Trekking it up a well-beaten path, brushing shoulders with an endless stream of hiking-stick-wielders and finally making it to the top of the trail, only to be lost in a crowd doesn't do much for me as far as getting my zen on. It's hard to be one with the wild and revel in the sweet rawness of nature when there are multiple groups of hikers munching on picnic lunches at the top of the mountain.
Popular trails can be beautiful. They can offer a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, and often time the destination is spectacular - that is why they are so popular, after all! But I've developed a deep curiosity for what lies beyond the beaten path. I think about how many hundreds, even thousands of hikers have walked the busy trails and paths. I wonder then in comparison how many people have seen what lies over the ridge off to the left, or if anyone has made it to the top of the far, snow-capped mountain off in the distance. Those are the places that draw me in. That is what I crave; that solitude in nature and to see places that not everyone has been to and not everyone could make it to.
To get off the trail is a whole new type of adventure...one that you are in control of! You don't know where the path will take you because there is no path. You determine where you end up and how you get there. It's a thrill and it is a great way to really separate yourself from the craziness of the crowds.
It can be harder to find the path less traveled sometimes, or to know where to even begin blazing your own trail. Take time to do some research. My husband, Ben, and I use Google Maps to find large areas of wilderness without a trail or road running through it. We'll drive back into the area as far as we can and then ditch the car and take off on foot for miles and miles, creating our own experience in the back country, away from the crowds and headed for new, untainted destinations.
When ditching the trail, make sure you are prepared. Always bring enough food, water, and shelter, and make sure you've got yourself a good dose of flexibility, because when you get off the beaten path, you never know what might happen or what you might find...and that's the fun in it!