Robert Shosteck made a trip to New York in the early 1930s, and Washington has been richer since.

In New York he took a hike with a group of German immigrants who called themselves "wanderbirds" after a hiking club in their native land.

Shosteck enjoyed the walk and decided the nation's capital could stand a club like that. When he came back he borrowed the name, talked The Washington Post into a sponsorship role and in April 1934 scheduled the first Wanderbirds hike, from Cabin John to Pimmit Run in Virginia.

It was a hit, and Shosteck found himself with a job as hiking editor of The Post. The job and the paper's sponsorship ended agter a couple of years, but the Wanderbirds never broke stride.

They're still flourishing, and they're not alone.

In 1936 Shosteck took a job out West. When he came back he found trouble in the hiking community. People were saying Wanderbird trips were too strenuous.

He thought about that and came up with another plan -- Capital Hiking Club, dedicated to somewhat easier walks closer to home. Its first trip was in 1938 and the club hasn't slowed down.

Sosteck could claim to be the father of all Washington hiking if it weren't for Center Hiking Club, formed in 1939 with no help from him. It's still thundering along, too.

All of which makes Washington one of the most hiking-conscious cities in the nation. All three clubs make it a point to schedule trips every weekend, rain or shine, winter, summer, spring or fall.

I have hiked with the Wanderbirds and find their reputation as fast-paced power hikers to be well-deserved. With that in mind, on Sunday I joined the Capital Club for a gentler stroll through the swampy bottomlands near Waldorf.

We met the bus at 9 a.m. at 14th and K streets. One of the initial joys was cruising into a downtown parking space, ignoring the meter and expecting the car to be there when we returned.

The trip leader, Elliott Kapstein, is manager of a Morton's department store and a lanky, even-tempered and good-natured hiker.

It was a snowy day and ony 26 walkers showed up. While Kapstein was collecting the $5.50 hike fees he explained that he had scouted the trail through Cedarville State Park the week before and found half of it under water.

"We'll play it by ear," he said. "We'll stick to the high ground for a nice, easy walk. If it's not too bad we'll get in our nine miles., but if there's a lot of water we'll cut it back."

The ride was 45 minutes, too brief for anyone to snooze in the plush bus seats. At Cedarville the hikers tumbled out and Kapstein gave a pep talk.

"Isn't it wonderful?" he asked as the snow switched to a spattering rain. "Three-quarters of an hour and you're out in the wilderness."

We nodded and turned up our collars. But the cheerful Kapstein turned out to be right, and once we were in the woods we enjoyed the snowdecked stands of holly and pine, the bright ground covers of club moss and wintergreen and the clear streams that coursed through the low woods.

Some other streams were coursing through our boots, and after a lunch break Kapstein and coleader Betty Rusen offered to split up, with Rusen taking the damp and tired back to the bus and Kapstein pressing on three more miles.

At 2:30 the flock reassembled, footsore and weary. Kapstein broke out a gallon jug of wine, beer and soft drinks were rationed and and someone produced bags of taco chips and potato chips. The bus was steamy and warm.

Nancy Schifrin and Pat Nesley, who had chugged along with Kapstein up front all day, spread newspapers across their laps in preparation for the junk food, something of a Capital Club ritual. "We don't want any to slip through the cracks," said Schifrin. "I won't eat this stuff at home, but after a hike I just can't wait."

Washington's hiking clubs are open to all. Sometimes a small additional charge is made for nonmembers joining trips. Most hikes cost from $5 to $10 for Capital and Wanderbirds. Both use buses. Center trips, which use cars, are cheaper.

Membership is available at all three clubs for a nominal annual fee.The fee pays for mailing schedules of the trips at the start of each season.

Reservations are recommended for all trips because transportation space is limited.

Here are addresses for secretaries of the clubs, and information on trips planned for the next two weeks.

WANDERBIRDS: Write to Margaret Howard, 1616 18th St. NW, D.C. 20009. Wanderbirds are planning a 12mile hike in the Massanutten mountains Sunday and an 11-mile jaunt through Shenandoah National Park on Feb. 11.

CAPITAL HIKING CLUB: Write to Helen Dinwiddie, 21 Whittier St. NW, D.C. 20012. Capital plans a seven-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland on Sunday and an eightmile beach hike with seafood dinner at Rehoboth, Del., on Feb. 11.

CENTER HIKING CLUB: Write to Erna Sternheim, 780 Fairview Ave. No. 506, Takoma Park, Md. 20012. Center plans an eight-mile trip through Occoquon/Bull Run on Saturday and an eight-miler along the C&O Canal on Feb. 11.