Where should you hike with the kids next? That’s the question a new hiking guide by Bangor Daily News outdoors columnist Aislinn Sarnacki seeks to answer. The recently released book “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine” features 35 easy hikes from across the state.
And if anyone knows hiking here in Maine, it’s Sarnacki. She estimates she’s hiked 250 trails in Maine since she began writing her popular weekly column “1-Minute Hikes,” 5½ years ago.
For “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” Sarnacki wanted to include hikes from around the state that would be ideal for families. The 35 hikes featured in the book allow Mainers to improve their own mental and physical health while exploring the beauty of Maine.
“I know not everybody has a backyard and forest of their own, but that’s why these trails are so cool, is that you can get them out on public lands,” Sarnacki said.
Each book chapter begins with a general information section explaining difficulty, dog accessibility, cost, seasonal accessibility, wheelchair accessibility, hunting, restrooms, GPS coordinates and directions to get there.
Sarnacki’s photos of the plants, birds, animals and insects that inhabit the trail help illustrate the hiking experiences. She also recounts her personal experiences with the trails, including hiking with her husband, her dog Oreo and her niece Willamina, 5, who thinks her “Auntie AZ” owns all the forests.
Sarnacki approached the challenge of finding more of the easy, family-friendly trails for the book using similar research methods to what she employs for her column. She started by printing out a map of Maine and pinning appropriate locations she’d hiked for her columns. Then she hunted to find other family-friendly hikes in parts of Maine she hadn’t covered. She turned to land trusts, which often feature easier trails, and searched the state parks and National Wildlife Refuge websites.
“It is a task, and I guess that’s one of the main goals of my book, is to just weed through all of that and give people what I think are the best ones so they don’t have to do all that work,” Sarnacki said.
While summer is prime hiking season, Sarnacki says it’s not the only season fit for hiking in Maine. Sarnacki’s column debuted in November, and she quickly had to learn how to navigate trails in the winter, a season that is now her favorite for hiking.
When it comes to winter hiking, she suggests taking shorter hikes, wearing clothes with synthetic or wool material, bringing heat packs for your hands and feet, and being weather aware — don’t go out in the bitter cold.
Sarnacki was drawn to hiking in college when she struggled with chronic depression and social anxiety. “When I was hiking, it was something I could do and no one could judge me. I wasn’t going to go to a gym and have everyone looking at me,” Sarnacki said.
She had little experience with hiking growing up but was involved in team sports.
Her interest blossomed from there. As a journalism student at the University of Maine in Orono, she decided to write a memoir about her hikes as a creative thesis, focusing on the health benefits. Sarnacki’s 10-hike thesis improved her health physically and mentally.
“It wasn’t solved completely from hiking, and I don’t think there’s any one solution to someone’s mental issues or physical issues, but it could be a big piece of the puzzle for people,” Sarnacki said. “I think another benefit is if you are having a hard time with people or you’re shy about working out in front of people or you’re shy about your body or whatever self-conscious, like, when you’re out in the woods, the trees aren’t going to judge you, the squirrels aren’t going to judge you.”
“Family Friendly Hikes in Maine” is available at bookstores throughout Maine. A book launch party is planned for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at Epic Sports in downtown Bangor, with a slideshow presentation starting at 5:30 p.m. Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.