The long-held assumption that hiking is the domain of a mostly white, mostly male, ultra-fit, able-bodied crowd appears to be on its way out, thanks to a growing number of community-led groups across the United States with an emphasis on hiking for all. The goal of these new groups: to make physical, nature-based activities like hiking feel inclusive, safe, and accessible to people of all backgrounds—including race, physical ability, gender, body type, and sexual orientation—through physical events, messaging, and advocacy.
Read on for six standout organizations across the country that are helping hikers nurture their relationship with nature—while also working to change the narrative.
For years, Jenny Bruso, a self-described “white, queer, fat, femme writer and hiker” believed she didn’t fit the mold of what a nature lover should look like. In 2016, to remedy this, the Portland, Oregon–based Bruso started Unlikely Hikers. The organization aims to empower people of all physical abilities, racial backgrounds, financial means, sizes, gender identities, and sexual orientations as they find their footing in the natural world. In order to keep hikes accessible, all are a maximum of three miles and 300-foot elevation gain, and they include group discussions around body diversity along the way.
Unlikely Hikers is rolling out chapters mostly along the West Coast (new cities include San Diego, Los Angeles, and Tacoma). Sign up for its monthly Patreon donation platform, which keeps subscribers up to date on forthcoming events, follow it on Instagram at @unlikelyhikers, or check out its podcast, which covers such topics as the absence of plus-size gear and disabled hiking.
The central mission of this national nonprofit organization is to make outdoor experiences accessible to everyone—especially Black communities, which have faced a long history of discrimination in outdoor spaces, including national parks.
Outdoor Afro was founded in 2015 by Rue Mapp, a Bay Area–based former analyst and consultant and an AFAR Travel Vanguard awardee. Today, the nonprofit hosts events ranging from hiking to canoeing for close to 50,000 people in 56 cities across the country, targeting various skill types and fitness levels.
The group’s activities emphasize that nature doesn’t necessarily have to be hard to get to—outings might include springtime birding in New York City’s Central Park, a walk across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, or a fall mushroom foraging excursion near Boston. Follow Outdoor Afro on Instagram at @outdoorafro.
LatinX Hikers founders Luz Lituma and Adriana Garcia launched their grassroots effort in 2018 to help LatinX and people of color reconnect with their roots in the outdoors, and today it’s a growing national community of people who come together through hosted gatherings.
Events began in the founders’ home turf in the Southeast but have since spread to other parts of the country: Recent outings included hiking through Yellowstone National Park, summiting Mount St. Helens in Washington State, group litter cleanup in Atlanta’s Westside Beltline, and a hike-and-hot-springs excursion near Jackson, Wyoming.
LatinX Hikers puts heavy emphasis on empowering women hikers, who often struggle with feeling safe in the wild, especially when they’re hiking alone. Follow it on Instagram at @latinxhikers.
Inspired by organizations like Outdoor Afro, Washington-based Christopher Chalaka, a second-generation South Asian-Taiwanese American, launched Outdoor Asian in 2016. The goal: to bring together an inclusive and empowered community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through nature and the outdoors.
Outdoor Asian has since expanded outside of Washington and now has chapter managers in a handful of other states, including California, Colorado, and Vermont. Events might include a redwoods walk near Los Angeles or a hike through the Alderfer/Three Sisters Park near Denver. Follow it on Instagram at @outdoorasian or like its Facebook page for information on events and news.
Run by and for disabled adventurers, Disabled Hikers is a community created by Pacific Northwest outdoors aficionado Syren Nagakyrie in response to a lack of information about trail accessibility. Nagakyrie, who lives with disabilities and chronic pain from illnesses including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycarda Syndrome, began leading both group and privately guided hikes within the Pacific Northwest and also sometimes in other parts of the country.
On Disabled Hikers excursions, which mostly take place in western Washington and Oregon, the slowest hiker sets the pace. Its upcoming book, The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon (Falcon Guides, 2022), is the first of its kind to create a rating system for trail accessibility, while also aggregating trail information like wheelchair-accessible paths and drive-up experiences. Follow it on Instagram at @disabledhikers.
Indigenous Women Hike
Jolie Varela, a Californian and a member of the Tule River Yokut and Paiute nations, founded Indigenous Women Hike in 2017 to empower fellow Native American women to reclaim their connection to their ancestral land through hiking trips.
In 2018, Varela led a group of Indigenous women on a trek along the Nüümü Poyo, also known as the John Muir Trail, traveling without obtaining permits under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The symbolic hike was a way to reclaim the historical and cultural ties between Native Americans and the land, which had long been part of a network of trade routes and cultural exchange before colonization.
To learn more about how it is changing the narrative, follow it on Instagram at @indigenouswomenhike or like it on Facebook.