Albuquerque Senior Centers' Hiking Groups (ASCHG)

San Ysidro Trials East. By Rodger Carlson, 2/9/10

How to Write a Hike Description
Author: Marilyn Warrant
Last Update: 7/13/11



Before you start work, create a folder on your hard drive where you will be storing the results of your work (text files, GPS data, and map files).  That way, if something goes wrong, you don't have to start over.  Label the folder so you can find it again, and label each file that supports the hike description with the hike name.

Any hike leader can create a hike description.  To add a hike, log in to the website, go to the Hikes tab, and select Hike, add. Click on the box next to "Show help" (the third line of the form from the top).  Detailed instructions for each entry are then displayed in red text.

Note the session timer shown at the lower left of the browser screen.  Each time you go to a different page on the website, the session timer is reset to 25 minutes.  You'd be surprised at how long it can take to generate all of the data and files for a hike description.  It's good practice to create all of the required text in a word processing file,then copy and paste into the data input form.  An added benefit is that you have a record of all the text you entered.

You can save your work by going to the bottom of the form and clicking on any one of the "Add Hike" buttons.  Once you've added a hike, you'll need to go to the Hikes tab and select the Hike, change menu option to make corrections, add text, or upload files.

A successful hike description will help another hiker:
A hike description consists of:
See the Editor Checklist for characteristics of a good, complete hike description.
For help in working with GPS files, mapping software, and image editing software to create the hike description, see Tools for GPS Data.

The Hike Name

Names are important.  A unique name is required so that the people who schedule the hike for a center and the hikers who decide to go on a hike can be confident when they look at the hike description on the website they are looking at the right hike.

In the process of integrating hike schedules from different centers for the website, we discovered that names used by one center didn't always mean the same hike for another center.  This was the case even for hikes that were derived from published hiking books. For example, we found the same hike named "Bear Wallow-Borrego" in one hiking book that was called "Tesuque Creek" in a different hiking book
Naming conventions are an attempt to set standards for naming hikes to avoid confusion.  Adjusting hike names will probably be an on-going process as we define more hikes in a given area.

In-Out Hike

For an in-out hike, list the name of the trail (if there is one), a nearby feature shown on a topo map (such as a wash, peak, road), and/or a destination.  Some examples of in-out hikes are Bosque Peak (a named trail), Bear Canyon Arroyo, Sandia Eye, Chupadera Peak, Continental Divide Trail South to La Lena, and Winsor Trail to Puerto Nambe.  The destination is helpful to define the length of a hike when it is along a long trail such as the Winsor or Sandia Crest trail.

Loop or Other Closed Shape

For a hike shaped like a loop, there are usually several main sections, though they may not always have names.  Include the main sections in the hike name.  If it's the only hike in a general area, the area name could suffice. If it could still be confusing, include the word "Loop" at the end.  Some examples of loop hikes are Bear Wallow-Borrego Loop, Navajo Draw, Ceja Pelon, Strip Mine Loop.

For a hike with a different closed shape, you can include that shape in the hike name.  An example of this is Tomas Baca Well Figure 8.

One-Way Hikes

Some of the hikes are one-way hikes that require a shuttle vehicle.  The hike name should include the starting and ending trailheads in the order hiked, along with any trail or destination in the middle.  Some examples are East Fork Las Conchas, Bosque Peak Crest Trail Canyon, Holy Ghost - Stewart Lake - Winsor Creek, and Embudo Three Gun Spring - Embudito.

Hikes in National Monuments or Parks

For hikes in national monuments or parks, such as Pecos National Historical Park (Pecos NHP) or Bandelier National Monument (Bandelier), preface the hike with the name of the monument or park.  Some examples are Pecos NHP Glorieta Battlefield and Pecos Ruins and Bandelier -- Lower Frijoles Canyon.

Hikes with Several Components

Some hikes are short enough so that a second or third small hike nearby can be added to make up one "composite" hike.  If the hikes make a combination that others will probably do at some point, go ahead and combine them.  If someone else wants to do only one part or wants to create a different combination, that's up to them.  Some examples are Cieneguilla Petroglyphs-Cerro Seguro La Cienega and Pecos NHP Glorieta Battlefield and Pecos Ruins.


The Region helps categorize the hike and makes it easier for people to find similar hikes.

Region definitions are maintained by the Region Coordinator.  You can see the regions and the hikes within the regions by going to the "Regions" tab on the main menu.

If your hike does not fit within the defined regions, contact the Region Coordinator for assistance. Locate the Region Coordinator under the "Hikers" tab on the main menu.

GPS Data


GPS data (tracks and waypoints) are very useful in describing and leading a hike.  GPS stands for "global positioning system" and is a protocol that uses signals from satellites in orbit around the earth to determine the position of a signal receiver such as a GPS hand-held device (or simply GPS)

The position can be expressed in different coordinate systems and different units.  The units used on the website are latitude and longitude in degrees, decimal minutes (e.g., lat = N 35 46.399, long = W 105 42.069). Other common units are: A waypoint is a geographical location of a feature that is created using the GPS command "Mark" or within mapping software.  A track is a series of points generated by the GPS when recording is turned on and the person holding the device is moving.  These points are also called "bread crumbs" because they record where the person moves. Bread crumbs are not usually considered as separate waypoints.

GPS Exchange Format (file extension .gpx) is a standard file format that can be read by any of the common mapping software programs and utilities for exchanging files between the GPS and the computer.  The .gpx file is a text file, composed of numbers, the data, and words/symbols that tag what the data are (technically, it is an XML file).

The examples that follow are from a .gpx file exported from a Garmin GPS.  The waypoints and track "bread crumbs" or "track points" are in decimal degrees, measured from the WGS84 datum.  A Google search on "map datum" will tell you more, if you're interested.

An example of a waypoint in a .gpx file is:

<wpt lat="35.742460012" lon="-105.676309943">

A segment of a track file looks like this:

      <trkpt lat="35.77331150" lon="-105.70114410"/>
      <trkpt lat="35.77386951" lon="-105.70137763"/>
      <trkpt lat="35.77436006" lon="-105.70175505"/>

GPS Data for the Website

Waytrack File
A waytrack file is a .gpx file that contains waypoints only, track only, or both waypoints and a track.  The map for the hike is based on the waytrack file. Many of the mapping software programs can export a .gpx file; alternatively, for PCs, you can use a free program EasyGPS.  You should configure your GPS and software to use the same coordinates and datum.
Waypoints List
Include all of the waypoints important to doing the hike in the Waypoints List. Identifying the waypoints by naming them in all capital letters helps them stand out from the rest of the text. The preferred format is:

   WAYPOINT NAME: N degrees decimal minutes, W degrees decimal minutes
      (distance from PARK)

An example is:

   POWERLINE: N 35 04.783, W 106 28.717 (1.2)

The waypoints in the Waypoints List should be listed in the order encountered on the hike, and shown on the hike map unless they are provided for assistance in getting to the trailhead.

Hike Data

For the definitions of the hike data, see Help Topics, section Hike Information.

Hike Distance

The hike distance can be calculated or estimated in a number of ways.  Some examples are:
Usually the most reliable method is to import a track into mapping software and let it determine the distance.  However, if the hike is in a valley with steep cliffs on both sides, the GPS may not receive strong enough signals from enough satellites to get a reliable track. Then one of the other methods may give a better estimate of the distance.

Elevation Gain

Ways of determining maximum and minimum elevation include:

Total Vertical

Ways of determining the total vertical distance are:
Different mapping software programs give different values for total vertical.  See the section Comparisons of Total Vertical Calculations in Tools for GPS Data for an example.  We generally use National Geographic TOPO values for consistency.  Manually calculating from the elevation profile will give a lower value, but usually not that different.

Route Type

The route type is both a description of the shape of the hike track and its direction.  If the hike is a loop, write the directions for conducting the hike for either the clockwise or counter clockwise direction, and choose the appropriate loop direction as the route type.

Drive Miles Round-Trip

If you live near one of the senior centers, when you check out a hike before leading it, measure the total miles you drive to and from the hike trailhead.  That will be an adequate estimate of the driving distance.  If you live closer to or further away from the trailhead than that, add or subtract an appropriate distance.  The distance we list in the hike description is only an estimate; the transportation cost hikers pay should be calculated from the actual distance the van travels.

Drive Time One-Way

This is an estimate, based on your experience in driving the route you describe in the Trailhead Directions.  It's useful in determining whether we should notify the center of a probable late return and/or pay in advance or leave earlier than usual. 

Minimum Elevation

This is the lowest point on the hike, determined from an elevation profile of the track in mapping software or from a paper topo map.


The grade indicates the average steepness of the hike (either uphill or downhill).  Mapping software can often output this value.

Hiking Seasons

From your knowledge of the hike location and access, determine which seasons of the year are appropriate to schedule the hike.  If you need to explain why, add information to the Comments section.  If the hike is at a low elevation, it's likely to be too hot for many people in the summer.  If it's at a high elevation, there probably will be too much snow in the winter. Some dirt roads are impassable when wet, so are chancy during the summer monsoon or at times when the road is freezing then thawing.  Use your common sense.

Hike Class

The hike class system is based on the hike distance and total vertical, which provide a good estimate of the work involved in doing a hike.  The classes go from A to E, increasing in level of difficulty, and are:

   A - Easy, not more than 5 miles and not more than 200 feet total vertical.
   B - Moderate, not more than 7 miles and not more than 700 feet total vertical.
   C - Challenging, not more than 9 miles and not more than 1500 feet total vertical.
   D - Difficult, not more than 11 miles and not more than 2300 feet total vertical.
   E - Demanding, more than 11 miles and/or more than 2300 feet total vertical.

Classes may be adjusted up one level to reflect hazards.  Many seniors' primary concern is falling, so be sure to consider loose rocks, exceptionally steep sections, tree roots, and exposure.  Classes may also be adjusted down one level when footing and balance aren't a concern, such as on a paved or well-maintained trail.  Add your reason for adjusting the class to the Comments section.

Directions to the Trailhead

Start providing directions from approximately the center of Albuquerque.  If one of the major highways is involved, you can say either of the following, for example:
Provide enough road data so that someone without a GPS could get to the trailhead (also provide GPS waypoints if access is tricky).  Give turns in compass directions as well as "left" or "right".  If possible, provide the approximate distances between intersections, especially in cases where the roads don't have signs (e.g., BLM roads).  Use the car's odometer or record a track and use mapping software to measure distances.  We use PARK as the waypoint where the van is parked, and measure hike distances from there.

The Actual Hike

Provide the information necessary to conduct the hike.  You'll almost certainly have a list of trail intersections or GPS data.  If you will be hiking on established trails with reliable signs, describing the trail intersections may be sufficient.  Otherwise, create waypoints at points of interest, at turns, or at possibly confusing intersections.  If there is a trail, describe it so that a hiker can say, "this looks like it" with confidence.  Describe any visual cues, such as "turn at the water tank" or "turn at the large flat rock in the trail after the lake" or "straight ahead as shown on the trail sign".  Give compass directions as well as "left" and "right" where changes in direction are involved.  Occasionally it's important to know the elevation to be sure that you're on track.  Try to create waypoint names that allow the text to flow around them.

Listing the distance along the track from PARK to each waypoint helps to determine where to have lunch, how far until the trail levels out, etc.  For example, the waypoint for the highest point in a hike could be listed as TOP (1.3 mi).

Even when the hike is on an established trail, waypoints are helpful when creating a map to accompany the text. The waypoints in the waypoints list should match the waypoints discussed in the text (with the exception of waypoints needed to locate the trailhead) and the waypoints shown on the map. Don't provide so many waypoints that the map becomes unreadable.  If you have extra waypoints that can help if a hike leader misses a turn and needs to "go to" a waypoint (e.g., cairn locations on the Manzano Crest Trail), you can provide them in a separate "additional waypoints" file (TBD).

Hikers are always interested in where the trail levels off and they can top going uphill.  If there is a high point, identify it. Be sufficiently descriptive so that a hiker can say "that sounds too hard, I'll skip that one".

If there are things to see or do at specific waypoints, describe them as part of The Actual Hike.  General features of the hike should be discussed in the Comments section.


Here is the place to describe the reasons why this hike special, so that a hiker can say to herself, "that sounds like a great hike; I want to go on that one", or cautions so that a hiker is adequately prepared for the hike conditions.  It's also the place for information that doesn't fit elsewhere.

Reasons Why It's Special

A hike may stick in your memory because of:
If it reads better, intersperse comments about the scenery, flowers, etc. as part of The Actual Hike section.


List what to bring or to look out for, such as:

Additional Information

Some types of additional information that often are listed in the Comments section are:
You can link to another hike by enclosing the hike name with specific tags.  For example, to link to the Pyramid Rock hike which has a hike ID of H10406, use the code:

<a href="">Pyramid Rock</a>

Hike Map

The map we display as part of a hike description is usually a topographic map of an area showing the hike track and waypoints.  Maps are required to be 600x800 pixels (width x height).  The physical size doesn't matter.  The file size does matter -- around 250 KB works well.  You'll want to crop the image to show the hike information to best advantage.  Sometimes you'll need to create an image that is 800 x 600 pixels, then rotate it 90 degrees to the left.

Sometimes the appropriate image is already located on the web (e.g., the map for the Bosque del Apache Tour Loop Trails hike).  In that case, you can either reference the map or make a copy of it for our site.

An acceptable map can be sketched on a paper map, then scanned to make a digital image.

A map can be exported as an image from a computer program ("mapping software") or obtained by saving a "screenshot" of the map.  In either case, the result can be edited in an image editing program.

Various versions of PhotoShop are probably the most common image editing software, but there are also free software programs for doing simple editing.  An example is IrfanView ( for Windows.  For information for what you can do with IrfanView, See the IrfanView section in Tools for GPS Data.

Editor Checklist for Publication of a Hike

The person who edits your hike description will work from the following set of criteria.  All of the answers should be "yes" for a hike description to be considered complete.  At an editor's discretion, a hike may be published that has a few "no's", with the assumption that another hiker will improve the hike description later.  In this case, the Maintainer should be left as "Not Assigned".

A Hike must have a map, a waypoints list, and a GPS waytrack file.

Hike Data

The website software checks to see that all of the required data fields are filled in and that the hike name is unique.  The required data fields are Editor, Record Type, Hike Name, Hike Region, Hike Class, Hike Miles, Elevation Gain, Route Type, Drive Miles Round Trip, and Drive Time OneWay.
  1. Does the Region chosen appear correct?  If not, refer the author to the Region map and/or Region Coordinator.
  2. Does the name sufficiently differentiate the hike from other similar hikes?
  3. Is the hike distance consistent with the hike distance given in one of the mapping software programs?
  4. Is the total vertical consistent with the total gain given in one of the mapping software programs, calculation from an elevation profile, or total gain recorded in a GPS with an altimeter, and greater than or equal to the elevation change value?
  5. Is the Hike Rating/Class consistent with the definitions on the General Hike Information page? If not, is a reason stated in the "Comments" section why the rating is different?
  6. Are appropriate seasons of the year for the hike identified?


  1. Is the map software source identified?
  2. Are the waypoints that start, change direction, or flag some special place (viewpoint, petroglyphs, etc.) shown on the map?
  3. Are the waypoint labels legible? 
  4. Are the waypoint labels in all capital letters?


  1. Are the waypoints shown on the map listed in the Waypoints section (there may be additional waypoints listed)?
  2. Are the waypoints listed in the correct format?

Trailhead Directions

  1. Are the directions consistent with directions in other existing hike descriptions?
  2. Do the directions appear sufficient to locate the trailhead?

Hike Description

  1. Is there sufficient information for another hike leader to lead the hike successfully?
  2. Are the waypoints shown on the map referred to in the description?
  3. Is the description consistent with the map?


  1. Is there sufficient information in the Hike Data, Hike Description, and/or Comments for a hiker to judge whether he/she is fit enough to do the hike?
  2. Are the highlights of the hike mentioned in the Hike Description and/or comments so that a hiker can determine whether he/she would enjoy doing the hike?


  1. Is someone identified for text author, map author, track author, and waypoints author?


  1. Does the text pass a spell check?