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:
- Lead the hike without getting lost.
- Decide whether the hike will be worth doing.
- Decide whether the hike is compatible with the hiker's fitness level.
A hike description consists of:
See the Editor Checklist
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.
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.
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 -
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
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
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 (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:
- decimal degrees (the default output from a GPS)
- degrees, minutes and seconds.
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
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
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
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.
For the definitions of the hike data, see Help Topics, section
The hike distance can be calculated or estimated in a number
of ways. Some examples are:
- Calibrated pedometer
- Track in mapping software
- Reported distance from the GPS when a track is saved or imported
- Paper topo map and string
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.
Ways of determining maximum and minimum elevation include:
- Profile generated in mapping software
- GPS elevation data
- Paper topo map
Ways of determining the total vertical distance are:
- "Gain" or "Climbing Elevation" reported by mapping software.
- Manually from the elevation profile from mapping software or from
a topo map by breaking the track into uphill segments, measuring the
elevation change for each uphill segment, and adding them together.
- Recorded by a GPS by doing the hike.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- From Albuquerque, take I-25 to …
- I-25 to …
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:
- Petroglyphs, ruins, caves, or other artifacts.
- Scenic vistas.
- Flowers, colorful leaves, or unusual rock formations.
- Signs of wildlife.
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:
- Recommended hiking gear (e.g., hiking sticks for steep sections,
water shoes for stream crossing, layers, etc.).
- Insect repellant and/or sunblock.
- Conditions that might result in cancelling the hike (especially
wet dirt roads).
- Very steep assents or descents.
- Extended or extremely rocky parts of the trail.
Some types of additional information that often are listed
in the Comments section are:
- Other hikes similar to this one.
- Options for doing the hike that don't change the hike rating
or are optional, such as side excursions to overlooks.
- If the hike rating was adjusted, the reasons why.
- If the hike is one-way, some ways of doing the hike (e.g.,
with another center, with a van driver who drives the van to the
other trailhead and hikes towards the main group of hikers).
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="http://www.aschg.org/jsp/hike.jsp?id=H10406">Pyramid Rock</a>
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
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
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
A Hike must have a map, a waypoints list, and a GPS waytrack file.
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.
- Does the Region chosen appear correct? If not, refer the author to the Region map and/or
- Does the name sufficiently differentiate the hike from other similar hikes?
- Is the hike distance consistent with the hike distance given in one of the mapping software programs?
- 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?
- 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?
- Are appropriate seasons of the year for the hike identified?
- Is the map software source identified?
- Are the waypoints that start, change direction, or flag some special place (viewpoint, petroglyphs,
etc.) shown on the map?
- Are the waypoint labels legible?
- Are the waypoint labels in all capital letters?
- Are the waypoints shown on the map listed in the Waypoints section (there
may be additional waypoints listed)?
- Are the waypoints listed in the correct format?
- Are the directions consistent with directions in other existing hike descriptions?
- Do the directions appear sufficient to locate the trailhead?
- Is there sufficient information for another hike leader to lead the hike successfully?
- Are the waypoints shown on the map referred to in the description?
- Is the description consistent with the map?
- 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?
- 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?
- Is someone identified for text author, map author, track author, and waypoints author?
- Does the text pass a spell check?