Finding out trail conditions (or even road conditions) this time of the year can be difficult. Especially when the snowpack is at extremely high levels through most of the American West.
Snow typically closes up the high country, and the foothill areas are an unknown but usually a sloppy and muddy mess.
So, how to get trail conditions? Many national forests, open space, and state parks sometimes have recent conditions listed. And the agencies almost always post trail closures due to the sloppy mess.
But what about the trails themselves? You could do a Google search for forums, wade through Facebook, or find the appropriate Reddit group and post an inquiry. But that method is not always efficient.
Another option is to call a ranger station. But with budget cuts, the Rangers (or staff) do not always have the opportunity to get on the trail and give first-hand info other than the trail closures themselves.
So, how to get some quick and dirty trail info? Use Instagram.
Yes, the home of yoga poses, van life, and #livingauthentically can be a useful tool for some initial trip planning. This trick is not something I figured out for myself. I’m not that smart. Joan, who is smart, shared the method with me and I’ve been a convert since.
Using this trick is simple. Let’s say you are in Boulder or Denver and you want an early season hike. You know Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a good candidate. Not a far drive and 30+ miles of trail. Perfect for a quick escape to get a backpacking fix. But you need more info for additional research. Go to Instagram and look for the hashtag of choice.
For example – #goldengatecanyonstatepark
Don’t look at the most popular posts. Look at the most recently posted photos. Then find one of the batch posted within the past few days. A Fall photo is not current. 🙂 Looking through the images, I see a picture posted from a trail runner. He probably explores the trails, and his photos will be accurate. And he posted three days ago. Probably a good bet conditions have not changed too much overall.
So, looking at the photos seems a decent amount of snow there. Not insurmountable, but I want to keep in mind that the trip itself might be on the sloppy side. I’ll pack the right gear and adjust my trip goals appropriately. I won’t expect wildflowers. But I can expect a quiet place that seems a bit isolated considering how close it is to Denver.
Mix up the hast tags, or even search by geotags, and similar information crops up.
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The Instagram searches aren’t the only tool you should use in your trip planning toolbox, but it is a good one to have handy. Useful, quick, and simple; give it a whirl.