Like many people, I really hate getting up early in the morning. As a teenager it wasn’t uncommon for me to sleep-in until 10, 11 or even high noon on some weekends. However, over the years, as I’ve become a more active participant in hiking, I’ve come to realize that it’s best to begin your hike as early in the morning as possible. Depending on the length of the hike, we usually try to get to the trailhead within an hour of sunrise. There are several great reasons for this, including the following:
1) Starting early in the morning allows you plenty of time to beat road traffic, and find a parking spot at the trailhead. Many of the parking areas in our most popular national parks (and elsewhere) are small and fill-up fairly early during the peak tourist season.
3) One of the best times to see wildlife is during the early morning hours. Moreover, when there are people around, it’s more likely that wildlife will be scared away from the trail.
4) The dawn hours provide some of the best light for photography.
5) The morning usually allows you to beat the heat, especially if there’s any climbing involved to reach your destination.
6) Starting early allows more time to return to the trailhead in the event of an emergency. If you’re five miles from the trailhead and you sprain an ankle, or worse, and there’s only an hour or two of day light left, you may be limping back to the trailhead in the dark, or you may even have to bivouac on the side of the trail.
7) In many parts of the country, especially in the Rocky Mountains, thunderstorms tend to roll into the mountains during the early or mid-afternoons. Starting early allows plenty of time to reach your destination and return without getting soaked. More importantly, if you’re walking over open terrain, you’ll reduce your chances of being exposed to lightning.
8) Finally, if you’re on vacation, starting early allows you plenty of time to return back to your hotel or cabin, get cleaned up, and go to your favorite restaurant before the crowds arrive.