It sounds like it would be simple, eh? Planning a trip... with other people. That's where the catch comes in. Everyone's got a busy schedule which makes it difficult to pull it off. I'm in the process of trying to plan some trips for the summer and fall and I wanted to share some of the things I think of when planning trips. This leads me to my first suggestion.
Planning takes on two parts. The first part is fairly easy, which is whittle your destination choices down. Have everyone make suggestions and then work towards one final destination. Think about who is potentially going when making the choice. If you've got some newbies, you might not want to go to Big Bend where they will have to carry 3 days worth of water, which by the way gets heavy. You might also not want to pick somewhere in the High Sierra where you are constantly above 10,000 feet, potentially leading to Acute Mountain Sickness. You might also not want to take someone who may not be in the best shape through some of the areas on the Applachian Trail where you are constantly going up and down, known as the MUDs (mindless ups and downs). Consider several things when picking a destination: altitude (and change of), water availability, average temperature, average rainfall, bugs (or hopefully, lack thereof), and scenery.
Once you have your destination selected the second part is to pick a time. With everyone's hectic lives, it makes it easier if you plan trips well in advance. I would say at least 3 months in advance. This is sometimes necessary as well, depending on the destination. There are some places which have quotas on the number of people allowed into the area. Coyote Buttes was on our places to visit when we went to the Escalante area of Northern AZ / Southern Utah. They limit visitation to no more than 20 people per day. Permits to get in the area are snatch up over 3 months in advance. Do your research before making the travel plans as permits may become an issue. You'd hate to fly all that way, drive 6 hours to the park to find out there are no permits to be had.
Book 'em Dano
Once you've determined the time range of when you want to go, book it. It sounds simple, but I've had a couple of trips derailed by everyone h'mm-ing and haw-ing, and next thing you know, your window's gone and you've gotta wait a year because the park closes from November - May. Get any required permit paperwork in on time and book travel. This will lock everyone in that's in and those who are on the fence will have to make their decision.
Which way do we go?
Now, once you've got it booked, start gathering all the information you can on the area. I tend to go a bit overboard on this and a lot of times do this for many places I want to go to and stash it in a drawer for later. I check all kinds of websites and blogs, look at topo maps, and read books about the area I want to visit. My personal favorite place to start is trails.com. They pull pages from great trail guides like Falcon Guides and The Mountaineers Books. I highly recommend the membership. I will often find two or more trails near each other and see if they can be combined to make a backpacking loop or extended trip.
Planning your route is critical. It will help you determine what gear needs to be on the list, what food to take, what clothing is appropriate and probably most importantly, dictating transportation. Loop hikes are great, because you can get one car and leave it at the trailhead and it's right there when you get back. One-way trips require more logistics. Do you get two cars and leave one at either end of the trail? Or, do you hire a shuttle? If you hire a shuttle, are you going to make it to the pick up point early, late or on time? How do you communicate with the shuttle if plans change? Do you chance thumbing a ride? It may not be legal. You may want to check with the local park ranger about the best ways to provide your transportation.
What to take?
When determining the gear to take, work with your group to see what can be divided up. For example, a tent can be shared among hikers. One can carry the tent and the other carry the fly and the poles. Food should be divided amongst everyone. Cooking gear can be split up. Try and get everyone's pack weights to be equal. Some of the stronger hikers may opt to carry more. As mentioned in an earlier post of mine, I'm not an ultra-lighter, but I am looking more and more at the weight of things I put in my pack. Some things to consider. If you are going to, say, the High Sierra in September, you might not need to take a tent. A fly and footprint may be fine, as you don't really have to worry about bugs and there's not too much at that altitude that's gonna sting ya or bite ya like scorpions or snakes when you are camping in the desert in the summer or near the boundary waters in July. You don't necessarily have to weigh every item, but definitely think about what's going in your pack. Six ounces here, plus eighteen ounces there starts to add up and pretty soon, you're carrying a 55-pound pack.
Leave your itinerary behind
This is extremely important!!!!! Leave your itinerary with people back home. Let them know specifically where you are going, when you plan to be where, and when you plan to emerge. If you leave a car at the trailhead, leave one in the car. There are countless stories of groups trapsing off into the wilderness leaving no one with any idea where they were going, when they left and when they were going to come back. Most of the time things probably pan out. However, ask Aron Ralston if he'd like to have a do-over on leaving someone any idea of where he might be going off to? If he had, he still would probably have a prostetic hand, but he wouldn't have had to endure 6-7 days pinned under a rock, freezing at night and drinking his on urine. It's simple to do. Just type up a one-pager and share it with those back home. If you have multiple different people going, you might also share home phone numbers with each person's spouse or family just in case you can't reach your spouse, maybe one of your buddies can get his and share information back home.
Now that all the planning is done, it's time to go and have fun. Be safe and stick to your plans. Take lots of pictures and leave only footprints (preferably light footprints and not on any delicate foliage). If you haven't heard of it, check out the Leave No Trace site. It's some fairly easy principles to follow, but when followed, will leave all the beauty you were able to see for the next person. I will let you know how my trips go this summer, and hopefully you will do the same.