Saturday, June 16, 2012

Advice to a first-time nude hiker

I recently had some correspondence with a couple asking about getting started in nude hiking and I thought to myself that this might be a good resource to share a little more widely via this blog.

 My wife and I would like to take our first nude hike.  We are not sure where to start.  Can you help?

< names removed >
Gig Harbor, WA

Hi xxxxxx,

Well, I would start with the thought that once you are out in the wilderness . . . not many people really care that much about encountering a nude person hiking.  That has been my experience. However, for your first time ever hiking nude, this can be somewhat of a giant leap of confidence in yourself.  Hiking nude should not be encumbered by those sorts of worries.  So for suggestions for a first time nude hike:


1.  Try a nudist club.  Of the three in western Washington (FraternitySnoqualmie in Issaquah, LARC near Mt Vernon, and Lake Bronson near Sultan) Bronson certainly has the most forest trails completely within their property for nude hiking.  Hiking nude on the property of a nudist club is devoid of worries about encounters with clothed hikers.

Hiking the slopes overlooking the Skykomish Valley with
Maya, my German Shepard

2.  Try Scenic Hot Springs near Stevens Pass.   A short, rigerous hike with a natural hot spring to relax in afterward.  Scenic is private property and clothing-optional is traditional on the property.  Scenic requires prior permission to visit (see ).  As I am one of the stewards of Scenic, requests also come to me to visits.

I would have suggested Olympic Hot Springs but with the Elwa Dam removal, the hike is now around 11 miles to the springs.  The final two miles have frequently been done by visitors in the buff.

3.  Try any number of gated, disused Forest Service roads along the major highways through the National Forests.  These are too numerous to list but if you come to one that is gated and with limited parking and no other cars  . . . there is a good chance that beyond the gate you will have solitude and privacy to enjoy your hike.  I prefer the ones that lead onto old clearcut (beyond active logging) that gives me plenty of open air and sunshine.  Another good option is the number of coastline miles of isolated beaches around Puget Sound.  Just be sure not to trap yourself because of miscalculation of the tides.

4.  Go for an established and maintained Forest Service trail.  Some trails are just simply too  accessible and popular but there are a number that take more effort to reach the trailhead and are listed as hard to difficult (meaning you won't find too many people on them).  Choose a weekday, choose a trail with only one entry point, and note the vehicles at the trailhead to guess as to who may, or may not already be on that trail.


1. Hiking nude in the wilderness does not mean that you can do away with the essential supplies (The Ten Essentials) for survival should something go wrong.  The weather may change for the ugly so you are going to have to carry something in case it starts to hail and thunder out there.  For me, that is a longish teeshirt, shorts and an emergency poncho/rainsuit in my backpack.  I wear sturdy hiking boots and my signature floppy blue hat.  No other clothing is needed, however, you should have available maps and charts of the area you are going into, sunglasses, your cell phone for an emergency, and someway to start a fire if the need arises.  I always carry a hiking staff and my camera to record my hikes.  What you bring with you is dependent of the distance and where you are going.  A short hike up a gated old logging road is not going to require that same preparation as a 15 miler to Fortune Ponds on Cady Ridge.

2.  Strip once you are beyond observation from the road that brought you to the trailhead.  I often stuff my clothes into the backpack where they are less than accessible . . . thereby forcing myself to accept any possible encounters with a grin and bare it attitude rather than a mad, guilty attempt to cover myself up.  Since I can't easily reach shorts, I don't worry about covering myself.  On more popular trails I may carry them closer and keep myself aware of my surroundings to cover up if necessary.  Once the worry about clothing is beyond your control, you will sooner enjoy the pure freedom of hiking au' natural.

3.  If that initial approach is too much, have clothing that is easy to put on.  For men, that is often just a pair of shorts or a wrap that can be put on to cover yourself quickly and without fumbling like you were guilty of something.  Make sure you can step into your shorts without falling over because the boots barely fit through.  For both men and women, consider a long teeshirt (to mid-thigh) that can be worn pulled up over the head so that, if needed, can be quickly pulled back over and down to cover oneself.  Practice doing so with the backpack on.

4.  Be aware of your surroundings.  If there was another car at the trailhead, there is probably someone else on the trail who you are going to encounter going in . . . . and once past them you are going to have the trail to yourself.  Time your hikes later so that you are going in when most people have returned . . . and coming out at a time where no one would be starting a hike inbound.  Most hikers start very early morning (too cold to hike nude anyway).  I generally start much later, aware of how many I might encounter coming back out . . . and feel pretty confident about encountering no one on my late return on the trail.

Note tracks . . . both car and bootprints.  Are puddles of water on the trail or road clear or muddied (giving evidence of someone recently going through)?  Are the bootprints inbound matched by the same prints outbound?  Note spider strands across the trail . . . encountering a lot on a probably untrod trail?  Maintain sight distance.  On trails and roads, hike the outside curve to see a greater distance around a bend . . . hike the inside to pull yourself back out of visibility.  Extend your sight distance and your hearing.  You will hear oncoming people most likely a lot sooner than you will see them.  On switchbacks, look up or down in the direction you are going to spot people on lower or
higher legs of the trail.  Since most people only look at where they are immediately going, noting the upcoming legs of a switchback gives you good advance notice of oncoming hikers.

Can't give you advice but do note that while National Forests are U.S. Government property, the counties they are within do have jurisdiction of county ordinances.  The interpretations of indecent exposure (being nude) vary . . . with King County being liberal and Snohomish County a little bit more restrictive.  Essentially, merely being nude is not considered indecent exposure, but lewd behavior (with a sexual component) is.  Someone has to complain (and be willing to appear in court to testify) and then a deputy has to intercept you to cite you for indecent exposure.  Few deputies I know are willing to undertake a hike into the wilderness to arrest someone for indecent exposure (unless there were compelling reasons to do so).  If you do not appear a threat to anyone (particularly solo women or children), then encounters are usually quickly forgotten about . . . or tweeted later for the chuckle-factor.  Beware of anyone angrily  taking your photo with a cell phone and appearing upset during the passing encounter (especially if they are outbound) as they may be sending your nude photo to law enforcement ahead on return to the trailhead.  Of the only two negative encounters I've ever have (out of hundreds), on return I was careful to make sure I was appropriately covered when I returned to the trailhead and my car.  In neither case did anything come out of the encounters . . . no cops, no angry mob . . . nothing.  

Some National Forests do have nudity prohibitions . . . Region Six (Oregon and Washington) does not, whereas Region Four (Idaho) does.  These prohibitions are called 'orders' and any ranger station can give you an answer about whether or not such a prohibition has been posted.

National Parks (such as Olympic and Rainier) are under exclusive federal jurisdiction and nudity prohibitions are more common in the non-rugged parts of these National Parks.  Sometimes, nudity is just tolerated . . . such as the case is for Olympic Hot Springs.  Closer to where more families go . . . Park Rangers can enforce and cite for nudity if such an order has been posted.

DNR (State Dept of Natural Resources) lands have no prohibitions of nudity on their lands, though county law enforcement can cite under county ordinances if the land is within the county borders.

State Parks have an explicit prohibition against nudity within state parks, so be careful in the  assemblage areas/campgrounds of state parks.  County and municipal parks/wetlands/wilderness areas have their own rules.  The closer you get to urban areas, the more difficult you are going to find nude hiking to be.

I have found that once I am beyond a mile into the wilderness, I rarely encounter anyone, and those that I do on occasion, simply are amused or don't care.  On several occasions, those I have passed had been hiking nude themselves, except they covered up when they heard me coming.  On another occasion I convinced a couple coming up unexpectantly behind me to chat about being nude . . . and then we continued on all together on that sunny day . . . after they themselves asked if it would be okay to strip down and hike nude along with me.   They recognized that there could be no other better way to enjoy nature than to expose their complete being to the sensations all around them.

All that said, I've been hiking nude for twenty good years and only had two minor bad encounters (both scowls of disapproval).  If you are considerate of expectations of fellow hikers (is the trail a popular trek for young kids, etc.), choose a day and time when encounters are less likely . . . you are going to have a great time enjoying nature with every fiber of your being.

I hike practically every Friday and Saturday in the Cascades along Highway 2 . . . if you are up in that area, perhaps we can do a safe and comfortable hike as a group.  Let me know . . . and definitely let me know if you do your first nude hike . . . and how it came out.


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