Can a week-long backpacking trip in a city be as fun as on a natural trail in a National Park? Veteran wilderness backpacker Liz Thomas takes the principles of traditional nature backpacking to urban streets and trails. In the past five years, Liz walked ten long distance backpacking trips in eight U.S. cities to show how well-designed pedestrian infrastructure can bring big mountain fun to locals and tourists. By bringing micro-adventure to where people live and work, urban adventures give everyday people access to the health benefits of the outdoors and exercise and an introduction to prepare for adventures in wild landscapes. Urban trails bring micro-adventure to where the people live. Through urban adventure, everyday folks connect to the outdoors, exercise, travel, exploration, and excitement of a wilderness trip without requiring the same gear, skills, money, or vacation time. But, urban hikes come with their dangers, including higher-than-wilderness levels of injury associated with vehicle-pedestrian/cyclist accidents. What major or minor changes can ensure safety of urban explorers? Much like distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail give regional planners a means to discuss and design around a large-scale regional project, so too can trails tie together and connect local agencies and planners. Liz will describe how urban trails can physically and culturally connect neighborhoods in a city like trails connect people to themselves, their neighbors, and their city.
Liz Thomas is among the most experienced hikers in the U.S. and is known for backpacking light, fast and solo…and in cities. Liz is affectionately known as the “Queen of Urban Hiking,” having thru-hiked and/or pioneered ten routes up to 250+miles long across eight U.S. cities. She is an advocate for getting people to hike “what they got” by taking to city trails, streets, and parks. Liz has hiked more than 17,000 miles on wilderness and urban trails and previously held the women’s unsupported speed record on the 2,181-mile long Appalachian Trail. She’s the author of Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, which won the 2017 National Outdoor Book Award. Liz holds a Masters in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the prestigious Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship for her research on trails, conservation, and trail-side communities. Liz has been seen on Good Morning America and in The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! News, Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, and Outside. Liz is a regular contributor to Backpacker Magazine and instructor for their online class, Introduction to Thru-hiking. Liz serves as the Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association and ambassador to American Hiking Society. Liz is a staff writer for the Wirecutter, part of the New York Times.