Hiking Expert and Author John McKinney

Hiking Expert and Author John McKinney

Part One of the series T.J. on the trail with… By T. J. Fraser

Widely and appropriately known as “The Trailmaster,” John McKinney is one of just a handful of individuals who can truly be called a hiking expert.

JM-1For 18 years, John served as the conduit for Southern California residents and trails with his popular weekly column in the Los Angeles Times simply titled “Hiking.” He is also the author of 25 books and trail guides including the comprehensive The Hikers Way: Hike Smart, Live Well and Go Green and A Walk Along Land’s End in which he shares his trailblazing, 1,600 mile journey along the California Coast on behalf of the California Coastal Trails Foundation.

As just one of two people to have visited and hiked in all 278 California State Parks, chronicled in his book, Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks, he is an in-demand public speaker and trail guide, committed to introducing the uninitiated to the power of the trail while also providing resources to the experienced trekker.

I had the chance to spend some time on the phone with the Trailmaster to get his thoughts on the current state of hiking, the health benefits that can be found from time spent on the trail and to discuss his current projects.

T.J. Fraser: Really appreciate you taking the time for Mountain Hiking today John.

John McKinney: Glad to do it. You know us hikers. The next best thing to actually hiking is talking about hiking.

T.J.: People are becoming much more aware of the health benefits of hiking with some healthcare providers even incorporating hiking in to their wellness programs. What are your thoughts about hiking for good health?

JM: Take a hike and you’ll look better and feel better, one step at a time.  It’s the perfect way to restore mind, body and spirit. I’ve been promoting the health aspects of hiking for the last several years because it offers so many rewards. You get all of the benefits of exercise-walking with the extra added bonus of being in nature.

T.J.: So you feel there are more health advantages to hiking over just walking?

JM: Absolutely. Hiking is the most popular form of what we call “green exercise”—physical activities that give us the benefits of exercise and direct exposure to nature. We probably didn’t need to get scientific proof that hiking is good for us, but we have it now—some great recent research shows that hiking positively influences health and well-being, relieves stress, promotes better concentration and clearer thinking. One research study found hiking in nature significantly elevated one’s mood while walking in a mall actually made people more depressed.

T.J.: So it’s, “Hike two miles and call me in the morning,” huh? Just what the doctor ordered.

JM: Well, some enlightened doctors are prescribing hikes for what ails us. You can hike off excess weight, hike for cardiovascular fitness, hike for improved mental health…the list goes on. I highlight all the ways hiking helps us in my new book, HIKE for Health &Fitness: Slim Down, Shape Up, and Reconnect with Nature.  I show how to choose a trail, get fit and have some fun. The most important thing is to find a way to fit hiking into your busy life.

T.J.: Is this a shift in emphasis for you from writing about trails and nature to offering advice and inspiration to hikers?

JM: I love sharing a good trail with my fellow hikers and have written descriptions of more than a thousand of them so far over 30 years and counting of hike writing. That being said, my view of hiking has evolved, with the realization that hiking is about much more than hikes and taking care of trails. Hiking is also about taking care of hikers, improving their health, spirit and physical fitness.

T.J.: Author Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his great book “Last Child in the Woods” to describe the disconnect our youth has with nature. Are we potentially losing a generation of hikers?

JM: It is a great book and I encourage everyone to read it. And I think he might be right.  Unfortunately, it’s not just adults who feel rushed and unfulfilled by modern life. School-aged kids are way over-scheduled and subject to more organized activities and homework than previous generations. And we all know that when they do have time to play, it’s often indoors and involves interacting with a screen. The good news is, when we find a way to get today’s kids on the trail, they actually discover they like to hike.

T.J.: But why does it seem so hard to get kids to take a hike these days?

Let’s not blame the kids. The real challenge is to get parents, grandparents, teachers and youth leaders to take kids hiking. We need to remember that most adults who hike got started hiking as kids. It’s a great gift from one generation to the next to take kids on a hike.

T.J.: What does time on the trail mean to you?

It’s all the more precious to me these days.  Like just about everyone else, even The Trailmaster, if he isn’t careful, can get too busy to get in enough hiking to satisfy body and soul—not to mention my job requirements!

T.J.: Hiking as a job requirement. Good gig. 

JM: I couldn’t agree more.

T.J.: You’ve got many thousands of miles under your boots. Any upcoming treks you’re looking forward to taking?

JM: My goal this year is to tackle some new terrain and hike some familiar favorites. I’m looking forward to hiking in Nicaragua, where there’s a cool national park with some volcanoes, a huge lakeshore and miles of hiking along the beaches of the Pacific Coast. I’ve never hiked in Central America so this is pretty exciting to me. I’m going to take my teenaged son backpacking along California’s wildest shore—the Lost Coast in the far northern part of the state. I’m very busy these days re-hiking old favorites around California—from Griffith Park in Los Angeles to Joshua Tree to Yosemite—for my new series of Trailmaster MiniBuks.

T.J.: These mini-books, they’re like smaller sized trail guides, right?

JM: Perfect for your pocket or pack, as we say.  Our goal was to detail the very best hikes in a park or mountain range and present them in an attractive little book made especially for hikers. The Trailmaster MiniBuks save paper and save you time and money. The new books—trail guides and “Hike Smart” advice books—are also available as e-books so you can get them for your favorite tablet or mobile phone. Just remember, no texting while hiking and a cell phone is no substitute for a map, compass and common sense.

T.J.: ‘No texting while hiking.” Coming to a bumper sticker near you.

JM: I’d put that one on my car for sure.

T.J.: Really appreciate the time John. Anything else you’d like to share?

JM: Just two words. Hike On.

John on Trail-2John McKinney is that rare breed who doesn’t only “talk the talk” with his books but also, quite literally, “walks the walk” with decades of experience on the trail. His commitment to introducing and reinforcing the concept of time spent in nature continues to educate, enlighten and inspire.

If you’d like more information on John, want to pick up some great hiking tips or wish to purchase his books, you can visit his site at www.t hetrailmaster.com.

A big Mountain Hiking thanks to John McKinney for sharing his thoughts with us.


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