It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been escaping their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty. Because so many of us have been seeking out nature, in some places, it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
A new national park visitation trends tracker from U.S. Travel Association, Rove Marketing, and Uber Media indicates that visitation at select national parks is climbing as people seek healthy ways to travel and #RecreateResponsibly. As the overall visitation numbers begin to climb more than two-thirds of all park visitors are out-of-town travelers and more than half journeyed a distance of more than 200 miles.
Parks and natural areas are a valuable asset in the effort to promote and improve public health. A large body of evidence correlates time spent outdoors with improved physical and mental health. Access to the outdoors has been especially treasured during a pandemic in which many of us have had to deal with health and economic stress. The benefits of that access are so clear that, even in this time of social distancing, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is underscoring the importance of outdoor activity:
“Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air and vitamin D, stay active, and safely connect with others.”
During a time of national stress such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or just in everyday life, we need to access parks and take a healthy walk, clear our heads, or simply enjoy the serenity of a forest, marsh, or lake.
Take a look at some of these amazing parks and natural areas and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your hiking boots.
Painted Canyon, North Dakota
Located in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Painted Canyon is one of the most photographed areas in North Dakota. Painted Canyon Overlook affords views of the Canyon, and a one-mile walking trail dips down below the rim to offer views of the unique strata.
Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina
The National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp contains within its 18,000+ acres the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress/Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world. One thousand year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia. A 1.75 mile self-guided boardwalk trail (handicapped accessible) allows visitors the opportunity to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp…to see it the way nature intended!
Madera Canyon, Arizona
Madera Canyon, found just twenty-five miles southeast of Tucson is a hiker’s paradise. This natural area is nestled in the northwest section of the Santa Rita Mountains between Mount Hopkins and Mount Wrightson. Madera Canyon has campsites, picnic areas, and several hiking trails. Climbing towards the top, the mountain vegetation ranges from grassland, palo verde bushes, mesquite trees, and saguaro cactus to Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. At 9,453 feet, Mount Wrightson is the highest mountain in the area.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Located in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is one of South Dakota’s biggest outdoor wonderlands. With 71,000 acres to explore, you’ll never run out of things to see and do. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. There are nine scenic campgrounds available throughout the park.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky
Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. The largest protected natural area in Kentucky, Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a huge area consisting of multicolored sandstone cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus.
Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana
A reproduction Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. The Farmstead is an example of how a typical single-family farm would have appeared around 1800. The site includes the family home with an outdoor kitchen and bread oven, slave quarters, and a barn. In the pasture located adjacent to the barn, there are cattle typical of those raised by the Creoles and Acadians at that time.
Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania
The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
The Refuge is 57,331 acres along the Rio Grande near Socorro, located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands—3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
One of the least visited parks in the national park system, Lassen Volcanic preserves the volcanic legacy of Lassen Peak, the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, and its long-eroded Mount Tehama. Evidence of the burning hot spot below Lassen is abundant with several geysers, boiling pools, steam vents, and boiling pools to visit. Beyond the geothermal activity, Lassen is a beautiful alpine environment with plenty of adventures to offer.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.