By Hilary Hilton
Hiking is an excellent way to stay active, appreciate nature, and discover all that Muskoka’s landscape has to offer.
Hiking as part of a group creates an unparalleled experience one could never achieve on their own; it instils a sense of community, inclusivity, and friendship. This is what the Hiker Babes—an international women’s hiking group—stand for and what they wish to achieve on each and every hike.
Ashley Clifford, the ambassador for the Muskoka chapter of Hiker Babes, says that the group is a “cool, vibrant, niche community” for women of all ages and abilities.
Hiker Babes was founded by Monique Redmon in 2017 in California. Redmon’s idea reached communities all over the globe, and there are now 190 chapters, 275 ambassadors, and 90,000 members worldwide.
Clifford started the Muskoka chapter in April 2021 out of a need to escape the isolation and lack of social interaction the pandemic had caused. She joined the Kawartha Lakes chapter for a hike and was immediately hooked.
“Just the camaraderie and the welcome they give to everyone, it didn’t matter if it was your first hike or your fiftieth hike, everybody was treated the same and everybody had a blast and it was just laughter and fun and I was like ‘okay this is it, I need to get in here’,” she says.
Clifford says the first Muskoka hike only brought one attendee but once word travelled, that number began to grow. The Muskoka chapter now has around 1,000 members, with an average of 25 people attending each hike.
So far, the Muskoka chapter of Hiker Babes has executed 48 hikes—three times a week in summer and fall and once a week in the winter—and their hiking destinations include Algonquin Park, Arrowhead Park, Copeland Forest, and Hunters Bay Trail.
The hiking schedule and upcoming events are posted on the group’s Facebook page and pictures and videos from the hikes are posted on their Instagram page.
Each hike sees a mix of regular hikers and newcomers. Clifford emphasizes that Hiker Babes provides an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone and encourages anyone interested to set doubt aside and join in.
“Every single hike there is one or two people that are nervous because it’s their first time and the others always welcome them with open arms,” she says. “One thing I keep trying to put out there is that it is definitely a come-as-you-are group, everyone is welcome, and that whole vibe and community, we’re super proud of it, just creating this safe place where women can come and do their thing without being judged or criticized in the least. We try not to take ourselves too serious, we have a lot of laughs.”
Hiker Babes also participate in local fundraising events. In October 2021, they hiked in hot-pink hiking gear through downtown Bracebridge to raise money for the Breast Cancer Society. In the spring of 2021, the group collaborated with local business owner Jacki McPherson of Away We Go Trips on a campaign called “Hikes to Help Muskoka,” where they raised money for Muskoka-based services such as Gravenhurst Against Poverty and The Table Soup Kitchen. The group is now in the process of planning a fundraising event to raise money for rescue gear for the Muskoka Lakes Fire Department.
The group plans to do more hikes out of region in 2022, traveling to places such as Killarney, Sudbury, and Bruce Penninsula, and potentially a backpacking trip in Algonquin Park. They are also planning to do two retreats in 2022 and upcoming events for the group include hot yoga and a polar dip in January.
“The goal is to do bigger and badder trips together,” Clifford says. “Whatever the group wants.”
Clifford expresses that the Hiker Babes is not only about the hiking—it mainly revolves around the social interaction between women and the unique friendships that are formed along the way.
“My favourite part has been watching all these new friendships being forged and just challenging and supporting each other. It’s been one of the more rewarding experiences and chapters in my life,” she says. “Watching all of these women who are all so different and yet find that common ground in loving to be outside and hiking together. Some of the friendships that form are so fun and wild. Seeing that is like ‘this is it, this is why we do it.’ It’s not just about the hike, it’s about the journey.”
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