These Women-Led Hiking Groups Are Bringing Diversity to the Outdoors

"Growing up, I didn't really see a lot of people who looked like me, doing the outdoorsy things I loved to do."

Photo by Cherisa Hawkins
Photo by Cherisa Hawkins
Photo by Cherisa Hawkins

It’s a funny thing about the outdoors-that such a vast, uncharted, open-ended space can be so affirming of one’s identity. The identity we tend to associate with the outdoors, though, is a fit white male sporting the latest in recreational gear. But that image is slowly beginning to fade, thanks to the efforts of several adventurous women of color and their ever-growing Instagram communities.

“For me, it came down to representation. When I was growing up, I didn’t really see a lot of people who looked like me, doing the outdoorsy things I loved to do,” says Adriana Garcia, co-founder of Latinxhikers, a platform dedicated to making the outdoors more accessible for people of color. By sharing the stories of fellow Latinx hikers and hosting IRL events, Garcia and co-founder Luz Lituma have been transforming the definition of what it means to be “outdoorsy” since 2017. Garcia has always felt most like herself in nature. She spent her childhood playing in the woods behind her house in a predominantly white town in Tennessee. Every year her parents would take her to Fall Creek Falls State Park, where she was given full reign to run wild and cultivate the intrepid spirit she has carried into adulthood.

Luz Lituma has a different relationship to the outdoors. It’s a space that she only recently became acquainted with, but has since devoured fully. She grew up in the city, between Queens and Atlanta, raised by parents who were originally from Sucua, a town in the Ecuadorian Amazon. All it took was one spontaneous hike to Vinicunca Mountain in Peru (which she did in jeans) for her to imagine a life outdoors; she’s been living on the road since June.

“What I’ve realized, especially after reading the stories shared by our social media community, is that I also want to get in touch with my roots,” Lituma explains. “My parents are from the jungle. There’s a reason why I’m called to the mountains. There’s a reason why I want to be living this lifestyle.”

Photo courtesy of Adriana Garcia
Photo courtesy of Adriana Garcia
Photo courtesy of Adriana Garcia

When Garcia and Lituma first started venturing out together, hiking near Atlanta and around North Georgia, they chatted about how refreshing it was to find another Latinx woman to explore with. And they realized they couldn’t be the only ones seeking this kind of familiarity.

“We solidified [the idea for] Latinxhikers on the Havasupai trail in Arizona. We went to the reservation, and walked through the waterfall, and it just felt so different,” Lituma explains. “We were like, ‘Why does it feel so good here?’ And then we noticed, when we got to Zion, that it was because everybody on that hike was brown.”

Though Latinxhikers is open to all, many of its resources are geared specifically towards women. “I do a lot of camping, especially by myself, and I constantly feel like something bad can happen to me,” Garcia adds. “I think that’s something that any woman can feel.”

And then there’s the mansplaining. “You’re out there, and you’re doing your thing, and you have that guy that comes up to you and is like ‘Oh do you need me to help you with that?’ or ‘Do you really know what you’re doing?’ Garcia says. Even as a trained retail specialist at REI, Garcia finds that men still don’t take her seriously on the sales floor.

Being a woman of colour compounds things even further. “There are some areas that I feel comfortable going to, and some areas I don’t, simply because I know the type of people that live there,” Garcia explains. “I know who I need to avoid because of the colour of my skin.”

Lituma adds, “It’s hard to feel comfortable while stopping at gas stations that are waving Confederate flags.”

When Garcia and Lituma host hiking meet-ups, it’s power in numbers. These hikes, which are mainly held in the Southeast, have brought together dozens of people from all walks of life, forming a web of safety. Garcia and Lituma have witnessed the forming of friendships, and even romantic relationships, but their favourite connections are the ones that happen between beginners and more seasoned veterans.

“The last hike that we had, we went to Amicalola Falls State Park, which can be a rough hike for beginners. There were these two girls who I noticed connecting while they were there,” Garcia says. “And afterwards I saw on social media that they had gone hiking together.” This is exactly what Garcia and Lituma are aiming for-for members to feel so empowered by the group dynamic, they feel comfortable enough to go out on their own.

Photo by Christian Restrepo
Photo by Christian Restrepo
Photo by Christian Restrepo

Of course, joining a hiking group-and putting yourself out there in general-can be intimidating. But Garcia and Lituma take a few steps to ensure that everyone feels comfortable-a skill not unfamiliar to Latinx people. “Honestly, I think as a culture, we’re pretty inviting and inclusive to begin with,” Lituma notes.

A slower hiker herself, Lituma will walk with anyone who’s behind. “I would hate for somebody to come out and feel like they can’t do it, and say ‘I’m not going hiking again,'” she says. For Garcia, it’s important that everyone knows they don’t need expensive gear, or even hiking boots, to join. “I want you to come out here and not feel like you’re having to compare yourself to other people,” she says.

But what both women hope to make clear is that there is no right or wrong way to occupy the outdoor space. “For me, being outdoorsy is sitting outside with my family and having a carne asada barbecue by the lake,” Garcia says.

“At the beginning, I wanted to do hardcore things. I would go on a five day trek in Machu Picchu, or do intense backpacking every now and then,” Lituma adds. “But now, I’m like, ‘I’m outside, I’m grabbing my chair, and I’m sitting and enjoying the view.'”

Women are leading inclusive hiking groups and outdoor communities all across the country. Here are just a few to check out:

Black Girls Trekkin’

Los Angeles, CA
Tiffany Tharpe and Michelle Race founded Black Girls Trekkin’ in an effort to subvert the narrative that Black girls and women don’t engage in outdoor activities. They’re also big on conservation, hosting events dedicated to educating their audience about minimizing their impact on the environment.

Disabled & Outdoors

24-year-old Ambika Rajyagor co-founded Disabled & Outdoors, a BIPOC-run online community focused on amplifying disabled voices and advocating for barrier-free excursions. They’ve partnered with AllTrails, an app of curated trail maps, to build a comprehensive list of accessible trail routes in the US.

Unlikely Hikers

Portland, Oregon
Unlikely Hikers, founded by Jenny Bruso, is a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson.” Self-described as “queer, fat, and femme,” Bruso often uses the hashtag #mybodytookmehere to emphasize that bodies of all kinds can conquer the outdoors. While the pandemic has put group hikes in Oregon on hold, diverse stories continue to be shared on the Unlikely Hikers podcast.

Indigenous Women Hike
Indigenous Women Hike
Indigenous Women Hike

Indigenous Women Hike

Owens Valley, California
Indigenous activist Jolie Varela is a citizen of the Tule River Yokut and Paiute Nations, from Payahuunadu (Owens Valley, CA). She was inspired to form Indigenous Women Hike in 2017 after hiking Nuumu Poyo, now known as the John Muir Trail, along with several other women as an act of reclamation. Since then, she’s led a number of hikes, encouraging Native women to reconnect with their land and experience collective healing through nature. Online, Varela fills the organization’s Instagram page with informative resources, raising awareness of Indigenous issues, deconstructing colonial language, and providing tips for respectful travel.

Hike Clerb

Los Angeles, California
Hike Clerb is an LA-based intersectional women’s hike group founded in 2017 by Evelynn Escobar Thomas. Pre-pandemic, the group hosted monthly hikes, designed to increase BIPOC visibility in the world of recreation. The club is actively working to expand in other cities across the US.

Jessica Sulima is an editorial assistant at Thrillist whose idea of “being outdoorsy” is sitting on her fire escape. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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