If your workout routine has hit a plateau or you’re simply looking for an inexpensive way to stay fit while having fun, consider hiking as your gym pass to the great outdoors.
“Everyone can benefit from hiking outdoors,” says David Hawkins, DO, a family medicine doctor at Scripps Clinic Santee. “Besides the fresh air, the beautiful views and the meditative experience of being in nature, hiking is a good cardio workout that can strengthen your core, boost your mood, help control your weight, build strength in your hip and leg muscles, and even improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.”
If you’re new to hiking, start off with easy trails that are short, flat and well-maintained. As you increase your strength and stamina, try intermediate to advanced hiking trails that will challenge you physically and mentally.
Lace up your shoes and try one of these five popular hiking spots in San Diego:
1. Balboa Park — Beginner
Starting at Sixth Avenue and Upas Street, look for the #1 round green trail markers that will take you along a 1.5-mile tree-lined walkway. Balboa offers four other trails rated on difficulty from intermediate to advanced.
2. Mission Trails Regional Park — Beginner to Advanced
As one of the largest urban parks in the United States, Mission Trails offers more than 40 miles of trails for all fitness levels. For beginners, try the Father Junipero Serra Trail — a flat path along the San Diego River. For more advanced hikers, challenge muscles on Kwaay Paay Trail. It’s only 1.1 miles up, but it’s rated difficult for its 865-foot vertical climb.
3. Mount Woodson — Intermediate to Advanced
This trail — open to hikers, dogs and bikes — starts at Lake Poway Park along a fire trail that overlooks the Poway dam. The trail gets narrower as you begin climbing up the mountain where you’ll see much of San Diego — even Coronado and Cabrillo on a clear day. For a great photo op, look for “potato chip rock” — a thin piece of rock that hangs in mid-air.
4. Torrey Pines State Reserve — Intermediate to Advanced
For breathtaking coastal views, Torrey Pines offers 8 miles of trails that start at the top of a seaside cliff and meander down to the ocean and back up again. You’ll feel the burn, but the scenery and aromatic scent of the Torrey pines will surely make up for it.
5. Iron Mountain — Intermediate to Advanced
Gain entry to this 6.6-mile trail through a wooden gate at the intersection of Poway Road and Highway 67 in Poway. You’ll walk through a small grove of trees before heading up switchbacks to the summit. The trail has nice views. The hike is great for dogs and people, but steer clear during hot summer days.
To make your hikes fun and safe, consider the following tips before you head for the local hills:
- Partner up. Since it is not safe or recommended to hike alone, find a hiking partner you enjoy spending time with and who is in similar shape to you to help determine trail level and pace.
- Scout it out. Choose trails that appeal to you to keep it interesting, but also consider accessibility and difficulty.
- Hydrate before and during your hike. Before you start your hike, be sure to drink plenty of water. Also, bring water for your hike to prevent dehydration. To keep your energy flowing, it’s also a good idea to pack snacks like trail mix and granola bars.
- Pace yourself. To avoid overuse injuries, increase your distance no more than 10 percent a week. If you are giving trail running a try, break up runs by walking every few minutes.
- Be prepared. Wear or bring light layers in case the weather changes. Be sure to pack a first aid kit and a flashlight. Also, bring your smartphone — it doubles as a camera and is a great resource for hiking apps that track your mileage and elevation.
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