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Pocket-Sized Trail Guides Are a Big Hit with Santa Barbara’s Avid Hiking Crowd

Mini books have become a burgeoning business for Trailmaster John McKinney, who’s happy to share his hiking expertise with readers

“Cute” was never a word John McKinney associated with his wealth of hiking experience, a sought-after skills set that earned him a nickname as The Trailmaster.

The longtime Santa Barbara resident turned the well-deserved moniker into a full-fledged business some years ago, nabbing the domain name online and using the expert title as a signature for hiking guide books and other writings, including a weekly column he penned for 18 years in the Los Angeles Times.

But no other word is used more often to describe the charming, mini day-hiking guide books McKinney began selling in late 2012 at Chaucer’s Bookstore.

Cuteness might also help explain why the guides have been flying off the shelves locally and in Southern California, where McKinney hails from.

“Perfect for your pocket or pack,” McKinney said on a recent morning, sitting in his office surrounded by hundreds of the things. “We hit the cute factor.”

Hike Santa Barbara is the biggest hit of McKinney’s 20 books, which he calls Minibuks after his Arizona printer.

The guide details 24 hikes through local canyons, foothills and the Santa Ynez Valley, offering a brief description of the trails, a map and instructions on how to get to the trailhead and beyond without giving too much away.

Readers get a real sense of what they’re in for, with miles and elevation ranging from a stroll through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to what McKinnley calls “butt-kickers.”

John McKinney has published 20 mini day-hiking guide books with more in the works, including one for San Francisco. (John McKinney photo)
John McKinney has published 20 mini day-hiking guide books with more in the works, including one for San Francisco. (John McKinney photo)

Most impressive is that even during this digital age — the guides are available as electronic books — folks are overwhelmingly turning to The Trailmaster’s print product.

“There’s a value in holding something,” McKinney said. “It’s a new media and it’s easier to share the experience.

“The fun part of my job is being out on the trail, and the most fulfilling part is helping people reconnect with nature. I’ve just really been blessed to be able to do what I love and share it with people.”

McKinney has been hiking across the United States and in Europe, and writing about his adventures, for more than 30 years. The Eagle Scout started a hiking club at USC, where he majored in broadcast journalism.

He moved to Santa Barbara shortly after graduation and has been preaching the good word of hiking and its benefits for body, mind and spirit ever since. Some of his books focus on that aspect.

Hike Griffith Park & Hollywood Hills has become another reader favorite, along with the recently released Coast Walks Santa Barbara, which sold out its first print of beach excursions in two months.

On the heels of that success, McKinney has produced a pilot episode of Hike On — a 30-minute show he would host — and is working to secure sponsorship so that American Public Television can distribute the show to public television stations.

A Hike San Francisco mini guide is also in the works, along with finding some time to hike for fun.

The Trailmaster said he appreciates hiking more now that business has, ironically, taken time away from his hobby.

Hikers can spot McKinney in the early evening along trails in Cold Spring or Rattlesnake canyons, with a notepad to mark a new sight that might warrant mention in the next guide version.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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