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Before You Go: Earn Your Hiking Legs

Imagine a person suddenly decided to start a new exercise regimen, “From this point forward, I’m going to walk 8 miles a day every day.” Your response would probably be the same as mine, “That person is a psychotic masochist.” Yet, even if you’re playing it close to the roads, that’s more or less what you’re going to do when you visit a National Park. Unless you’re an avid outdoorsperson or training for a marathon, chances are you’re going to dramatically increase the number of miles on your feet.

Wait. Am I about to imply that you’ll to train for vacation?

Sort of? Not really. Let me explain why first, then I'll suggest how.

Don't Let DOMS Ruin Your Vacation

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the name for tiny microscopic tears in your muscles that cause pain, tightness, and fatigue. It’s not the first day that’s going to bother you; it’s the second and third when DOMS settles in.

Think of it as the equivalent of going to the beach and not wearing sunscreen. You’re fine the first day, but the next few are going to be very painful. The goal here is that if you have to suffer, it’s better that your suffering stays behind with your Monday morning grumbles about how you could do your boss’ job better and how can management not see that? And how come so many websites use run-on sentences less effectively than they think they do?

Anyway, DOMS occurs when your muscles are worked harder than they’re used to, so if you get them accustomed to a few more miles, you’re going to have a better vacation.

If Not Sore, You Will Be Tired

When’s the last time you spent multiple days in a row walking around for 12 hours? The last time you were on vacation? Doesn’t the second day always feel like a slog compared to day one?

What’s the point of being on the doorstep of America’s greatest wildernesses if you’re too exhausted to explore them? Give yourself a chance. Get your hiking legs underneath ya.


Option 1: Actually Go On Hikes

Many major western cities are nestled around or near mountains: Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, etc. In Los Angeles, hiking is as much of a social activity as it is form of exercise. If the weather cooperates, try going out in your local community with a goal to increase your mileage. The last few weekends before your trip, try hiking on both Saturday and Sunday to get your legs used to doing it twice in a row.

Now, there’s a good chance obvious hiking options are as convenient for you as picking fresh papaya in Wisconsin. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska; the nearest mountain an eight-hour drive away. The beautiful fact is that hiking opportunities are still available to you, if a little less convenient. Check out your state’s recreation website to see what trails are near you that you might have never knew existed.

We strongly recommend this option if you’re going to challenge yourself to hikes over five miles.

Option 2: Play Local Tourist

In the weekends leading up to your National Park adventure, try scheduling your Saturday and Sundays in such a way that you’re on your feet all day both days. Visit your local zoo, museums, and farmers markets. Walk around your downtown district and explore city parks. You’ll most likely have to be creative to create a full slate of activities, but that’s a good thing! Not only will you be making memories with family and friends, you’ll deepen your connection to your community.

Yes, you’ll be tired from your weekend and, yes, your feet will be sore, but you’re preparing for your trip and having fun at the same time. Your mind and body will grow accustomed to being active longer than usual, which will help improve your stamina as you explore your National Park.

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