14 Points to Planning the Best Walking Route

Group Walking in Sare, France
Group Walking in Sare, France. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

How should you plan your walking route? It could be a workout route to enjoy through the neighborhood or a route to work or you've been asked to host a charity walk. Here are things to consider when you are planning your walk.

1. Loops vs. out-and-back trails.
Loop trails are usually preferable to turning around and doubling back on the same trail. Going around a big circle or figure eight brings you new sights throughout your walk.

But at a group walking event an out-and-back can become a social event as you say, "Howdy" to the other walkers as they turn around and pass you, hence the nickname "Howdy Doody Trails." Out-and-backs aren't always bad - if there is only one good path it is better than taking a less preferable trail back, and things often DO look different from the other direction.

2. Find Quieter Streets
Walking off the beaten path is more pleasant than walking along a busy highway, even if the walking path is safely separated from the traffic. Traffic noise blocks conversation, traffic fumes clog the air. Advantages? In areas where safety from personal attack is a concern, a busy street may seem safer than a quieter one.

3. Avoid Roller Coaster Sidewalks.
Areas with uneven sidewalks due to tree roots and driveway cuts pose tripping and sprain hazards. In such areas I usually walk on the street unless there is significant traffic.

4. Splish Splash - or Not!
A long slog through mud and around puddles is enough to make most people grumpy, and walking events should avoid them. However, it brings out the kid in some of us who always liked playing in the mud puddles. Put on your old boots and a childlike attitude and enjoy it. You are drip dry!

5. Keep Turns to a Minimum.
Turning every block or two is only acceptable if the turns take you past historic or scenic landmarks and the organizers provide some information on the sites. Such walks are not designed for speed and should be savored. But turns should be kept to a minimum if they just take you to more of the same scenery.

6. Deserted Trails: Good and Bad.
I love walking in quiet areas where I and my walking partner are the only ones on the trail. But this causes worry for some people. To gain confidence, be sure you have a good current map and a sense of where you are going. Carry a cell phone, whistle and a stout walking stick for protection and reassurance of rescue. Learn to read a map and use a compass if you plan to go out into the woods, especially if you are out of cell phone and GPS coverage.

7. Quelling the Insect World.
I hate mosquitoes. Others hate spiders. I wear insect repellent and let my walking partners walk ahead to break through the webs.

8. Restrooms and Water.
I choose walking routes that provide public restrooms and water if the route is going to take more than an hour to complete, that is the limit for most female walkers for comfort. When designing a 10K walk for a group walk, I make sure these are available or arrange to rent portajohns and place them along the route.

I keep my eye out for fast food restaurants, parks, gas stations and other places that have facilities the public can use.

9. Save the Best for Last.
Plan to put the most scenic portions of the trail at the end. This gives you a goal to look forward to and a feeling of accomplishment. If there is a steep hill, try to locate it nearer the beginning of the walk. Finish with a smile instead of a groan.

10. The Big Square.
When I'm walking for speed, I prefer a trail that has few turns. A big square or even an out-and-back is best for pacing and timing, with little need to consult a map or look for trail markers.

I feel just the opposite when walking slower - I don't mind turns and prefer to see all of the sights.

11. Greenways and Discoveries.
I love to discover new or hidden greenway paths, pocket parks, trails or stairs that connect one street with another or to the schoolground. These paths are hard to discover by car, and you can find new places in your own hometown. Such discoveries delight other walkers.

12. Hills.
The view is from the top, so if you avoid all hills you are missing some peak experiences. I like hills that reward you with a grand vista, so I include them in my routes. Hills build muscle, too.

13. Vanishing Point.
When I walk for speed I like few turns, but prefer a route that curves a bit so I'm not staring ahead at a milelong stretch that never seems to end..

14. Signals.
Stopping for traffic lights is just no fun. I design walks that avoid controlled intersections and busy intersections. If it is a group walk or walking event, the walkers might jaywalk and get into trouble. Some are unavoidable, but good design reduces them. On the other hand, I love "shopping walks" in downtown areas - but the interesting stores and shops make up for the inconvenience.

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