Exploring the great outdoors is an exciting adventure that everyone should experience. And while your experience should connect you individually with your surroundings, sometimes it is in your best interest to have another person guiding you. Most notably we know of guides as the Sherpas who lead expeditions through the Himalayas. Sherpas’ expertise and experience at these high altitudes is universally respected and sought out by aspiring hikers. But, there are guides that work leading some of your more local trails, know them inside and out, and can show you aspects of the trail you would have never noticed.
Related: World's Best Hikes: A Guide's Guide
So, when should you hire a hiking guide (outside of climbing Mt Everest)? I sat down with Kasey Austin, Vice President of Operations and Professional Adventure Guide at Austin Adventures to answer this important question.
The general responsibility of a guide is keeping their hikers safe. They are to make sure that group gets from point A to point B with the least amount of risk. “Whether that means you're stopping to put a band-aid on someone's blister on the side of a trail or calling off a hike to the top of a peak due to thunderstorms, a guide constantly has her thinking cap on to assess all risks to guest safety at all times,” adds Austin. They also work to teach their hikers about the trail and keep the trip fun and exciting.
From experience, Austin knows just how great hikes can be with a guide, so when we discussed why someone should use a guide, she had a list of reasons:
A guest(s) doesn't know where to hike in the area. A guide who knows the region will be well-versed in a wide range of trails for varying abilities. The best guides have backup trails and backup trails for their backup trails (whoa, that's confusing!) when an originally planned hike doesn't go to plan (where as a first time visitor to the region might not know what to do when it comes to trail closure).
Guests may not feel safe hiking on their own in an unknown/new area. There are a thousand and one different risks you take when it comes to hiking, but most risks can be eliminated or minimized with a knowledgeable guide. Just a few of the major reasons guests might not feel safe hiking on their own is the fear of getting lost, running into wildlife and not knowing how to react, not feeling prepared, not having cell phone service, not knowing how to get to help if they get hurt, not knowing if they've trained properly for the type of terrain they're about to take on, not knowing what to do if it starts rain, snow or storm, etc. The list for not feeling safe while hiking goes on and on, but a great guide makes you feel safe and secure in an unknown environment and helps a group take on new challenges with a brave face.
Guests want to know more about the area they're hiking in. Whether you're new to the sport of hiking or you've seen it all, guides often have tidbits of information they relay throughout the course of any hike, and chances are, you'll learn something new! Whether a guide stops the group to examine a field of colorful wildflowers, pauses to discuss Native American culture and how it relates to the area, or bends down to show you that "boring" rock you just stepped on and how cool it actually is, a guide is chalk-full of interesting facts and knowledge that they are bursting at the seams to share (although timing when sharing knowledge is everything and smart guides know that!)
Families need some help motivating their kids. Most families have at least tried hiking with their kids before jumping on a guided hiking trip, so they know that like most kids, at some point someone's going to get tired, hungry, cranky, or even downright bored! Many companies who offer family hiking trips hand pick guides who love kids and can entertain them for hours. And while you've perhaps had a hard time motivating your child to hike a mile in the past, a kid-oriented guide will have that same kid hiking three miles, pointing out neat nature fun facts, singing, telling jokes, and laughing all the way. There's just something about a cool big kid (ahem, I mean guide) that brings out the best in kids and makes what could have been a "lame" hike memorable for the entire family.
A guide can bring a local flair to the hike. A guide who is familiar with the area will know the hidden or secret spots that may have been bypassed altogether if you were hiking on your own. They will also be able to relate local stories, happenings, myths, facts, and maybe even ghost stories pertaining to the area you’re hiking in.
There are so many benefits to hiring a hiking guide, especially when you feel unsure about the area you are hiking in. Minimize risk, gain expert knowledge, and have fun all without worrying about getting lost. Guides are there to enhance your experience and give you the best trip possible. Definitely spend time hiking on your own, but also try hiring a guide, you are bound to have an incredible experience with others who share your love for the outdoors.