This article was published by our friends over at Halton Hikers.
Posted to the Halton Hikers Blog on March 23, 2022
The muddy season is upon us which means Halton's trails are sure to be a bit harder to navigate safely. Read on for some helpful tips that might keep you from ending up in the muck!
Muddy Trails Present Many Challenges for Hikers
When spring rainfalls soak Halton's trails leaving behind a layer of slick muck, hikers are presented with a number of safety concerns, both for themselves and for the trails on which they walk. Mud can be a huge fall risk, but it can also affect the health of trails and the environments around them. That’s why all hikers should be aware of how to navigate trails properly and safely during the mud season. The following the tips below should help you minimize your risk of falls and injuries and also help to preserve Halton's hiking trails:
Choose Your Trail Carefully
There are ways to choose trails that will have drier conditions. Start by searching for trails that are low in elevation, as the earth tends to take more time to dry out the higher in elevation you go. Plus, trails that are higher up also may still have ice which can present some dangerous hiking conditions if you are unprepared. Here is a list of some alternative hiking and walking trails in the Halton Region, courtesy of a Halton Hikers member:
Bronte Creek Provincial Park, including the maintained trail along the ridge along the edge of the Orchard. (Gravel, Woodchipped, Packed Dirt)
Joe Sams Leisure Park (Paved)
Paletta Mansion (Wood Chipped)
Hydro Paths (Paved)
Rail Trail Hamilton to Brantford (Paved and Packed Combo)
Burlington/Hamilton Waterfront Trail (Paved)
Hamilton Harbour and Bayfront (Paved)
Some Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) Trails
Some Crawford Lake Trails (Packed Dirt and Chipped)
Some Hilton Falls Trails (Packed Dirt and Chipped)
Lions Valley (Packed Dirt)
16-Mile Creek (Packed Dirt)
Oakville Multi-Use Trails through residential areas in the north end of town (south of Dundas, north of Upper Middle Road) (Crushed gravel and some pavement)
Equip Yourself with Proper Gear
During mud season, half the battle to staying safe and dry is wearing appropriate footwear and bringing walking and traction aids. Hiking boots with gaiters, rubber wading boots, and other waterproof footwear are definitely the way to go. The higher your boots go, the better. You can also wear waterproof socks for an added layer of protection. Mud on its own is rather slippery, but early on in the mud season, you might also encounter trails that are muddy as well as icy. Bringing a set of ice spikes can help you navigate the more treacherous parts of a trail by improving your grip. Trekking poles can also help to stabilize you on slippery hikes reducing your risk of falling.
Shorten Your Stride
Keeping a quick pace during the mud season can be tricky. Surefootedness is the goal when hiking the trails at this time of year. Most hikers end up taking a tumble because they lose their balance or trip on obstacles hidden under the mud. Slow down your pace and be sure of each step before shifting your weight. Taking smaller steps can help you maintain your balance and center of gravity should you slip.
Stay on the Trail
If you come upon a large puddle or particularly mucky part of the trail, DO NOT step to the sides of the trail to go around it. Keeping to the trail is the best way to preserve delicate vegetation that borders the trails and prevents the trails from widening and further encroaching into the natural environment. The fact is, even hiking in the middle of the trail, which is what hiking etiquette dictates during mud season, still causes erosion to the trails which will need to be repaired. So, consider skipping hikes on the muddier trails if you can to help preserve them.
Watch the Weather
Avoiding the free/thaw cycle, especially early on in mud season, is the best way to keep both you and the trails safe. Keep an eye on the weather and watch for dips in overnight temperatures followed by warmer daytime temperatures, especially if precipitation is forecasted. These conditions can make for really slippery trails with deep mud pockets which makes it all the more likely to cause damage to the trail. The ideal time to hit the trails during mud season is early in the morning, while the air is still cool and the ground is still hardened. This way, you can avoid the thaw as the temperature rises throughout the day.
Protect Yourself AND The Trails
Most of us are eager to shake off our winter gear and get out onto the trails in warmer conditions, but before you do, please consider all of the information above. If you must hike during the mud season, please maintain proper trail etiquette, walk in the middle of the trail, and leave no trace. Our natural environment is more important than ever, and it is our job as hikers to help protect it whenever possible.