How to Write a Hike Description


Author: Marilyn Warrant
Last Update: 4/1/2021


Getting Started

In this document, “hike” and “hike description” are used interchangeably to refer to a document that provides hike data as well as how to get to the hike trailhead and how to conduct the hike. Any hike contributor can create a hike description to be added to the hikes collection on the Albuquerque Senior Centers’ Hiking Groups (ASCHG) website.

What Is a Hike Description?

A hike description consists of:

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.

See the Editor Checklist for Publication of a Hike for characteristics of a good, complete hike description.

Hikes often begin as a hike place holder. A hike place holder is a minimal description of a hike. Only the hike name and region are necessary to save the file, and hike place holders (as well as hikes “in process”) can be added to a hiking group’s schedule. We expect most hike place holders eventually to become published hikes.

All of our hikes involve walking. Some are trips to interesting places that can be arranged with pueblos, national monuments, or even private individuals. The main difference between these and our usual hikes is that in these cases we depend on others to control what happens. The Actual Hike part of the description often can only say what might be included and who to contact to arrange a visit. These can remain hike place holders and never become hike descriptions.

Developing a New Hike

Some places to look for possible new hikes are:

  • Public lands (use the BLM maps or the CarryMap app that show land ownership to make sure the hike is not on pueblo or private land).
  • Hikes written up in hiking books (try the most recent edition of 60 Hikes within 60 miles of Albuquerque, for example). Also see the hiking books table under the Resources tab.
  • Sections of the Continental Divide Trail that aren’t yet covered by senior hikes but are accessible from good roads.
  • Extensions or significant changes to existing hikes.
  • Trips that involve walking or hiking to pueblos, national monuments, state parks, or to Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, or Sandoval County Open Space.
  • Inactive hikes in the burn scar of a forest fire that might have recovered enough to be interesting (e.g., Corral Canyon, Capilla Peak, Sanchez Canyon).
  • Urban hikes in Albuquerque or Santa Fe that involve walking to interesting locations (e.g., ABQ Art and History) or along city bike trails (e.g., Bear Canyon Arroyo). These can make great winter hikes.
  • New places to visit within walking distance of a Rail Runner stop.

You could also ask hikers who have written hike descriptions if they have exploratory hike data in the region of interest to you that they would be willing to share.

Before you start, create a folder on your hard drive where you will be storing the results of your work (text, GPS, and map files). Label the folder so you can find it again, and label each file that supports the hike description with your preliminary hike name.

Usually several exploratory hikes are necessary to record the track, create waypoints for interesting features or trail intersections, obtain the distance and time to travel to the trailhead, and locate a good lunch spot. It’s a good idea to have several other hike leaders along on an exploratory hike who can record the track, suggest alternatives, and call your attention to things you might otherwise have missed.

Things to consider in deciding whether to create a description for a potential new hike that you’ve explored are:

  • Is the hike within a 2-3 hr drive from Albuquerque?
  • Is the hike long enough or sufficiently interesting to make the drive worth it? A very short hike might not draw many hikers. In this case, consider creating a “Multiple Hikes” type of hike description that combines several short hikes in the same general area.
  • Are there unusual features or beauty in the rocks, wildflowers, trees, etc?
  • If there are other hikes in the same general area already in the hikes collection, are hike leaders likely to choose your new hike some of the time rather than the others?
  • What is the hike class? B and C hikes will be attractive to more hikers than the more difficult D or E hikes. (This means no more than 9 miles and no more than 1500 feet uphill.)
  • How bad is the access road? Unless a hike is really special, there’s no sense in defining a hike that often can’t be reached (the Tapia Canyon hike is one of those exceptions).
  • If the hike requires a shuttle, how long would it take to complete the shuttle at the end of the hike? Try for 30 min or less. If the hike is about the same difficulty going each way, consider the option of taking 2 vans and exchanging keys midway. Will it be possible for the van drivers/hike leaders to communicate during the trip (in cell phone range or using walkie-talkies or InReach units)?

GPS Waypoints and Tracks

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”). GPS data (tracks and waypoints) are very useful in describing and leading a hike.  For help on working with GPS files or mapping softwares, see Tools for GPS Data.

A waypoint is a geographical location 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.  These trackpoints are also called “bread crumbs” because they record where the person moves. Bread crumbs are treated differently in the GPS than separate waypoints marked by the user.

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Hike Name

Names are important.  A unique name is required so that the people who schedule the hike and the hikers who call in to sign up for the hike can be confident that they are thinking about the same hike.

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, and 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 names of the starting and ending trailheads in the order hiked, along with any trail or destination in the middle (unless that makes the name too long). 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-Burnt Mesa. (A few hikes in the collection are older ones that were named before we adopted naming conventions.)

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 trip. Write a separate hike description for each of the components, then write another hike description that puts them together described as a “Multiple Hikes” type.

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Hike Region

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

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Hike Data

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

Get most of the hike data (hike distance, elevation gain, total uphill, total downhill, grade) from mapping software and the track. Also use mapping software to get the distance from the PARK waypoint where the hike starts to each of the other waypoints. (You’ll use those distances in the Actual Hike section.) It may be helpful to include these distances in the Waypoints List, then copy & paste them into the Actual Hike section.

Hike Distance

The hike distance can be calculated or estimated in a number of ways.  Some examples are:

  • Calibrated pedometer
  • Track length in mapping software
  • Reported track length from the GPS odometer
  • Paper topo map and string

Usually the most reliable method is to import a track into mapping software, clean up the track, and let the mapping software 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.

For an urban hike, you may estimate the distance based on city blocks.

Elevation Gain

The elevation gain is the difference between the maximum and minimum elevation. The maximum and minimum elevation may be determined from:

  • Elevation profile generated in mapping software
  • GPS elevation data
  • Paper topo map

Total Uphill/Downhill

Ways of determining the total uphill/downhill distance are:

  • “Gain” or “Climbing Elevation” reported by mapping software after a track has been cleaned up.
  • Recorded by a GPS at the end of the hike.
  • Manually from a topo map by breaking the track into major uphill segments, measuring the elevation change for each segment, and adding them together.

Different GPS units and different mapping software programs can give different values for total uphill. Smart phone apps have become available also. As GPS sensors improve, we probably will adopt the distance and total uphill data recorded by a newer GPS as our standard.

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 (CW) or counter clockwise (CCW) direction, and choose the appropriate loop direction as the route type (e.g., CW Loop).

Drive Miles Round-Trip

Compute the one-way travel distance for the route you describe in the Trailhead Directions section, then multiply by two. (For simplicity, we use the same driving distance for all centers; differences usually average out.)

Drive Time One-Way

This is an estimate, based on your experience in driving the route you describe in the Trailhead Directions. You can also use internet resources such as MapQuest or Google Maps, at least for the highway portion. The Drive Time One-Way is useful in determining whether we should notify the center of a probable late return or leave earlier than usual. Do not include time for pit stops before or after the hike in the drive time estimate. The Drive Time One-way multipled by two, plus allowances for lunch & pit stops, plus the estimated hike time is added to the leave time to get the expected return time for the hike that is shown on the printed Call-in Sign-up sheet (aka Trip Release Form).)

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.

Average Grade

The average grade indicates the average steepness of the hike (either uphill or downhill).  Mapping software can often output this value. You may need to split the hike into two parts (mostly uphill and mostly downhill, if possible) to get a value for the grade.


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 that information to the Comments section. If the hike is at a low elevation, it’s likely to be too hot 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 uphill, which provide a good estimate of the labor involved in doing a hike.  The classes go from A to E, increasing in level of difficulty. See Hike Class Definitions.

Hike classes may be adjusted up a level to reflect hazards.  Many seniors’ primary concern is falling, so be sure to consider loose rocks, exceptionally steep sections, tree roots, and any edge exposure next to the trail. Hike classes may also be adjusted down a 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.


There are three checkboxes listed under the heading “Miscellaneous” for you to consider:

  • All On Trl
  • All Paved/Gravel Rds
  • GPS Rec

Check the box for All On Trl when all parts of the hike are on constructed, maintained trails intended for hiking/biking, not on lava rock, and without stream crossings. This is helpful for beginning hikers who want to start out with the easier ones.

Check the box for All Paved/Gravel Rds when all access roads to the hike trailhead are either paved or good gravel (not dirt). This is helpful for beginning drivers so they don’t drive right away on the most challenging roads.

Check the box for GPS Rec to help hike leaders know if a GPS is recommended to locate the trailhead and/or to conduct the hike as described.

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Hike Waypoints and Waytrack File

Mapping software programs can import a .gpx file downloaded from your GPS; alternatively, for PCs, you can use the free program EasyGPS. (See Tools for GPS Data – EasyGPS for help in using EasyGPS.)  You should configure your GPS and software to use the same coordinate format and datum.

Use one of the mapping software programs to split tracks and recombine the pieces into a new track or to fine-tune the track to remove trackpoints that head off in the wrong direction or resulted from the GPS recording data while you aren’t actually hiking.

Develop waypoint labels that allow the text to flow around them in the Actual Hike section. Short labels are preferred because they are less apt to overlap when you create the hike map. When you’re happy with the waypoint labels, create the Waypoints List. (See Tools for GPS Data for ways to get the waypoints into a form that you can copy then paste.)

Using all capital letters for the waypoints helps them stand out from the rest of the text. The preferred format is:

WAYPOINT NAME: N degrees decimal minutes, W degrees decimal minutes

An example is:

POWERLINE: N35 04.783, W106 28.717

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. You may include the waypoints important for reaching the trailhead in a separate “Access” section of the Waypoints List. For example:

US550 MM41: N35 42.697, W106 56.303
TURN1: N35 37.926, W107 06.500
TURN2: N35 38.135, W107 07.938Hike
PARK: N35 41.151, W107 10.830
CDTCRN: N35 40.775, W107 10.692

Save the waypoints and track together in a .gpx file (called the “waytrack” file). Name the file with the hike name first (no spaces) followed by “WayTrack_” then your initials. An example of a waytrack name is:


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Hike Text


Describe why a hiker might want to do this hike. A hike may stick in your memory in a good way because of:

  • Petroglyphs, ruins, caves, or artifacts.
  • Scenic vistas.
  • Wildflower displays in season.
  • Colorful leaves in season.
  • Unusual rock formations.
  • Signs of wildlife.


List what to bring or to what to look out for that aren’t common to all of our hikes, such as:

  • Recommended hiking gear (e.g., hiking/trekking poles for steep sections and/or stability, water shoes for stream crossings).
  • Insect repellant.
  • Very steep ascents or descents.
  • Extended or extremely rocky parts of the trail.
  • Mostly off-trail.
  • Steep dropoffs
  • Not much shade

Be sufficiently descriptive so that a hiker can say “that sounds too hard, I’ll skip that one”.

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. Mention the closest mile marker before a turn off a highway, if possible.

Actual Hike

Now you’re ready to write the Actual Hike section. The purpose of this section is to help a hike leader lead the hike successfully. 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 left (north) 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 (especially on hills with multiple logging roads).  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.  Hikers are always interested in where the trail levels off and they can stop going uphill.  If there is a high point, identify it, such as “TOP (2.3 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 shown on the map and the waypoints discussed in the text (with the exception of waypoints needed to locate the trailhead).

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 file posted as an additional waytrack file.

If there are things to see or do at specific waypoints, describe them here. Other suggestions to prospective hike leaders can be discussed in the Comments section.


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 class such as side excursions to overlooks.
  • If the hike class was adjusted, the reasons why.
  • If the hike is one-way, some suggested ways of doing the hike (e.g., with another center or with a van driver who drives the van to the other trailhead and hikes towards the main group of hikers).
  • Cautions to hike leaders about conditions that might result in cancelling the hike (e.g., rain leading to slick roads or dangerous arroyos, hot weather).

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>

Another thing to add to this section is the method used to determine the hike data. For example:

  • “Hike data were determined using a Garmin GPSMap 62 and Garmin BaseCamp’s DEM for TOPO US 24K Southwest.”
  • “Hike data were determined using a Garmin GPSMap 64s and the elevation data measured by the GPS.”

where “DEM” is an abbreviation for “Digital Elevation Model.”

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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 should be 600×800 pixels (width x height).  The maximum allowed file size is 350 KB. 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.

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.

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, which requires permission from the image owner.

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

If waypoint labels overlap, reconsider whether you need all those waypoints or if you could shorten their labels. Some mapping software programs (e.g., National Geographic TOPO) allow you to hide the waypoint labels and create text labels that can be relocated so that they don’t overlap. (As far as I can tell, with Garmin BaseCamp you are stuck with the default locations of the labels, although you can change their font.)

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 Tools for GPS Data – IrfanView.

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Working with the Website “Add Hike” Input Form

To begin the process of adding a hike, log in to the ASCHG website, go to the Hikes tab, and select Hike, add. Detailed instructions for each entry are shown under the entry.

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.

Select from the drop-down lists the hikers who contributed to the hike description (Text Author, Map Author, Waypoints Author, and Track Author). In order to save the hike description, you must select the Text Author and set the status (for a new hike this should be either “place holder” or “in process”). Save your work by going to the bottom of the form and clicking on the black Save button. Once you’ve added a hike, go to the Hikes tab and select the Hike, change menu option to make corrections, add text, or upload files.

When you are ready for the hike to be edited, send the status to “waiting editor,” select the editor you want from the drop-down list, and send an email to that person from your personal email account. The editor will review your hike according to the Editor Checklist for Publication of a Hike. The editor may send you a separate email message containing any comments or list the comments in the Editor/Author Comments text box. Only the editor can publish the hike.

When a hike is published and added to the ASCHG hike collection, you can ask one of the current hike Maintainers to take on your hike. The Maintainer is responsible for keeping a hike up-to-date. Other hikers can find errors, identify a feature that should be mentioned in the hike description, or discover that the trail is washed out and the track should be changed. After you have written several hike descriptions, consider becoming a hike Maintainer yourself.

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Appendix: 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”.

To be published, 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. Are the checkboxes checked appropriately?
  4. Is the hike distance consistent with the hike distance given in one of the mapping software programs?
  5. Is the total uphill consistent with the total gain given in one of the mapping software programs, an estimate from an elevation profile, or total gain recorded in a GPS with an altimeter, and greater
    than or equal to the elevation change value?
  6. Is the Hike Class consistent with the definitions? If not, is a reason stated in the “Comments” section why the Hike Class was changed?
  7. 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?
  2. Are the waypoints listed in the correct format?

Trailhead Directions


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

Actual Hike


  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 Actual Hike section?
  3. Is the text consistent with the map?

Highlights and Cautions


  1. Are Highlights of the hike provided for a hiker to determine whether he/she would enjoy doing the hike?
  2. Is there sufficient information in the Hike Data and Cautions for a hiker to judge whether he/she is fit enough to do the hike?



  1. Is appropriate additional information included to help hike leaders determine when to schedule the hike?



  1. Are hike contributors identified for text author, map author, track author, and waypoints author?



  1. Does the text pass a spell check?