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Hiking, an activity cherished by nature enthusiasts, has a rich and varied past.

In this exploration of Hiking History, learn how it evolved and gained popularity over time.

Lace up your boots and let’s begin!

Hiking History Summary

  • ⏳ Origins and Evolution: Hiking’s earliest roots trace back to ancient civilizations, with humans trekking for food and exploration. The progression from necessity to leisurely pursuit began during the Romantic Age in Europe, as picturesque landscapes and mountainous regions were increasingly valued for their aesthetic and spiritual appeal.
  • πŸš€ Rise to Prominence: Hiking gained momentum as a popular pastime in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the establishment of various hiking clubs and the creation of national parks in multiple countries. Developing infrastructure, including trails and shelters, supported increased accessibility and sparked widespread interest in outdoor pursuits.
  • πŸ₯‡ Noteworthy Growth and Adaptation: Modern hiking trends exhibit a focus on sustainability, responsible travel, and a refined appreciation for nature. The activity has expanded globally, with a diverse range of trails and treks catering to various skill levels. Technological advancements in gear and communication tools have contributed to safer and more enjoyable experiences for hikers, solidifying the enduring appeal of this outdoor pursuit.

Hiking History Timeline

18th Century

The Romantic movement in Europe during the 18th century inspired a keen interest in nature’s beauty. Numerous writers and artists, like William Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner, began to explore and glorify the picturesque landscapes of the countryside. This artistic appreciation laid the foundation for the leisurely pursuit of hiking.

During this period, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other influential philosophers also emphasized the importance of nature in human life. Their ideas helped popularize walking and spending time in natural environments as a means of personal and emotional growth.

19th Century

The 19th century witnessed the establishment of mountaineering clubs across Europe, such as the Alpine Club in London (1857) and the Swiss Alpine Club (1863). These organizations played a crucial role in encouraging and supporting mountaineering and hiking ventures, setting the stage for further popularization.

In the United States, the transcendentalist movement led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau inspired a newfound appreciation for nature’s beauty. This further encouraged Americans to explore their natural surroundings, strengthening the developing hiking culture across the country.

Early 20th Century

The establishment of national parks around the world in the early 20th century greatly promoted hiking and outdoor pursuits. Notable examples include the founding of the U.S. National Park Service in 1916, which led to the protection of iconic landscapes like Yellowstone and Yosemite, and the opening of national parks in countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

An increasing infrastructure for hiking also emerged during this time, including marked trails, shelters, and advancements in outdoor equipment. The Appalachian Trail, spanning from Georgia to Maine, was conceived in 1921 by Benton MacKaye and completed in 1937, becoming one of the world’s most famous long-distance hiking trails.

1930s – 1940s

The Great Depression and World War II posed challenges to the burgeoning hiking culture. However, the Civilian Conservation Corps in the United States from 1933 to 1942 positively impacted hiking by developing trails, campsites, and other infrastructure in parks and forests throughout the country.

During this time, European mountain refuges known as “hΓΌtten” began to gain popularity, offering hikers overnight shelter and sustenance. These huts, operated by hiking clubs and associations, made multi-day treks more accessible and further cultivated interest in the outdoor activity.

1960s – 1970s

Increased environmental awareness arose in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to movements like Earth Day and publications such as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” As concerns for the environment grew, so did the popularity of outdoor activities like hiking, emphasizing the importance of preserving and appreciating natural spaces.

The establishment of trails in this era, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which were both designated as National Scenic Trails in 1968, further expanded long-distance hiking opportunities in the United States.

1980s – 1990s

Advancements in technology and materials in the 1980s and 1990s significantly improved hiking and outdoor gear. Lightweight, durable, and weather-resistant clothing and equipment made hiking more comfortable and accessible to a broader range of people. The era also saw the rise of guidebooks and magazines focused on hiking and outdoor pursuits, inspiring more individuals to become engaged with the activity.

During this time, the International Committee for the Defense of Nature along with other organizations developed the concept of “Leave No Trace” principles, stressing the importance of low-impact practices and responsible outdoor ethics for hikers and other nature enthusiasts.

2000s – Present

Over the past two decades, the growth of digital technology and social media platforms has had a profound effect on the hiking community. From online forums and blogs to GPS navigation apps and social media groups, digital advancements have connected hikers like never before, providing invaluable resources for trail information, advice, and inspiration.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, hiking has continued to evolve, with a focus on sustainability, responsible travel, and the popularization of hiking trends like “thru-hiking” major trails and outdoor challenges like the “Seven Summits.” The enduring appeal of hiking remains, with people across the globe increasingly finding solace and personal growth amidst nature’s trails and landscapes.


Who invented Hiking?

No single person invented hiking. It evolved naturally over time as a form of transportation, exploration, and enjoyment of nature’s beauty.

How did Hiking become so popular?

Hiking grew in popularity due to its universal appeal, health benefits, and the rise of nature appreciation movements. It’s a low-cost activity that allows people to explore scenic landscapes.

Where did Hiking originate?

Hiking, as we know it today, originated in Europe. The English Lake District is often pointed to as the birthplace of recreational walking or hiking.

Stefanie is a hiking and camping enthusiast who spends most of her travels experiencing the outdoors. She is the founder of Open Road Odysseys, a road trip travel blog for budget and outdoor adventurers.

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