Even avid hikers need a break from the trail. Whether hiking is your go-to outdoor activity or if you loathe the thought of hiking, this article provides some hiking alternatives that will rekindle your passion for the outdoors and provide great backcountry escapes.
I tried only to include activities that you can do without needing lots of specialized training in this list. You may need to book a reservation and/or buy or rent some equipment in some cases.
1. Car Camping
Sure, backpackers and thru-hikers squawk at the idea of driving to a spot and pitching a tent, but this is a great alternative to hiking that still comes with so many of the benefits of hiking or backpacking while minimizing some of the more arduous aspects of being on the trail.
Car camping can also mean literally sleeping in your car. I think sleeping in a tent is more enjoyable and comfortable but to each its own.
The great thing about car camping for hardcore hikers and backpackers is that you can test equipment such as a tent or a new sleeping system before your next hiking trip.
Another reason why car camping is a great alternative to hiking for avid hikers because you can experience the outdoors with some friends or family that don’t come backpacking or hiking with you.
Bikepacking has really exploded in popularity. It provides a very similar experience to hiking and backpacking but is just different enough to afford a whole new experience. When bikepacking, you can cover so much more ground than if you were hiking.
Covering greater distances while bikepacking allows you to tackle some longer trails for weekend trips that you would never be able to handle while hiking. Bikepacking could be a way to scout out some possible routes for hiking trips in the future when you have more time to cover the distance on foot.
Bikepacking is also hard work, and anyone who has climbed a mountain with a bike knows that it is easier to get off and push at some point. For this, I suggest checking the elevation profile of the route you are considering before you go.
When it is too hot in the shade at midday to go hiking, canyoning is an exciting outdoor activity that provides excitement and cooler temperatures.
Canyoning can be a fun break from an ongoing hiking trip if you have time.
Canyoneering or canyoning can be a technical activity with harnesses, ropes, and specialized equipment but it can also be simply moving down a creek by walking, sliding, swimming, and floating. Use your best judgment and know your limits.
A meandering stream can provide enough water and variety for a fun experience without a 30-foot rappel over a waterfall. For hardcore canyoneering, I suggest going with an outfitter and guide.
4. Wilderness Ropes Course
A ropes course in the woods provides a great alternative to hiking and a unique perspective on the forest. I have been on ropes courses all over the world and have enjoyed all of them.
A ropes course is a great alternative to hiking for children who are natural climbers and get a confidence boost from overcoming the obstacles that these courses provide.
Most ropes courses provide routes of varying difficulty, and so this can be a family activity that works for kids of differing ages and physical abilities.
You may be searching for alternatives to hiking because your kids don’t like it. For 14 tested ways to motivate your kids to hike, skim through my article.
5. Tubing or Floating Down a River
My family loves to go tubing, where we rent float tubes and float down a river for a few hours. This is great for hot summer days in Texas. If you are looking for a hiking alternative because you are tired, lazy, or do not want to walk, then floating down a river is a great option.
Floating down a river provides a similar experience to hiking since you discover new areas along a route, but there is little or no walking since the river does about 90% of the work. On a recent trip in Texas on the Guadalupe, we had to get out and walk quite a bit because of unseasonably dry conditions.
Floating down a river is also very social in a way that hiking is not. When you are hiking, you typically don’t walk and chat with others because you are usually in a single file and breathing hard. When you are floating a river, you will join up with others as the river currents pull you along and push you into other groups.
6. Mountain Biking at a Ski Resort
If you want to be in the mountains and do not want to hike then mountain biking at a ski resort in the summer is something you absolutely must try.
Ski resorts are built for skiing and winter sports, but all of those ski runs and roads make for great mountain biking, plus you have a lift to take you to the top. I did this at Beaver Creek Resort last summer with my family and had a blast.
Many ski resorts will have bike rentals and operational chair lifts all summer.
Mountain biking at a ski resort is also relatively easy since you typically go up on a lift and then let gravity bring you back down on your bike. Your hands and arms can get tired because of the constant downhill, so I suggest bringing good riding gloves, and you definitely want to wear a helmet. The bike rental shop will also offer helmets.
7. White Water Rafting
White water rafting is an exhilarating experience that everyone needs to try at least once in their life. It can be terrifying, but that is why it is so fun.
For both hikers and non-hikers white water, rafting provides an intense outdoor experience. Like tubing or just floating down a river, you are moving through the wilderness with white water rafting, but you are not walking.
White water rafting does require some forethought. Unlike floating a river or car camping, you will typically need a guide and a reservation to go white water rafting. Plan ahead.
If you have a fun guide in your raft white water rafting is one of the best outdoor adventure experiences on the planet.
8. Canoe Camping
Before you die, you need to go on a guided canoe camping experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. This activity might be the most strenuous on this list but it is not technically hiking.
The way I experienced the Boundary Waters Canoe Area was by doing a series of portages overland for a few days where we paddled in canoes to the end of a lake, picked up our packs and canoes, and then walked overland to the next lake. It was backbreaking work but a great experience.
Instead of portages, you could pick a vast lake or slow river and canoe along its shores while camping along your route.
A kayak provides much more versatility and performance over a canoe. Kayaking has also increased in popularity and is a great alternative to hiking if you want to explore the territory in the great outdoors without getting blisters on your feet.
Kayaking can be paddling in flat water or shooting rapids. I have only used kayaks on lakes and smooth rivers. I have not used kayaks designed for navigating rapids.
Kayaking is a great upper body workout for hikers and runners. Kayaks are often lightweight and easy to handle, so that you can transport them fairly easily, even with a smaller car fitted with a roof rack. This can give you access to lots of small or big waterways within an hour or so of your home for most folks.
10. Tide Pooling
A large percentage of the U.S. population lives on or near the coast. Tide pooling was one of my favorite activities growing up near the Oregon coast. It would help if you had large tides for this to be truly epic. Finding an octopus hiding in a crevice in a tide pool is exciting.
Even if you don’t find an octopus, just scampering over shoreline rocks and peering into large tidal pools is a blast. Children really enjoy this activity. As with any activity involving an ocean, never turn your back on the surf.
You can go online and check the tides. Plan ahead and find a really low tide for maximum enjoyment and discovery.
11. Beach Combing
Of all these alternatives to hiking, this one is perhaps the closest to hiking. You will need to walk along a beach but your focus shifts from arriving at a destination to discovering what the sea has washed ashore.
For children, this is a great alternative when they enjoy being outside but you are having a hard time convincing them to hike.
For 14 tried and true ways to motivate your children to hike go skim my article.
12. Horseback Riding
This is last on my personal list because I don’t love horseback riding. I went riding, English style, in southern England on a horse named Zeus in 1993 and never really recovered from that experience. Zeus was large and fast. When he started into a gallop, I could my hosts saying, “Oh my, I think he might fall.” Luckily I didn’t.
Find an outfit locally that offers horseback riding excursions. This is a majestic way to explore the wilderness if you have a gentle horse, NOT Zeus. You may find an option at a ski resort in the summer or a ranch.