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The Growing Footprints: Are Some Hiking Tracks Becoming Too Popular?

Hiking has always been a great way to escape our busy world, however, with the growing popularity of trails around Australia, many concerns have been raised about overcrowding, environmental impacts, and diminishing track exclusivity, leaving many hikers with a sour taste in their mouth. This rapid growth in the number of people walking popular trails can be seen around the country with a prime example of this being The Overland Track in Tasmania which has for many years, seen ever increasing demand by hikers from all over!

View from the shore of Lake St. Clair at dusk, Tasmania.
View from the shore of Lake St. Clair at dusk, Tasmania.

The Overland Track: The Booking Rush

The Overland Track in Tasmania, is renowned for its awe-inspiring landscapes, challenging terrain, and unique biodiversity. Every year, hikers from around the world flock to this iconic trail to immerse themselves in the raw beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness. However, its recent surge in popularity has led to overcrowding and a strain on its delicate ecosystem.

On July 4th, this year, when tickets for the Overland Track went on sale at 9 am, a staggering 4,500 people found themselves on the waitlist, eagerly vying for a chance to secure a spot. This overwhelming demand showcases the escalating popularity of the track and raises questions about its sustainability and the experience it offers to visitors with over half of all the available spots to walk the track fully booked by the end of the first day of bookings.

Even though the booking system has been implemented to limit the overcrowding of the track, it is clear that demand is simply growing far quicker than is sustainable for the track to accommodate.

The Downside of Overcrowding

While popularity may seem beneficial on the surface for local economies, overcrowding poses several challenges for hiking tracks, including the Overland Track. These notable downsides include:

  • Environmental Impacts: At first you may think that the environmental impacts would be foot traffic eroding tracks and damaging habitat but it really is facilities maintenance which required the helicoptering in of almost all of the resources required to run the huts along the trail. This includes Gas for the newer huts, toilet waste and other supplies.

  • Safety Concerns: More people experiencing the trail also puts more pressure on emergency services who respond to hundreds of callouts every year on tracks around Australia.

  • Diminished Exclusivity: Part of the allure of hiking lies in the feeling of being immersed in nature and experiencing solitude. Overcrowding erodes this sense of exclusivity, as hikers find themselves surrounded by countless others, making it harder to connect with the environment and enjoy a peaceful hiking experience. This doesn’t have to be all negative though, as you will meet some amazing people while you walk too!

  • Cost Increases: Undoubtedly many while booking the Overland Track, including myself, have found themselves needing to pay ever increasing tracks fees so it can be upkept. Track fees for the Overland Track this year have risen to $285 just to step foot on the track itself.

Unleashing the Hidden Gems: Underutilised Tracks

Despite the growing popularity of certain hiking tracks, there are numerous alternative trails that offer similar, if not better, experiences. These lesser-known tracks often remain underutilised, providing hikers with an opportunity to explore pristine landscapes while avoiding the downsides of flocks of people. I’d highly encourage you to look a little deeper when planning your next hike to find an adventure which is travelled by few people as it can be cheaper and just as exciting!

Some such underutilised tracks include:

  • Frenchman’s Cap in Tasmania, a 3-5 day adventure.

  • Heysen Trail in South Australia, a 1200km, 50-60 day epic adventure.

  • Grampians Peaks Trail in Victoria, a newer 13 day, 160km track.

  • Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing, soon to be revitalised is a premier Victorian hike.

  • Plus many, many more around the country!

The popularity of hiking tracks like the Overland Track in Tasmania highlights the increasing demand for nature-oriented adventures. However, the consequences of overcrowding on these tracks cannot be ignored. It is crucial to strike a balance between accessibility and sustainability, ensuring that both hikers and the environment can benefit in the long run. This had been done by the local parks authorities to the disappointment of many hikers who sought to get a ticket on those perfect dates but by promoting lesser-known trails of comparable quality, we can better distribute the foot traffic on our tracks. This will help us protect fragile ecosystems, and offer hikers the chance to explore new paths, fostering a more diverse and responsible hiking culture for many years to come.

Written by Josh Welch


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