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Spring hiking tips to get you moving in milder weather

A couple hiking among purple wildflowers
Our spring hiking tips cover all the essentials for planning your route, dressing for unpredictable weather and staying safe on the trail (Image credit: Getty images)

As nature starts its great spring thaw, getting out on the trails is irresistible. Whether you’ve been cooped up indoors for months or are just sick of skiing, you’re more than likely ready to shed some layers, stretch out your legs and enjoy the early blooming wildflowers. But in addition to the longer days, warmer temperatures and brighter colors, spring can bring blustery weather, snowy trails and lots and lots of mud. Our spring hiking tips cover all the essentials for planning your route, dressing for unpredictable weather and staying safe on the trail so you can get moving in milder conditions. 

Purple wildflowers in Colorado with mountains in the background

Come spring, you’re more than likely ready to shed some layers, stretch out your legs and enjoy the blooming wildflowers (Image credit: Jason Steen)

1. Seek south facing slopes 

In the northern hemisphere, south facing slopes get more sunshine so they’ll be warmer and drier than north facing slopes. If you’re hiking in an east/west valley, you’ll really be able to see the difference as the north facing slopes might still be in good shape for skiing for another month or two. Head to the sunny side and you’ll have more luck finding a passable trail. 

2. Love lower elevations 

In many areas, higher elevations will still be snow covered and either impassable or dangerous, so it’s often a good idea to leave the high peaks until summer and instead enjoy some mellower trails through the forest or along coastal paths. If you haven’t been hiking since the fall, this will make you ease in and build up your stamina. 

A couple hiking a grassy coastal path

Leave the high peaks until summer and instead enjoy some mellower trails through the forest or along coastal paths (Image credit: Mike Harrington)

3. Chase waterfalls 

Snowmelt and runoff makes spring the best time of year to view waterfalls, so look for trails with cascades along the way. If you really want some of the best falls around, check out our guides to the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, which is home to some of the most stunning waterfalls in the US and our guide to Washington waterfall hikes for some Pacific Northwest enchantment. 

4. Beware river crossings 

Based on the previous tip, you’ll know that the water tends to be rushing in spring. A summer trickle might be a small stream now and still easy to jump across, but a small stream in fall could be a rushing river so don’t go wading through any fast water, even if you’ve crossed here in other seasons. Look for trails that have good river crossings like bridges, and be aware that some trails can be washed out at this time of year if they’re adjacent to a river. 

Backpacker crossing high country stream in Colorado

The water tends to be rushing in spring so take care when crossing a stream (Image credit: Kyle Ledeboer / Aurora Photos)

5. Wear waterproofs 

Spring is the rainiest season because warmer temperatures mean more evaporation of melting snow and ice so this isn’t the time of year to take your chances and leave the rainproof gear at home. Pack waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket and consider either waterproof hiking boots or wear gaiters to keep your feet from getting soggy. 

6. Dress in layers 

We do always say this, but the blustery conditions in spring can catch you unawares. It might be sunny when you set off and you may be tempted to leave your jacket in the car, but don’t. The weather can quickly take a turn, leaving you shivering on the trail, and precipitation can often be sleet or hail. Follow the hiking layering system and wear a base layer and insulating jacket like a fleece jacket or even a light down jacket. You can always put your jacket in your backpack if the weather gods are gazing down upon you, and speaking of your backpack, make sure it contains hiking gloves and a hat

backpacking hacks: hiker in the rain

Don't let the blustery conditions in spring can catch you unawares  (Image credit: Preserved Light Photography)

7. Plan for mud 

Did we mention all the mud? Hiking in spring can be a bit frustrating since the trails can be too muddy to hike and even though we’ve suggested some planning techniques for avoiding it, mud can be inevitable. Read our tips for hiking in mud so you can stay on your feet and avoid damaging the trails. 

8. Plan for snow and ice 

Yep, in addition to a mud bath, it’s common to find patches of snow and ice on the trail, especially if you’re up high. If you’re not prepared for it, the best thing to do is turn back, however you can always toss a pair of Yaktrax or microspikes in your backpack and use trekking poles so any small crossings will be manageable. 

Footprings in the mud

Hiking in spring can be a bit frustrating since the trails can be too muddy to hike (Image credit: Getty)

9. Watch for wildlife 

In addition to the wildflowers, lots of wildlife make an appearance in spring. Bears emerge from hibernation, elks are calving and birds are nesting. Please give wildlife a wide berth and respect any trail closures due to wildlife migration. Read our advice on what to do if you meet a bear on the trail and enjoy the wildlife from afar – by using binoculars

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.