My Year of 52 Hikes — And 5 Reasons to Join Me in 2020

By: Andrea Breitung

December 30, 2019

Category: Recreation

Maintaining healthy habits has been difficult for me.

My eating is pretty horrible. Meal planning goes great for a few weeks, but I inevitably fall off the bandwagon and revert to cereal and ice cream for dinner again.

I’ve joined countless gyms, each following a similar storyline. I’d religiously go for a month or so. Then my attendance would slowly start to dwindle, and eventually I’d stop going.

One summer, I agreed to run a 5K with friends. I successfully completed a couch-to-5K training program and jogged in my first 5K! But then I stopped. Again.

I’ve tried various training programs and challenges, but none of them have stuck.

In late 2018, however, I started noticing the hashtag #52hikechallenge on Instagram. After a little digging, I decided to give it a try in 2019. 

The challenge is to go on 52 hikes in one year (an average of one hike per week), which seemed completely feasible.

If you are like me and find difficulty consistently staying active, here are five reasons why you should give the 52 Hike Challenge a try this year.

1. YOU MAKE THE RULES

The best thing about this challenge? You make the rules and define what a hike is for you.

A hike can be through downtown Minneapolis or in a park reserve. It can last a half hour or multiple days. You could log multiple hikes in one week and not log any the next.

All that matters is you commit to hiking 52 times in one year.

My personal rules are that hikes need to be at least 1 mile and at different places each time. Even so, I give myself leeway to bend my second rule if needed.

I’ve hiked in urban areas like Minneapolis and remote areas like the northernmost section of the Superior Hiking Trail. Some weeks I did not hike at all and sometimes I checked off multiple hikes in one day (I like to park hop). Some were a quick stroll after work and some took multiple days to complete. I’ve hiked on pavement and on turf. I’ve hiked alone, with my partner, with friends, and with my dogs.

The sun shines through the trees on a wooded trail in the fall.
Hike 49 at Cleary Lake Regional Park.

2. YOU DON’T NEED MUCH

Hiking does not require special equipment to get started. As long as you’re OK with your clothing and gear potentially getting dirty or wet, you can hike in it. Years ago, I started my hiking journey wearing old t-shirts, sweatpants, tennis shoes and a school backpack. 

Reusable water bottles are ideal for protecting the environment, but even if you don’t have one, a single-use bottle can get multiple uses if you refill it. 

3. THERE ARE COUNTLESS PLACES TO HIKE

I feel so grateful to live in an area where there are many public spaces that allow hiking. This year, I have hiked in 53 locations, and all but two were in the state of Minnesota.

There are lots of resources to help find hiking trails. Here are some of the ways I’ve found places to hike this year:

  • Three Rivers offers hundreds of miles of hiking in the parks and on regional trails. I hiked in all seven park reserves and two regional parks in 2019.
  • You can filter hiking routes on AllTrails.com based on length, difficulty and more — plus you can scroll through reviews.
  • I plan some hikes around geocaching. Learn other ways to gamify your hike.
  • Minnesota State Park’s Hiking Club is a great motivator (and provides benefits the more miles you log).
  • I’ve joined hikes posted in the Women Who Hike Minnesota Facebook group.
  • I’ll scan the parks and recreation sections of county and city websites. Some favorite hikes have been in Dakota and Washington Counties, as well as the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
  • In the fall, I chose some locations based on where colors were peaking in Three Rivers and Minnesota State Parks.

This list is not exhaustive by any means, but hopefully it helps you find your next place to hike!

A view of a small lake framed by bare trees in the winter.
A view near Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve on hike 64.

4. YOU GET TO EXPERIENCE THE SEASONS

While one of your rules could certainly be to complete all 52 hikes in the milder seasons, you’d be missing out on everything that Minnesota has to offer. Even if you hike in the same location, the seasons create a different experience each time.

Here are some of my favorite memories over the past year:

  • Noticing the first songs from birds in the spring and the trees starting to bud
  • Fall colors popping overnight along Lake Superior and chasing those blazing hues south on subsequent weekends
  • Spotting the first layer of ice on small ponds late this fall
  • Making first tracks after a fresh snowfall in December
  • Witnessing stunning sunsets before 5 PM in November and December
  • Racing a blizzard and watching it roll in over a prairie
A pink and purple sunset over a lake in the winter.
The sun sets over Lake Rebecca on hike 63.

5. TRAINING FOR A BIGGER GOAL

In August 2019, I attempted to thru hike the Superior Hiking Trail. Through initial planning, I knew I needed to average at least 10 miles a day to complete it in just under a month.

I’d never hiked back-to-back days with that kind of mileage before.

In previous years, my hiking mostly occurred on weekends while camping, which was maybe once a month during the summer. When I started seriously exploring a potential thru hike in early May, I was at hike 22 for the year with nearly 100 miles logged.

The 52 Hike Challenge turned into training hikes, which gave me confidence in my basic navigation skills and physical abilities. I gradually added weight to my pack, tested shoes and other gear, and figured out how to adapt to a weak ankle.

Two years prior to my thru hike attempt, I backpacked from Temperance River State Park to Oberg Mountain, a 10.4-mile stretch that required a miserable 2.5 days to complete. During my thru hike attempt, I was able to complete this same section on my final day — and my body did not hate me for it.

After a 55-mile trip about a month later, I’ve completed half the trail this year. I’m determined to finish what’s left in 2020, and the 52 Hike Challenge will once again be a big part of my training plan.

A woman spreads her arms wide and smiles as she stands on a mountain.
On hike 39 at the northern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail.

FINALLY — A PROGRAM I CAN STICK WITH

I’ve met many great people and made new friends because of this challenge. Hiking has given me confidence, peace and a community that I never really had before. I find myself wanting to be outside more, even as the days have cooled and darkened.

I didn’t stop hiking when I finished my 52nd hike on October 27. I never had a mileage goal, but at the time of completing my challenge, I had logged about 420 miles. I set a goal to reach 450 miles by the end of the year — about 30 miles in two months. As November came to a close, that goal increased to 500.

In 2019, I logged 69 hikes during my 52 Hike Challenge and 509 miles. And I don’t think I am quitting anytime soon. 

Are you ready to join me?

About the Author

Andrea in a quinzhee

Andrea Breitung is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Three Rivers. She has been with the Park District in various roles since 2001. She graduated from the University of North Dakota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology. When not working, she likes to go camping, hiking, geocaching, biking, and paddling, as well as spend time with her boyfriend and fur kids.

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