Author Explains Why Hiking Is More Popular Now Than Ever

People haven’t always enjoyed a nice walk in the woods (or up a mountain, or down into a canyon).

Before the development of mass transportation, walking was a necessary part of daily life —  a chore. The idea of doing it for fun didn’t exist. But then horse-drawn omnibuses became common, and eventually so did trolleys, trains and personal cars.

And then came the first hikers.

“They’re able to reinvent this idea of walking as not something you do just out of necessity, but rather something you do for fun,” said Silas Chamberlin, author of “On the Trail: A History of American Hiking.”

The first hikers tended to be wealthy city dwellers. They organized outings both within and out of their cities and published newsletters to spread the word about walking in nature, Chamberlain said. Thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson reinforced the emergent idea that spending time in nature could connect you to the world and to God, he said.

“This all culminates in 1876 with a group of about 100 wealthy people living in Boston who form the Appalachian Mountain Club, which becomes the first organized hiking club in America,” Chamberlain said. After that came the Sierra Club on the West Coast, and it proliferated from there.

Hiking today is more popular than ever before, Chamberlain said. And it’s much different than it was in the past.

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