Take a walk in the woods: tips for hiking in New England this fall

Today is the first day of fall, and there is no such thing as fall in New England, with the leaves changing and the temperature and humidity dropping.

All of this makes for a great hike, on your own or with friends and family, especially when you bring the right snacks.

Boston Radio took calls from listeners on everything hiking with Sarah Holman, creator of the “She Hikes Mountains” blog, and Becky Cushing Gop, director of Mass Audubon West.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Interview highlights

Cushing Gop explains why she loves hiking:

I think what really stood out to me – and I didn’t even realize it until I was an adult – was that I loved hiking because of how it made me feel, physically and mentally. I loved the feeling when I was in the woods of not being plugged in and breathing some fresh air and noticing the view and then that kind of invigorating feeling of climbing up steep terrain. And I think the payoff in the end, whether it’s a great view or just a good relaxing rest. And I think I recognized the mental health benefits of going out into the wild.

Holman on what she considers a “hike”:

I hike the White Mountains in New Hampshire a lot, and often the trails are this wonderful combination of … walking through the woods and, you know, taking it all and you don’t breathe hard. And then slowly the terrain changes and then you walk over some rocks and then it’s really, really steep. And so I think the hike can be anything where you’re in the woods and you’re on a trail and pushing yourself. Of course, it is different for everyone, whether it is a little or a lot. I call it hiking.

Cushing Gop on Safety While Hiking:

It depends in part on the time of year. Much depends on knowing the trail conditions and weather conditions. For example, knowing when a storm may come or when a certain weather can be expected – being prepared if things could get cold or rainy and making sure you have the right layers.
Another thing we start to remember about this time of year is that the sun is setting much earlier. And so, to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to really get to where you want to go and back before sunset – unless, of course, you’re planning on hiking overnight, in which case you must bring another type of equipment. If people are not familiar, they might [also] join a group and gain some familiarity this way. [When you] think of fear, much of it is in the unknown. So it’s just a matter of gaining confidence in a skill set.

Holman on overcoming the fear of walking alone:

I think so often our brains like to create a worst-case scenario and [get] attached to it. And so I recently hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness [trail] alone in Maine. And while it’s a very real fear about it – mostly around bears and bad people – I really try to do it, when people ask me [about how and why I hike alone], say, well, ‘what exactly are you afraid of? Are you afraid that an animal or someone is approaching you? Are you afraid of hurting yourself? Because in most cases there is an answer to this fear. You know, there are security devices there. There are GPS devices that you can take with you if you are going for a long hike. There’s pepper spray, there’s bear spray. There are many ways to counter this fear. And then I think a lot of things are right on our minds. I found that the more I walked and the more comfortable I got with my own ability to take care of myself in the woods, the less I felt these fears.

Where to hike

Want to go for a hike? Here are some recommendations from Cushing Gop and Holman:

  • The Lime Kiln / Quarry / Ovenbird / Taconic Vista Loop at the Mass Audubon Lime Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, Mass.
  • Cannon Mountain in Franconia, NH
  • The Yokun / Beaver Lodge Trails Loop at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary from Mass Audubon in Lenox, Mass.
  • Parsons Marsh (accessible) also in Lenox, Mass. (Find more accessible trails here.)
  • Cheshire cobblestones in Cheshire, Massachusetts.
  • Gulf Hagas, known as the “Grand Canyon of Maine” near Brownville, Maine.
  • The Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton and Easthampton, Mass.
  • Mount Bradbury in Pownal, Maine.
  • The Great Neck Island Trail in Wellfleet, Mass.

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