation profile of the area, so you have a clear idea of where you will be going, and also downloading the GPS track from the Hiking Project (or Trail Run Project) and loading it onto your GPS Watch with Navigation features. The lightweight Coros GPS watches are reasonably priced, have the longest battery life in their class, navigation features, are waterproof, and also very durable. This is why we recommend them for hikers, trail runners, ultrarunners, fastpackers and thru-hikers.
The REI Co-op believes that a life outdoors is a life well-lived, and they offer this free resource as part of their commitment to inspiring, educating and outfitting for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Who doesn’t like great apps for free!?
The information on Hiking Project is largely crowd-sourced, contributed by passionate users excited to share their knowledge of local trails with others. Anyone, from an experienced hiker/trail runner to someone brand new to the sport, can share their experiences. As a contributor, you can add your favorite trails and photos, give ratings and post comments, improve existing content and spread the word about recommended trails. Your expertise brings an authentic voice to each trail and featured run/hike. We love that Hiking Project manages site content by reviewing every trail, hike, photo, and symbol that gets submitted. The REI Co-op recognizes the importance of displaying only accurate and legal trails which helps to keep folks on track and protect the places we all love to play. This ethos resonates with us closely here at Trail & Kale!
2. AllTrails App/website
AllTrails is a fantastic way for people to explore the outdoors because they have a huge collection of detailed, hand-curated trail maps as well as trail reviews and photos crowdsourced from a community of 10 million registered hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners. More data is better data! With AllTrails it’s very easy to find, customize, record and share outdoor activities with other outdoor enthusiasts. There are over 50,000 trails to choose from with this outdoors app, and what’s extra cool is that you can follow along on the trail using your phone’s GPS in conjunction with the app.
Although this is a nice feature of the app, I wouldn’t recommend using your cell battery for long hikes or trail runs because it’s very important to ensure you have mobile phone battery reserved in case of an unexpected emergency on the trails. Instead, I would recommend downloading the GPS track from AllTrails and loading it onto your GPS Watch with Navigation features, that will also have far superior battery life and durability on the trails. Coros GPS watches have the longest battery life in their class, are very durable and lightweight, perfect for hikers, trail runners, ultrarunners, fastpackers and thru-hikers. AllTrails is free for the most part but to download .GPX routes from them you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version which costs $2.50 a month, unlike the Hiking Project which is free for this important feature.
3. Strava App/Website
Not only is Strava an excellent motivational tool for recording runs/hikes, tracking your progress and setting goals but it can also help you find or build new routes based on popularity, store them and then follow them during your activity. To create a new route on Strava, first, make sure you are a Strava member, it’s free to join if you’re not already, once you are logged in click here to build your own route based on Strava’s heatmaps feature (on the desktop site). This feature lights up trails on the map based on how often they have been run by Strava members. This is so great because you can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be a good trail, based on its popularity.
And don’t forget to join the Trail & Kale Strava Club as it’s the perfect place to meet other runners who share similar goals, and learn about great trails to run on!
4. Garmin Connect App/Website
Garmin Connect operates in a similar way to Strava in that you can build your own routes and find community-created ones too, very easily with popularity heatmaps. I currently create my new trail running routes using the Garmin Connect website when I am using a Garmin running watch, as it syncs so effortlessly.
This app won’t be for everyone because you’ll need a Garmin GPS device to be able to use the platform properly. If you have a Garmin GPS watch already then the chances are you already know that Garmin Connect has these features, but if you’re looking to buy a Garmin for their best in class navigation features then I’d recommend going for the Garmin Forerunner 945. I also own the slightly older Garmin Fenix 5X Plus GPS watch but they both have high resolution, color TOPO maps featuring trend line popularity routing to help you find and follow the best paths.
I love how easy it is to set up a course/route on Garmin’s interface and then send it to the watch, ready for following during your run or hike. When the route is displayed back to you on the watch, the map is pretty detailed. I love to explore new routes/trails, so being able to see the trails lines on the watch map that you shouldn’t take, makes it much easier to see the ones you should, hence reducing the chances of getting lost.
5. TrailLink App/Website (Rails To Trails Conservancy)
The TrailLink App and website was created by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. Their mission is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines, connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.
What is a Rail-Trail?
Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. These paths are flat or gently sloping, making them easily accessible and a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Rail-trails are ideal for many types of activities–depending on the rules established by the local community–including running, walking, bicycling, wheelchair use, inline skating, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. So if you like this kind of hiking or running then definitely take a look at TrailLink.
We love this concept so much! Similarly to the AllTrails App, you’ll need to upgrade to their pro version in order to get all the features, like download trail routes for following on your GPS Watch rather than just in the app, for example.
You get other extra features for upgrading to TrailLink Unlimited too, including being able to download high-resolution maps of the trail you choose to run or hike, sync your favorite trails, find nearby restrooms, etc. A full list can be found here. But the main benefit I see of upgrading is that you’ll be helping to support Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s mission to keep developing products to empower your next trail adventure.
BONUS: Take a map with you
Even if you have studied an area online, and downloaded the route to your GPS watch or handheld device, we strongly recommend taking a physical map with you, especially if you are going somewhere new or remote – where getting lost or losing battery/GPS signal can have very serious consequences!
For popular areas, you can usually find a good trail map online, or check out a local bookstore. We like the National Geographic Trails Maps as they’re clear and easy-to-read.