Staff PicksMartin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library


Inspiration and advice for your trail adventures

Residents of the Washington, DC metro area are very fortunate when it comes to enjoying the outdoors: we have a wide variety of accessible terrain (seaside shoreline, wetlands, forests, mountains) and all four seasons in which to view the changes that come over the landscape. We also have some excellent opportunities to enjoy nature without even leaving the city (or its suburbs) -- Rock Creek Park, the waterfront of both the Anacostia and the Potomac Rivers, Great Falls Park, etc. The books below offer advice and inspiration for those interested in hiking on trails both near and far.

100 Hikes of a Lifetime: The World's Ultimate Scenic Trails by Kate Siber

Here it is: the book that'll take you - through photographs and descriptions - to the most dramatic hiking trails on all the seven continents. You'll find plenty of inspiration to get out and hike and lots of ideas for your bucket list, no matter what your hiking taste and fitness level: the Appalachian Trail, El Camino de Santiago, the Arctic Circle Trail, England's South West Coast Path, Kyrgyzstan's Ak-Suu Traverse, and many more are here. 

America's Great Mountain Trails: 100 Highcountry Hikes of a Lifetime by Tim Palmer

No book on American hiking trails could possibly contain everything, but this book makes a creditable effort, throughout its 300 pages, at highlighting the most impressive trails to be found in the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, and the other mountain ranges in the USA. In addition to gorgeous photography and descriptions of the geography of each hike location, Palmer includes useful tips such as the length and difficulty of each hike, the best seasons to go, permit requirements, and a selection of alternate routes.

On the Trail: A History of American Hiking by Silas Chamberlin

The popularity of hiking, camping, and similar outdoor activities has grown tremendously in the USA due to the expansion of parks and recreation areas (federal, state, and local), the manufacture and sale of outdoor clothing and gear, and an outdoor ethos that finds relaxation and rejuvenation in nature. But it certainly wasn't always like this. In his history of hiking, Chamberlin details the developments in the 19th and 20th centuries that transformed the culture of the outdoors: he recounts the activities of hikers who over many decades formed clubs, built trails, and advocated for environmental protection. He also discusses the changing attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s when ideas about traditional volunteerism shifted and new hikers came to see trail blazing and maintenance as government responsibilities. As he describes it, the bulk of outdoor enthusiasts in America were - and are - no longer producers (who created and maintained trails, designed maps, and joined hiking groups) but consumers of government trails and mass-produced hiking culture. Chamberlin explores the implications for hiking groups, future club leaders, and the millions of others who find happiness, inspiration, and better health on America's trails.

In Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature by Torbjorn Ekelund

Now for a change of pace - a book about trails and what we experience in mind and body while we walk on them. There's no practical advice here, but there's plenty of reflection upon and remembrance of trails in general, how they begin and change over time, trails the author has walked, and, most importantly, what we experience when we're on a trail. More than anything, a trail is an invitation to a journey, and it returns us to our ancient nomadic state in which we are free to wander. That sort of freedom is essential to the mind, for it wants to explore unencumbered, to choose its own trails, without instruction from GPS systems and other time-saving technologies (automobiles, airplanes, etc.) that destroy the possibility of deeper adventure. Ekelund offers the same sort of imaginative wandering that he advocates for our lives: to read his book it is to follow a trail and take a journey that winds its way through wide expanses of human time and space.

Best Easy Day Hikes Washington, D.C. by Louise S. Baxter

An essential volume for any District resident (but especially the newcomer) who wants to discover the best hiking that the city has to offer. Twenty hiking routes are detailed here, with descriptions and detailed maps to help users orient themselves. You'll find old favorites such as Theodore Roosevelt Island and Rock Creek Park; urban walks around monuments, memorials, and museums; and some less visited trails along the Potomac River. The entries will help readers pick the course that's just right for them, whether they want a lengthy tree-filled hike, a walk along historical paths, or a shorter family-friendly route.

60 Hikes within 60 Miles, Washington, D.C.: Including Suburban and Outlying Areas of Maryland and Virginia by Renee Sklarew and Rachel Cooper

Once you're thoroughly acquainted with what DC has to offer, you'll want to explore the immediately surrounding area - the parks and trails that offer the best daylong getaways - and this volume will help you take the essential steps toward planning your outings.  It includes routes that range from easy to challenging, for all endurance levels, families included, with options for metro-accessible and wheelchair-accessible trails. Also included are maps and color photos; detailed directions; information about hours, facilities, and restrictions; descriptions of flora, fauna, and wildlife that hikers are likely to see; and options for additional activities and points of interest near each trail or park.

The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail by Andrew Skurka

This handbook aims to be the constant companion of those preparing to take on a lengthy hike-and-camp trip. Skurka covers all the topics: from choosing a sleeping bag to setting up a campsite, plotting a hiking route, and minimizing the negative impacts of pesky insects and prowling mammals. But he also provides much advice for the more casual dayhiker, such as explanations of the merits of different fabrics, how to choose a good pair of walking/hiking shoes, and the importance of sufficient hydration. The abundance of practical information provides inspiration for those considering venturing into the woods for an extended period. It's like having an experienced outdoorsman with you every step of the way.