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Most trail networks have hiking, biking, and running clubs and organizations associated with them. Here’s why you should join one.

By Lucy Higgins • April 6, 2022

Those who’ve been out on hiking or riding trails have seen them: the crew mobbing down single track, laughing through a snack break, or cheering each other up an incline. While some folks naturally flock in packs, many are banded together by an overarching force—their local trail club or organization. Formality of these groups varies, encompassing everything from grassroots meet-ups to regional branches led by national organizations. There’s just as much variety in user profile, too; with clubs catering to trail runners, equestrians, mountain bikers, snowmobilers…basically, anyone who leaves the trailhead. Regardless of structure or sport, trail organizations’ benefits run deep. Here are five reasons to join the club in your backyard.

Group of Trail Runners Active at Altitude
Photo courtesy of Active at Altitude

1. Make New Friends

Maybe you moved to a new town. Maybe your favorite training buddy is on vacation. Maybe that cute Tinder date no-showed. There are plenty of reasons we’ve all found ourselves at the trailhead parking lot, sans company. A huge perk of joining a trail club? The new contacts in your phone. Trail organizations present the perfect opportunity to expand your social network, and to do with individuals who share your same outdoor interests. In addition to creating scheduled outings, clubs often host fundraising events and trail maintenance days that create the chance to get to know your neighbors on and off the beaten path. Any new friends will also provide the opportunity to learn more about your trail network—often, other trail users will have a different scoop on swimming holes, running or riding loops, or the best place to grab a post-trail beverage. The opposite also applies—your regular routes may prove to be fresh stomping grounds for a new friend. 

2. Level Up Your Fitness

In addition to scoring some buddies, that trail membership also comes with another perk: the chance to increase your fitness. You’re more likely to hit the single track with a friend in tow, thanks to the accountability and companionship they provide. Plus, trail clubs frequently host races, weekly or monthly training days, and other structured events to change your view from laptop to mountaintop. 

3. Discounts

Trail clubs usually come with another built-in perk: discounts at local businesses, such as retailers, gear shops and cafes. Over time, combined savings from those discounts can essentially pay for—or even exceed—membership fees. 

Group of Motorcycles Riding Off-Road
Photo Courtesy of the American Motorcyclist Association

4. Make Your Voice Heard

One of the biggest impacts of joining a trail organization is adding your voice to advocacy work. Trail associations and clubs often inform policy makers on environmental issues ranging from conservation to water quality to land access. By banding together with other like-minded folks, you’re more likely to update or influence legislation, from a local to national level. 

5. Give Back

Nothing beats good, old-fashioned altruism. Many trails throughout the country were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps as far back as the 1930s and ’40s, and aren’t necessarily tailored to our modern times of motorized use and fat bikes. As such, they need updates ranging from bridge replacements to banked-turn repair and updated signage, an ongoing process that requires as many hands as can be found. Trails built in this century require maintenance and improvement, too, especially those in high-trafficked areas. Local clubs typically organize maintenance days in spring and fall, when traffic is a little slower, as a means to keep trails accessible and safe. Even if you opt out of a formal trail club membership, showing up to trail maintenance days is paramount. A simple rule of thumb—if you use your community’s trails, help with their upkeep. 

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Header image courtesy of Moe Hernandez / Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians