Hike Difficulty

Every hike our Club supports is rated in terms of the difficulty of the hike. These ratings are:

  • Easy
  • Moderate
  • Strenuous
  • Very Strenuous

Picking a hike that matches your fitness level is very important. If you go on a hike that is beyond your current fitness levels, you will struggle to enjoy the hike and could endanger your well-being and that of your hiking companions. The ratings we use are there to help you choose hikes that you will enjoy at whatever fitness level you have.

Here are the factors we consider when rating a hike:

  • Distance
  • Elevation Gain (starting and maximum altitude)
  • Terrain and Obstacles
  • Pace

The table below is the general guidelines we use to determine the rating for a hike. Whichever factor has the most difficult rating determines the base rating for a hike. For example, if a hike is very long, it could be rated STRENUOUS even though there are few obstacles and very little elevation gain (e.g.: Art Smith to Garstin) or if a hike is ~8 miles long but involves an elevation gain of >6000 feet (e.g.: Palms to Pines/Skyline) it could be rated STRENUOUS or VERY STRENUOUS. In a similar fashion, a short trail, such as the 3.6 mile Rattlesnake Canyon in JTNP, might be rated STRENUOUS because of the significant boulder climbing and slot canyon walking involved.

Difficulty LevelMax Distance (miles)Max Elevation Gain (feet)Max Elevation (feet)Trail Description/Obstacles
Easy5500<1000Slight slope with some terrain variation, rocks in the trail
Moderate81000<3000Some rocks or gravel, steps up/down <3’, requires good balance and sure-footedness, some vertical exposure
Strenuous121500<6000Long rocky segments with drops and vertical exposure, >3 foot high steps up/down, simple bouldering
Very Strenuous203000>6000Mix of rock and sand with constant changes in slope, footing and width, bouldering, >3 foot steps up/down
Hike difficulty table

The factors above determine the basic difficulty rating for a hike but we still need to integrate the pace the hike leader plans to use. The pace categories we use are:

PaceRangeExamplesMilesHoursPace (MPH)
Slow1-1.5 MPHRandall Henderson2.521.25
Medium1.5-2.0 MPHEisenhower Loop52.52.00
Fast2.0-3.0 MPHIndio Hills Badlands5.12.252.27
Very Fast>3.0 MPHBoo Hof Top and Back6.823.40
Hiking pace (speed)

If a hike leader plans to set a FAST pace, the difficulty rating of the hike is raised up to the next difficulty level. This means an EASY hike with a FAST pace becomes a MODERATE hike. If a hike leader wants to go VERY FAST, the hike difficulty jumps two levels: MODERATE becomes VERY STRENUOUS.

Ultimately, the hike leader uses their experience and judgement to apply these guidelines and variables to rate a hike in a way that accurately communicates what hikers will experience on the hike. These guidelines provide a framework for hike difficulty but the guidelines are not prescriptive.

Use the hike ratings to find hikes that match your fitness and ambition. At the bottom of each hike description on the calendar there is information about the difficulty, distance, elevation gain, etc. Check this information to make sure the hike is right for you.

And always reach out to the hike leader to double-check that the hike will be a good fit for you!