AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia, by Susan Charkes
Publication Date: March 16, 2010
Page Count: 251 pages
Susan Charkes' 2010 guide book, AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia, has proven to be the most invaluable of the three guidebooks we currently use to help us in picking our local hikes. The usefulness of these guidebooks begins with the indexing of hikes that the authors perform. Charkes indexes her selected hikes in several ways: your typical table of contents and index pages at the beginning and end of the book as well as an "At a Glance Trip Planner" found right after the table of contents.
This trip planner places the hikes into three different geographic areas: Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware; Central and Southern New Jersey; and, Lehigh Valley. Each area is subsequently described by the following attributes: location; distance and elevation gain; difficulty of the hike; estimated time to completion; whether hikers are charged a fee; whether the hike is appropriate for kids or dogs; accessibility to public transport; if cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is appropriate for the area; and finally, highlights of the hike.
Charkes offers her readers a selection of fifty hikes near Philadelphia. Using this trip planner will certainly help you quickly find a hike regardless of the difficulty you may be looking for. One feature we'd love to see in any future editions, however, would be the addition of other indexing methods whereby the hikes are sorted according to attributes of the hike (i.e. a listing of all the hikes of over 5 miles; a section of best hikes for the autumn; hikes with elevation gains over 500 feet; etc.). We've seen this feature in other guidebooks, and it would bring Charkes' book an additional layer of indexing that would offer readers another way to sort through her listed hikes.
After a brief introductory section in which Charkes reviews general planning and safety tips as well as the seven principles of Leave No Trace, she gets right to the meat of the book - the hikes. As of the date this article was published, we have taken ten of the fifty hikes that she has written about in the book which lends credibility to being able to critique the guides themselves. The value of any guidebook is based on several aspects: the selection of hikes, the accuracy of the directions, and the richness of any additional information provided (i.e. history of the area). We shall review the guided hikes in the book using this criteria.
In terms of direction, Charkes' book is very accurate both in helping the reader locate the trailhead as well a guide to the reader once on the trail. Since this book was published in 2010, you can be assured that - although trails and blazes can change over time - this is the most accurate guidebook for the Philadelphia area. Accuracy is not necessarily dictated by recency; however, you can tell that Charkes has spent sufficient time on each of these trails to provide the appropriate amount of details to guide the reader. Each hike begins with general information, such as location, difficulty rating, distance, elevation gain, time to completion, and suggested maps to use. Also included at the start of the hike is a relatively easy to follow trail map, with all major Points-of-Interest along the hike delineated.
Finally, Charkes has written a book that you want to read regardless of whether you are going on a hike or not. Included throughout the book are "Nature Essays", such as "Brown is Not Dirty" in which the reader finds out that not all rusty brown flowing water is bad and "Eight Legs, One Orb" in which readers are instructed to "share the trails" with our eight-legged friends. These well-written essays provide the reader with more "food for thought" as they decide on which trail to hike over a weekend.
AMC's Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia has a lot to recommend it. Here's hoping the author is working on a second edition so that this invaluable resource remains current. With another indexing method and more essays, this book will not only be the definitive guidebook to the Philadelphia area trails, but also an essential template for which all other guidebooks should be written.