You’re itching to get out onto the trail, but it just rained. Is it okay to go anyway?
It’s generally considered okay to hike after the rain in forested areas that don’t include a lot of high-elevation areas. On the other hand, areas that are more susceptible to landslides to flash floods should be avoided until the area has dried out. Make sure that you are prepared with extra gear and footwear that is mud-friendly.
There’s a lot more to know about how different trails are changed by rainy weather. Understanding the changes that take place can help you to determine how safe a given trail is and what preparations you may need to make in order to stay safe. Continue forward, and we’ll take a look at the environmental effects of hiking after it has rained, how you should prepare for hiking in the rain, and when it’s best to wait for a drier day to go adventuring.
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Is It Okay To Hike After It Rains?
If you are careful to keep yourself safe and protect the environment around you, it is often okay to hike after rain. That said, always check official websites or other resources related to the trail you want to hike on before heading out. These resources will let you know whether or not it’s safe to hike on a given trail.
Furthermore, make sure to take the weather into consideration. You never know when the weather might change for the worse. Prepare yourself with all of the tools you might need if the rain starts up again or evolves into a storm.
Is It Bad For The Environment To Hike After It Rains?
When we think about what may be bad for the environment, we tend to think of things like littering, graffiti, and doing obvious damage to the structures along the trail. However, even just walking on a trail in wet conditions can result in damage to the environment.
According to USDA.gov, hiking on wet trails can result in issues like erosion and soil compaction. Essentially, the weight of people walking along the trail can contribute to making the trail wider. As that happens, it also drives plants back as they cannot grow in compacted areas.
The website suggests that if you are intent on hiking on wet trails, prepare yourself with waterproof shoes or boots and be prepared to get muddy. Stay in the middle of the trail, as it will have the least impact on the vegetated areas along the sides of the path. Simply giving the trail time to dry up can also be an effective way to limit the environmental effects on the area.
From personal experience, this is hard to do. I admit that when I’ve hiked in wet weather that I’ve hiked on the outskirts of the trail (where there’s grass or the trail is not at the bottom of a slope) to avoid getting my feet wet. A hugely important thing to maintain foot health while hiking is to avoid getting your feet wet–this prevents blisters and other foot problems.
One strategy people employ to prevent blisters is to wear two pairs of socks–read more about what kind of socks work for this here.
The Trail Might Be Closed–Call Ahead
If you’re going to go hiking on public land, then you don’t have to worry about this. But if you are hiking at a managed park (more than just some signs and some trails), the trail you might be considering might be closed.
For example, we live near a State Park called a Natural Area (see the difference at our post here). The emphasis, besides being a park that gets some revenue from visitors, is to be a restoration area focused on nature preservation.
When it rains a certain amount of inches, they will close most of the trails. I’ve gone many times when they told me the trails I was hoping to hike on were closed.
Call ahead to save yourself some time if you are planning on hiking anywhere that has trails that can be closed.
Is It Safe To Hike After It Rains?
The addition of rain will make just about any hiking trail more dangerous. That said, there is a large spectrum when it comes to just how much risk is added to a given path. Some trails might just become slightly more difficult while others should be avoided altogether.
Often, the best-case scenario is that the trail is just a little muddier after the rain has passed. A little mud is unlikely to cause any major injuries unless the person walking on it is being reckless. Just being a little more aware of the steps you are taking can keep the mud from causing you to slip and fall. If you want more stability, tools like hiking poles can also make a huge difference in keeping your balance.
Again, from personal experience, I wouldn’t feel safe on many wet trails without hiking poles. Just having an extra point of stabilization makes a huge difference, especially when clambering through creeks.
Worst case scenario, the hiking trail becomes prone to landslides, avalanches, or flash floods due to the swelling of nearby water sources. In inclement weather, it can also become much easier to get lost. Without intense preparation, increased exposure alone can result in serious injury or worse.
It’s because of this wide spectrum that it’s incredibly important to make yourself familiar with how the weather can change the conditions of your favorite trails. Make sure to check websites associated with the trail for weather alerts, and keep tabs on the weather to determine how prepared you should be for more extreme conditions.
If you feel uncomfortable at all with the idea of heading out onto the trail due to the weather conditions, it’s perfectly okay to wait for a better day.
Are There Rules/Laws About Hiking After It Rains?
Most trails will have guidelines as to when it is okay to hike on them. This may not be true of trails that aren’t operated by state or federal government, but in most cases, there should at least be a sign or informational area that will let you know if the trail is okay to hike on at a given time.
Many trails at national parks will be available at NPS.gov. As an example, I’ve included the current alerts for the weather conditions at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On this page, you can find information on each of the trails in the park, as well as view live cams that will give you a better look into the conditions of each trail.
What If The Rain Has Passed, But There’s Still Thunder And Lightning?
If it’s no longer raining but thunder and lightning are still taking place, it’s best to stay home. While being struck by lightning is a rare occurrence, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t end up near a tree or other object that is struck. Falling trees, fire, or other events can make your hiking trip a disaster, or at least miserable.
Sometimes you can’t avoid thunder and lightning when you’re already out in the wilderness. Make sure to check our article about camping in a thunderstorm for details on what to do in this situation.
To summarize what you should do if you’re caught in a thunderstorm: If you are still near your vehicle, your best option is to get inside and wait out the storm. Hikers who aren’t near their vehicle should look for a fully enclosed shelter nearby. If you are near a forest, go deep into the woods and don’t stand near the tallest trees, (avoid lakes and other bodies of water).
Do Hikers Often Hit The Trail After It Rains?
There are hikers out there who will head out into nature in almost any weather, but that doesn’t usually apply to most hikers. While some may enjoy the challenge, many others prefer to hike in better conditions.
In our research, we asked a number of hikers whether or not they generally feel okay hiking after it rains. Most of the answers we received involved both the environment and the intensity of the rain.
Assuming the ground hasn’t become a muddy mess, many hikers are happy to hike after (or even during) a light rain. However, most do avoid hiking when the rain is too heavy. Furthermore, most hikers don’t want to end up stuck or sliding around in the mud. It’s actually pretty miserable to be carrying 3-5lbs of mud on each shoe. (been there)
In some cases, hikers try to make themselves aware of the environmental impact that might come from walking on certain trails after rain. When dirt on the ground is soft and movable, walking on it can contribute to the erosion of the trail.
Without proper maintenance to fix that erosion, it can end up looking more like a ditch than a hiking trail. Because of that, it can be a good idea to steer clear of some trails until the land dries.
If you’re uncertain about whether or not it’s okay for you to go out on a hike after rain, it’s best to check for updates on your local trails in order to determine whether or not it’s a good idea. Many websites associated with local hiking trails will let you know if the trail is open and what to be wary of. As an example, I’m including the informational page for the Adirondack trails from the New York Department Of Conservation.
How To Hike Safely After It Rains
If you’ve made sure you won’t be breaking any rules or putting yourself in a high level of danger by hiking after a rain, then it’s time to prepare to head out. You’ll have to take a little extra care after it has rained. This is largely due to changes that can happen on the trail itself due to the rain.
Use the following tips to prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable post-rain hike.
If you’re lucky, the clouds will part after a brief rain and there won’t be any more showers while you’re out on your hike. In places that aren’t prone to heavy rainfall, this might just be the case. In this situation, you won’t have to worry too much about staying dry outside.
However, there may be some cases in which the rain is likely to come back, even just a little bit. Staying dry in those circumstances is key to staying safe while you’re out in nature.
At the very least, bring a waterproof jacket along with you. It doesn’t need to be a heavy one if the temperatures are still comfortable. In wetter conditions, you may even try to include a waterproof hood or hat, waterproof boots, or waterproof pants.
One downside to waterproof gear is that you sweat. If your rain gear has vents, make sure to use them. I remember one time, though–I tried wearing waterproof rain pants while hiking and I sweat so much that I got soaked anyway. Sometimes it’s better to wear breathable fabric that will dry quickly rather than trying to stay completely dry.
Hikers who want to prepare themselves for being in the rain more often may want to know exactly what they need to do or bring to ensure they have a good experience. In our article on what to wear hiking in the rain, you can learn more about staying comfortable hiking in wet weather. Take a look at it here.
Being Aware Of Your Surroundings
Rain causes changes in the environment. The ground may become less reliable and objects around you may be harder to hold on to or lean on to if needed. Additionally, you never know when the rain might come back or if it might evolve into a storm.
It’s one thing to hike during or after a light rain, but hiking when a storm is approaching comes with a much higher risk of becoming lost or injured. If you’re hiking after rain, keep a careful eye on the ground around you as well as anything you might use for support.
Furthermore, watch the sky to determine if the weather seems to be getting better or worse. If you’re close to your car, don’t hesitate to head home if a storm begins. Otherwise, make sure to check out our article about handling a storm when you’re in the wilderness.
Rain can show up at just about any temperature. It’s not always going to be cold outside. Because of that, you may have to use your own discretion when it comes to choosing your middle layers. Some may be okay with just a t-shirt and some pants or shorts while others prefer to bundle up more.
In this instance, it’s best to do what will keep you the most comfortable. That said, if you opt for minimal middle layers, then it’s a good idea to at least bring some warmer options with you. The temperature can change at any time, and it’s better to have extra clothing you don’t need than to end up too cold. This is especially true if you’re planning to hike later in the day.
Keeping Your Footing (What Shoes Should You Wear?)
Even after the rain has stopped, the ground on a trail might be left muddy, slick, or otherwise difficult to walk on. Some hikers may prefer to avoid a trail that has become too difficult, but others might enjoy the challenge. If you’re open to going hiking after rain, it’s best to be prepared for a more challenging hike.
Tennis shoes / running shoes can get slippery in wet conditions. Trail running shoes often have more intense lugs on the bottom of the shoe, making them better for a lot of different rough terrain. Rubber grips the ground better but it also wears away faster. It’s always a balance between traction and shoe longevity.
Hiking boots and hiking shoes are made for outdoor terrain, so these will have more traction than other types of shoes.
At a bare minimum, wear shoes or boots that grip well. Slippery shoes can put you at more of a risk for slipping, falling, or injuring an ankle. You’ll likely have to move more slowly in order to be certain of the steps you’re taking. It can also be useful to use nearby trees to keep your balance. Hiking poles can also be a great idea when the ground is less reliable.
Preparing Backup Plans
Even the most experienced hikers may not know what they’re going to find when they head out on the trail after rain. Ideally, you’ll still be able to have a fun hike even if the trail is a little more challenging than it typically would be. However, there are still potential problems that are worth preparing for.
As with any hike, bringing along a first aid kit is incredibly important. Best case scenario – you don’t end up needing to use it.
Also, make sure someone else knows where you’re going to be and when you plan on returning. Turn back if at any point you feel as though you might be at risk of injury – or even if you just aren’t having as much fun as you thought you would. There’s no need to force a hike if you aren’t enjoying the experience.
Additional Safety Preparations
Depending on the conditions and how long you plan on hiking, you may want to take some extra steps to ensure your safety. That often means bringing along some extra tools just in case you end up in a bad situation.
Some of the items you might consider bringing include the following:
- Hiking GPS, maps, or a compass.
- Extra food or clothing
- Items for self defense (i.e. bear spray, pocket knife, etc)
- Gloves and hats
- Emergency shelter
- Emergency blanket
- Tools to create a fire
You may choose to bring any or all of these items. If you won’t be hiking too far from your vehicle, then you may not be as concerned. That said, it’s a good idea to at least store a few of these items in your vehicle just in case it suffers a breakdown and you aren’t able to leave the area. No matter where you’re hiking, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When Should You Avoid Hiking After Rain?
There are a number of factors that can go into how safe a post-rain hike is. Generally speaking, hiking after a light rain won’t increase the risk of danger much. However, there are situations in which you should wait until the weather dries up before going out on a hike.
Below, I’ll discuss a couple of situations in which this is the case.
If the weather outside is only getting worse, it’s best to postpone your hiking plans. Bad weather isn’t just nasty to deal with, it can also be dangerous. The risks of becoming lost, injured, or worse really aren’t worth the journey. Generally, you’re far better off staying home so that you can enjoy many more days of hiking in the future.
Before you leave your home, make sure to check your local weather forecast. If thunder, lightning, or high winds are on the horizon – stay home. The chances of actually being struck by lightning are quite low, but falling trees and general exposure to harsh conditions are dangerous enough. It’s not worth trying to prove how skilled you are if you end up lost or seriously hurt.
In some circumstances, you may not have known that a storm was on the way. It’s easy to avoid taking a short hike in a storm, but what if the thunder starts rolling in while you’re camping? In our article we’ve talked about earlier here, we’ll take a look into what you can do to stay safe if you’re camping in a thunderstorm.
Late In The Day
You never really know how long it will take for the rain to pass. It may just be a shower that lasts for a few minutes, or the rain may continue for most of the day. If the latter is the case, then you may want to think twice about going out on a hike.
Both wet conditions and lack of light can make a hike more dangerous. The combination of the two can leave you stranded and injured in the dark. Although a smaller injury like a sprained ankle won’t stop you from making it back to your vehicle during the day, darkness can make things much slower and more difficult. At the very least, keep a close eye on the angle of the sun if you go for a hike later in the day.
Rain may not always create or be followed by a cold snap, but it can certainly leave things feeling a bit colder. In our article asking hikers how low the temperatures can go before they feel uncomfortable or unsafe hiking, we discovered that the average hiker prefers to hike at 40 degrees or above. For more information, you can take a look at that article here.
One of the main reasons most hikers don’t want to hike in the cold is that it’s not very fun. However, it can become a much larger problem if you aren’t prepared for cold temperatures.
When the weather gets below 40 degrees, there is a higher risk for ice, snow, and even just exposure to the cold. Hypothermia becomes more of a risk, and it’s generally a better idea to give the weather some time to warm up before you go adventuring in nature.
Where Should You Avoid Hiking After Rain?
Just as potential weather and temperature changes can make a hike more dangerous, some locations are more dangerous than others. There are many places where hiking after it rains isn’t a big deal, but others can have a higher risk of things like landslides and flooding. Taking a look into those areas can help you to make safer choices about where to hike if it has recently rained.
Areas To Avoid After Rain
The terrain surrounding a trail can make a huge difference in terms of whether or not that trail will be safe after it has rained. In many forest trails that aren’t too near water sources, odds are you’re going to be okay, but in areas close to water sources, in deserts or plains, it’s better to wait for the excess moisture to dry up.
The reason for that involves issues like swelling water and landslides. A landslide or even a small flood can come without warning and leave you wet, cold, injured, or worse. Similar to sneaker waves that can occur along coastlines, you may not even be aware of the danger before it arrives.
Before you decide to go for a hike, consider where you plan on hiking. Think about the potential for danger, and decide whether or not you feel safe going to those areas. In addition, look for the official information attached to the trail you’re thinking of visiting. Often, these trails will be listed as closed if there is any chance that hiking may be too dangerous (or impactful on the environment).
Areas That Need Extra Caution After Rain
Not all areas need to be avoided after rain. Some may just require a bit more caution. For example, forests that are out in the open and involve relatively flat areas aren’t considered dangerous if you dress warmly and come prepared for the ground to be a bit more slippery than usual. On the other hand, mountainous areas can be considered a little riskier.
It stands to reason that slipping and falling in a forest is unlikely to result in serious injury. However, slipping while you’re traversing a tricky trail along a mountainside could end tragically. If the weather changes for the worse at some point during your journey, being in a higher place can add to the risk of being struck by lightning – or at least being near something that is struck. Mountainous areas can also come with risks of landslides, avalanches, and flooding.