What better way to fall in love with nature than spending time immersed in it? Visiting National Parks to see some of nature’s most glorious works implores us to better protect our environment, but we can’t (nor should we) all travel around the world visiting every National Park to connect with nature. Here are lots of ways we can all enjoy and appreciate nature in our own neck of the woods.
As we explored Banff National Park over the summer, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of experiencing nature to reinforce an appreciation and awe for the magnificence of Mother Nature. How much more would we protect our Earth and become advocates for our home if we could all adventure through the glorious mountains and glacial lakes of one of the world’s most beautiful places?
Simultaneously, I recognize the privilege I have to enjoy such a trip. I also understand the carbon emission impact of the flights I took to travel, an aspect of my trip that’s not so enviable. Further, many of our National Parks are at capacity and can’t handle many more visitors without harm to the native species and structures.
Luckily, we don’t need to travel to National Parks to enjoy the fruits of a flourishing ecosystem. We can immerse ourselves in nature in our local area and achieve many of the same benefits of hiking through breathtaking hills and paddling across glacial lakes.
In an effort to ensure we spend lots of time in nature and do not limit our explorations to periodic vacations, here are some ways we can enjoy the outdoors from our own neighborhood.
Visit State Parks or Regional Parks
Many state and regional parks are nearly as impressive as national parks and within driving distance of our home. They might be smaller, but they’re also more manageable and accessible. For example, we visit Valley Forge Park a couple of times a year and have even taken friends with us. Be sure to check out the ones in your area.
Grow a Garden
Whether it’s a few potted plants or a backyard bounty, getting a little dirt under your nails while working in a garden is a great way to enjoy time outside. Gardens help us appreciate the many forms of life beyond humans who play significant roles in our ecosystem. They’re also just a relaxing and fulfilling way to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Try a Nature Scavenger Hunt
Head outside with your kids with a list of things to find in nature. The list will depend on where you live, but you could do this in your neighborhood, a local park or as part of a weekend road trip to a state park.
When we were in California last spring, we made a scavenger hunt for the boys within just a few blocks of the apartment. I made the list of a dozen items in just a few minutes. We also have this have the game Kids Scavenger Hunt in a Box if you want a little more guidance in creating a scavenger hunt.
Use Alltrails in Your Local Area
Be a tourist in your own neighborhood and find a new trail nearby using Alltrails or another crowd sourced trail rating and discovery site. Alltrails has a bunch of information about trail difficulty, conditions and more. You can search for trails by location, and we found lots of unexpected trail ideas on our summer trips.
Related Reading: Beginner Tips for Planning a Vacation to a National Park
Read A Book Outside
Most often we think of reading as cuddling up on the couch under a warm blanket to immerse our minds and hearts in a story. When the weather is right, enjoying a book under a summer sun and reading outside is wonderful. Try one of these ideas to enjoy books outdoors either alone or with your family.
Paint or Draw a Nature Scene In Your Neighborhood
This feels a little like a scene from from a movie, but why can’t we try it? I have actually seen a few people do this in my area over the last couple of years. You don’t need a fancy easel or expensive paints. Just bring a brush, a sketch pad, and some watercolor paints to your porch or park and be creative. Paint or draw the most beautiful or interesting things you see.
Go for a Walk in a Park
Head out alone or with a friend to your local park. Lots of people already do this, but I feel like we don’t make time for it as often as we could. It’s such a great way to get some fresh air just about any time of year (and make good use of our tax dollars that are paying for those parks).
Related Reading: How Libraries Are Saving Lives and Supporting Our Health
Visit an Arboretum or Public Garden
Managed by professional gardeners, these spaces have a variety of plants and flowers that change throughout the year. We visit one near us a couple times a year, and it’s always so cool to see the amazing things they do with the gardens and all the colorful does in bloom.
Take a Nature Photography Walk
Take your camera to the park or the arboretum and search for all the beautiful things you can find. This is a great way to get outside and also a fun opportunity to practice creative photography techniques. You may even find a guided photography tour in your area. Sites like TripAdvisor and Airbnb Experiences are great places to find these tours.
Go on a Picnic in the Park
Several times over the last year when my family, sisters, and parents gathered together, we packed lunch and enjoyed a picnic in a park. In June, we picnicked near a playground with the kids. They loved every minute of it, especially swinging together. In Banf,f we packed our lunches and ate on the shore of beautiful Bow Lake.
A Pinterest-perfect picnic with a checkered blanket, a wicker basket, and all of the trappings feels overwhelming to me. But picnics in the park aren’t about Pinterest, so throw together a few snacks in the cooler buried in your basement and enjoy time together outside over food and drinks.
Start a Compost Bin and Watch It Thrive
It might sound weird to enjoy nature by dumping a pile of garbage in your yard and letting it rot. I’ve found, however, that’s is so neat to watch a compost pile transform from food scraps and old leaves into a rich dirt that supports new life. I love turning the pile, smelling the almost sweet and earthy smell, and watching the worms and bugs squirm though the soil. It’s just so neat to see so much life teeming in a pile of “trash”. This is really watching nature do some of it’s best work.
Pick Your Own Fruits and Vegetables From a Local Farm
Particularly if you don’t have time or space for a garden, find a nearby farm to pick your own fruits and vegetables. It’s so valuable for kids to understand the origins of food for their own health as well as the prosperity of the Earth. A pick-your-own farm won’t give the full picture and timeline of seed to fruit, but they’ll start to get an idea that food grows outdoors, doesn’t always look pristine, and definitely doesn’t just show up on grocery store shelves.
Swim in a Lake or Ocean
Swimming in a pool is fun, but swimming in an ocean or lake feels so much more adventurous. We also can appreciate how large these bodies of water are and respect the power of water. I’m not a huge fan of swimming in lakes or oceans, so I understand the hesitation if it’s not your thing either. If you’d prefer not to dive in head first, dip your toes along the shore and listen to sounds of crashing waters. I’m right there with you.
Walk Through a Creek in Bare Feet
Feel like a kid exploring a simple stream, and do it with your kids. Watch sticks ride down the current. Skip rocks on the water. Feel the cold trickle on your toes. Just be careful not to step on anything too sharp. 🙂
Go for a Horseback Ride on Local Trails
In Banff National Park, my mom and sister enjoyed a guided horse back ride along the river. We took a similar ride in Zion National Park. I know that there are some horse farms not far from where we live that offer rides as well. Find a farm in your area and try it out.
Make Leaf Prints in the Fall
Do you remember doing this in school? Why not try it again? When the ground is covered in red, yellow and orange leaves, grab a few and make leaf prints with a bit of paint. It makes perfect fall decor that your kids can help create.
Try Kayaking or Canoeing
Many lakes, rivers, and creeks have companies situated along their shores that rent out kayaks and canoes. We have done this many times as tourists, including on Lake Louise in Canada recently, and I know we can do it around our own neck of the woods as well. It’s a great way to see your home town from a new angle and enjoy a slow-paced day on the water.
These are just a few ideas but there are so many ways to explore and appreciate nature without going far from home. Do you have a favorite way to opt outside in your area? Share in the comments!