Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Finding joy in the outdoors

The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the US and Canada affecting each aspect of human life and social interaction. As humans we have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation—the great outdoors.

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many cities across the country issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. The resulting loneliness often led to higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity, or other negative health impacts.

As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. These ill effects can counter by spending time in the outdoors.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality, and general happiness.

Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.

Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they have participated in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides!

As the weather cools get outside and soak up the beautiful sights and sounds of the autumn season. The yearly spectacle of fall puts changing leaves at the forefront of our imagination but you don’t have to imagine the beauty.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are several great suggestions for fall trips to help you get the most out of this amazing time of year in America’s most beautiful places. So, come along and find out what to do and where to go this fall. Step out of summer and into an autumn adventure. And snap some photos while you do!

Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

This 522,427-acre park straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee comes alive with red, yellow, and orange from mid-September to early November thanks to a collection of 100 tree species, most of them deciduous. The best way to view the likes of flaming cove and northern hardwood, maple, and beech trees is via a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Cades Cove or a hike along area trails such as the Appalachian Trail or Oconaluftee River Trail.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Vermont

Vermont

The state’s loveliest drive might just be its largest highway, Route 100—a 200-mile-plus thoroughfare that vertically dissects the state from Massachusetts to Canada. In fact, nature photographers from all over the country hit the highway for guaranteed peak foliage photography. But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory (for pickup orders only).

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal, Virginia awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountains to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, and river access make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Often described as a ‘miniature’ version of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods is arguably, equally spectacular. What Valley of the Gods may lack when it comes to the size and volume of its free-standing monoliths, spires, and fins, it makes up for with solitude. It would be a rare occurrence to pass through Monument Valley without seeing another visitor but at Valley of the Gods you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself to explore and enjoy. Take in a scenic hike or stop for a picnic in the crisp fall air.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

7 Fall Inspired Road Trips

Whether you’re craving a day trip or a longer getaway this autumn, here are great destinations for a fall road trip in the US

The air is crisp, homemade pies are bubbling, and pumpkin spice lattes are in high demand. What better way to take in the splendor of the fall season than with a selection of scenic road trips. America is ideal for scenic road trips year-round but there is something special about the changing leaves colors that make for an essential experience.

Take in the changing trees, inhale the crisp fall air, and taste local foods on one of these seven road trips across the United States.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

Launched in 1935 as a New Deal project, the Blue Ridge Parkway took 52 years to complete and is now one of the country’s most iconic highways. Come fall, it’s also one of its most vivid. To make the most of the experience, give yourself plenty of time to cruise from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina (the most popular segment of the 469-mile road). You’ll want that time to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, pop into Blue Ridge Music Center for a little bluegrass, and savor both barbecue and fall colors.  

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country, Texas

You can begin your journey into Texas Hill Country from Austin or San Antonio; limestone and granite hills radiate out from both cities. They’re also where the worlds of cowboys and wine collide. For the former, head to Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”); for the latter, check out the wineries that line Wine Road 290 in Fredericksburg. There are more than a dozen other towns to explore including New Braunfels (where two rivers flow through) and Lockhart, the state’s barbecue capital.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina to Tennessee

A skinny highway winds through mountains blanketed only by trees with nothing but more mountains in the distance. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. The route stretches from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee, crossing through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. There are scenic vistas along the way but more adventurous travelers can hike one of 29 trails along the route or fly-fish in Tellico River near the end of the skyway.  

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Whether you tool along by car over the historic 105-mile Skyline Drive or take a hike on one of the Park’s 500+ miles of trails, autumn beauty will surround you in October and early November. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. The 75 overlooks offer unforgettable views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Virginia piedmont to the east. The mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Road to Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. Stowe is a premier four season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

An Isolation Itinerary: Places to Get Lost and Find Yourself

Looking for a road trip destination this summer? You will feel safe with this ‘isolation itinerary’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we travel in 2020. The more we read, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside.

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip. Unlike a plane, train, or other public transport your RV is your personal space and allows you control the level of cleaning and sanitation and who you share the space with. Plus, fuel prices are low this year while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In an RV you can go where you want and stay in a campground, an RV park, or boondock on public lands.

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” and for all these reasons natural sites like national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest.

The National Park Service states that more than 300 million people visit more than 400 national park areas in the U.S. each year. Since summer is typically the prime time for travel, it makes sense that many parks fill to capacity during these warmer months. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, national parks may be even harder to access than usual. Phased reopenings are occurring in many popular locations such as Arches, Zion, and Joshua Tree. Because national parks provide an ideal road trip destination, it’s safe to say they’ll be popular in the coming months. 

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks can be a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Even better, they usually aren’t as busy as national parks. If you don’t want to take a chance on crowded national parks this summer visit one of more than 8,000 state park areas instead. State parks are often underrated destinations, but they can provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for outdoor recreation also draw people to national wildlife refuges. Many visitors enjoy fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and hiking with 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks available. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, we’ve put together a list of incredible state parks and natural wildlife refuges from coast to coast. You will feel safe with our researched “isolation itinerary.”

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Located along the southern coastline of Alabama, Gulf State Park provides a beautiful escape to the seashore and nearby lakes. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves thousands of acres of diverse habitats and archaeological sites alongside the Columbia River. Taking a stroll from the parking lot, the pedestrian bridge allow you to stand over the railroad tracks and gaze westward over the mosaic of seasonal wetlands, permanent wetlands, grasslands, upland forests, riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and croplands that become home to thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that winter on the Refuge.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

The 4,127-acre Babcock State Park is 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville  and the New River Gorge Bridge. You can hike, fish, and mountain bike in this scenic park though a huge attraction is seeing the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This is a fully functioning replica of Cooper’s Mill which once stood in the same area. The mill attracts photographers from all around to capture idyllic scenes along the creek. Campsites are available for overnight stays.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the deser. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Brasstown Bald State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia

Plan a trip to Georgia’s tallest mountain for amazing views and quality time with Mother Nature. As the state’s highest peak—4,784 feet above sea level—Brasstown Bald is among the first to display fall colors. Even in summer, you’ll find the mountain a worthy escape thanks to its picturesque location amid the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and its refreshing temperatures. Nearby, take a scenic drive through the national forest via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From the byway, stop at Vogel State Park which offers ample camping, plus fishing, hiking, and lake swimming.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court