How to Plan My Hiking Route Part 2: Distance & Elevation

Welcome to Part 2 of Hiking Route Planning!

Now that we’ve got the tools to find a route, let’s talk about how to discover more about each trails’ character so we can find a trail we really want to explore. If you missed last weeks’ post you can find it here.

We’ll talk about Route planning in these topics

  1. How do I find a trail/route?
  2. What is in the route: distance, elevation
  3. What season is it?
  4. What are other logistics?

What’s in a route:

Time & Distance

When choosing a trail, think about how long you want to be out on the trail. How much time do you have? Do you have all day, or just an hour or two? Remember that your hiking outing includes both hiking time and transportation time (how long it takes for you to get to the trailhead).

Trail Style

Most trails fall into two categories: out and back and loops. Out and back trails are exactly that: you hike out, turn around, and hike the same trail back. Loops are different in that you travel new trails the entire length of the hike, starting and ending at the same location.

Trail Distance

Trail mileage is most often listed as total mileage. If you have a 5 mile out and back trail, that means you will hike out 2.5 miles, turn around, and hike 2.5 miles to return to your starting location. Be sure you double-check the total distance before you set out!

How long does a mile take? A good rule of thumb is that on flat ground, people generally walk at about 3 miles per hour (4-5 km/hr). Uneven terrain makes most trail speeds more like 2 miles per hour (3 km/hr).  For example, a hilly 5 mile hike on a mountain foothill trail will take an average person about 2.5 hours.

Photo by Leah Kelley on

Using these guidelines, you can estimate the time it will take you to complete your hike, if you know how far it is. Be sure to add in time for snack or rest time, and time to enjoy views, wildlife, and other trail sites!


Once you leave flat ground, you want to keep in mind how much elevation change you will see on the trail. Adding elevation changes or technical terrain makes progress even slower. 

A trail is considered “steep” when the path gains 1000’ in a mile or less. A good rule of thumb is that for every 1000 feet elevation gain, a hiker should add an hour to their hike. To put into perspective, a mile is 5280 feet long, so if a trail gains 1000 feet in that time, you gain about a foot up for every 5 feet you move forward: that’s one step up just about every two strides forward. 

Remember that for every foot of elevation you gain, you have to go back down that same amount! Going back down can often be harder than going uphill, and your legs, tired from the hike you’ve already done, may feel extra wobbly as they absorb the impact of your body moving downhill. Elevation gain/loss is a big factor in choosing your hiking route.

Photo by Krivec Ales on

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  1. Pingback: How to Plan My Hiking Route Part 4: Logistics - Bun on the Run

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