How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Use the three-number formula of the Nature Pyramid to make yourself healthier and happier

We all know that 2020 was a grueling year. Many of us have been cooped up for too long. Research shows that Americans actually spent 92 percent of their time inside. Being outside comes with many positive benefits for our mental and physical health.

Dr. Rachel Hopman, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, suggests the Nature Pyramid. The “20-5-3” rule, or nature pyramid, recommends the amount of time we should spend outdoors to reduce stress and boost our overall happiness. Think of it as the food pyramid except that instead of recommending you eat this many servings of vegetables and this many of meat, it recommends the amount of time you should spend in nature to reduce stress and be healthier. Learn and live by the 20-5-3 rule.

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 minutes

Like the food pyramid, the bottom is what you need to be doing the most. You should spend 20 minutes outside in nature three times a week. That means put your phone away and revel in the beauty of being outside. A recent study shows that people who used their phones while being outside or on a walk showed no benefit from its effects.

In nature, our brains enter a mode called “soft fascination.” Hopman described it as a mindfulness-like state that restores and builds the resources you need to think, create, process information, and execute tasks. But turn off your phone—alerts from it can kick you out of soft-fascination mode.

Frances Beidler Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 hours

Broken down, per month, we should spend five hours in semi-wild nature. For instance, going to a state or county park or nature preserve can provide city dwellers with feelings of being more relaxed and less stressed.

A 2005 survey conducted in Finland found that city dwellers felt better with at least five hours of nature a month with benefits increasing at higher exposures. They were also more likely to be happier and less stressed in their everyday lives.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Finnish government-funded another study in 2014 in which the scientists placed people in a city center, a city park, and a forested state park. The two parks felt more Zen than the city center. No shocker, here. Except that those walking in a state park had an edge over the city-park people. They felt even more relaxed and restored. The takeaway: The wilder the nature, the better.

Nature has these effects on the mind and body because it stimulates and soothes us in unusual and unique ways. For instance, in nature, you are engulfed in fractals, suggested Hopman. Fractals are complex patterns that repeat over and over in different sizes and scales and make up the design of the universe. Think: trees (big branch to smaller branch), river systems (big river to stream and so on), mountain ranges, clouds, seashells.

Caverns of Sonora, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 days

At the top of the pyramid, we should spend three days immersed in nature each year. Try camping in the woods to spend some time off the grid. This nature time can boost creativity and problem solving and relieve burnout. This dose of the wildest nature can reset your thinking, tame burnout, and just make you feel better.

For a hefty dose of nature look no further than a National Natural Landmark. From tidal creeks and estuaries to mountain wilderness, underground caverns, and riparian areas, America offers a diversity of stunning landscapes to explore and enjoy.

Managed by the National Park Service, the National Natural Landmark program was created in 1962 to encourage the preservation and public appreciation of America’s natural heritage. To date, 602 sites in the country—a third of them privately owned—have received the designation.

Frances Beidler Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

The Francis Beidler Forest harbors one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare, unusual, or range extensions for plants and animals occurs in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species. The forest is part of the Four Holes Swamp, a 45,000-acre matrix of black water sloughs and lakes, shallow bottomland hardwoods, and deep bald cypress and tupelo gum flats.

Year designated: 1979

Size: 3,408 acres

Ownership: National Audubon Society

Congaree River Swamp, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree River Swamp, South Carolina

The 21,811-acre swamp—located within Congaree National Park—is the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Flooding from the Congaree and Wateree rivers provides the nutrients to sustain one of the tallest temperate hardwood forests in the world. This unique ecosystem has been designated both an International Biosphere Reserve and a Globally Important Bird Area.

More than 20 miles of hiking trails offer visitors the opportunity to explore the floodplain and its national and state champion trees. The most popular is the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop featuring an elevated section that winds through the old-growth trees and a low boardwalk that takes you through a primeval bald cypress and tupelo forest. You can also paddle your way through the swamp on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail running 15 miles along the blackwater tributary all the way to the Congaree River.

Year designated: 1974

Size: 21,811 acres

Ownership: Federal

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

Okefenokee Swamp, located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the largest and most primitive swamps in the country. It contains a diversity of ecosystems and is a refuge for native flora and fauna including many uncommon, threatened, and endangered species.

Year designated: 1974

Size: 337,300 acres

Ownership: Federal, State

Caverns of Sonora, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Sonora, Texas

The Caverns of Sonora contain unusual formations such as bladed helictites and coralloid growths and are internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful show caves on the planet. The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface.

Year designated: 1965

Size: 103 acres

Ownership: Private

Plain Chachalaca at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a living museum of the lowland forested area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The refuge’s jungle-like vegetation provides habitat for over 400 species of birds and about one-half of all butterfly species found in the United States.

Year designated: 1966

Size: 2,059 acres

Ownership: Federal

Enchanted Rock, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, Texas

Enchanted Rock, located within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest rock mountains in the United States. It is a classic illustration of a batholith and of the exfoliation process. The coarse-grained pink granite is massive and uniform in composition and texture and is some of the oldest igneous rock known in North America.

Year designated: 1971

Size: 667 acres

Ownership: State

Fishing in the Bottomlands near the Gulf, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile-Tensaw River Bottomlands, Alabama

Mobile-Tensaw River Bottomlands is one of the most important wetlands in the nation. The site contains a variety of habitats, including mesic floodplains, freshwater swamps, and brackish water marshes, and supports several rare and endangered species.

Year designated: 1974

Size: 179,000 acres

Ownership: Federal, State, Private

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary, Arizona

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary is a good example of a cottonwood-willow riparian forest and is one of the last permanent stream-bottom habitat areas in southern Arizona. The site retains a substantial part of the indigenous aquatic biota, including the endangered Gila topminnow. The birdlife includes several Mexican species and is the only known nesting site in the country for the rare rose-throated becard.

Year designated: 1970

Size: 314 acres

Ownership: Nature Conservancy

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Ramsey Canyon is a stream-cut, vertical-sided gorge. Cold air drainage from the upper canyon results in a well-defined microclimatic habitat that supports Mexican flora and fauna and plants that normally occur only at higher elevations. The site is also frequented by more species of hummingbirds than any other area in the United States.

Year designated: 1965

Size: 279 acres

Ownership: Nature Conservancy

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest desert state park in the nation. The site contains some of the best examples of the various biotic communities and geological phenomena of the Colorado Desert region.

Year designated: 1974

Size: 622,810 acres

Ownership: State, Municipal, Private

Worth Pondering…

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.

—E. O. Wilson

Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert

With more than 23,000 acres of water and beautiful desert landscape, Lake Pleasant is one of the most scenic recreation areas in the Valley

The desert is parched and grows little but cactus. Except for roadrunners outwitting coyotes, the desert supports no wildlife. Arizona residents and seasoned snowbirds have heard it all before from first-time visitors. Sometimes they just smile and head for Lake Pleasant.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away amid rolling hills just 30 miles north of Phoenix, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a sudden and dramatic escape. This expansive playground combines all the things we love about the desert—endless sunshine, rising mountains, saguaro-clad slopes, and waves of spring wildflowers—with the addition of unexpected water. For outdoor enthusiasts, this 23,000-acre park is a dream destination.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

­­Lake Pleasant History

In the mid-1920s, the Waddell Dam confined the waters of the Agua Fria River as a private irrigation project. The dam originally was named after Carl Pleasant, the engineer who designed it. The completion of the New Waddell Dam in 1994 turned Lake Pleasant into a major storage facility for Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The new dam tripled the size of the lake and submerged the old dam. Pleasant is the second-largest reservoir in central Arizona, behind only Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Water is pumped into the lake via the CAP canal during winter and is released during spring and summer to meet higher demands.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Fishing

A dozen fish species swim in Lake Pleasant. Those fishing from shore generally goes after catfish, sunfish, and carp. From a boat, anglers can explore coves, channels, and deep holes. The lake is a popular spot for largemouth bass, striped bass, and Arizona’s only population of white bass. Others that might end up on a line include tilapia, bluegill, bigmouth buffalo fish, and white and black crappie.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boat Ramps and Marinas

A 10-lane boat ramp helps keep the traffic flowing onto the water even during busy times. There also is a four-lane ramp at the north end of the lake.

Never fear if you don’t have a boat. You can rent just about anything that floats at Scorpion Bay Marina. Hourly and daily rentals include pontoons, fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks, and other water toys. The marina has a general store and the Scorpion Bay Grill with indoor and patio dining.

Located on the southeastern shore outside the regional park Pleasant Harbor Marina has two four-lane boat ramps, boat rentals, a waterside restaurant, and daily cruises. Look for the world’s largest floating water slide to reopen for the season in late spring. The RV resort has more than 300 full and partial hook-up sites as well as dry camping. There is a $6 entry fee per vehicle for everyone visiting Pleasant Harbor Marina.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Hiking Trails

Landlubbers will have plenty to keep them busy. A network of hiking trails spreads across the park some tracing the shore while others explore surrounding desert hills. It’s always fascinating to witness this contrast—groves of saguaros standing guard over a large body of water. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some hiking options. All mileages are one way.

Beardsley Trail (4.1 miles): This is the longest Lake Pleasant trail as it traverses open desert parallel to South Park Road before it junctions with the epic, county-circling Maricopa Trail

Pipeline Canyon Trail (2 miles): This trail highlights the best display of spring wildflowers with the heaviest concentration stretching from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadrunner Trail (0.8 miles): It follows the water’s edge connecting the Discovery Center with the 10-lane boat ramp

Wild Burro Trail (2 miles): It’s so named because it provides the best chance to see some of the park’s long-eared residents

Yavapai Point (1.5 miles): The trail makes a moderate climb to the crest of a hill at the edge of the water that offers some impressive views

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnic Areas

Picnickers will find numerous covered ramadas and tables dotting the landscape. Day-use areas include tables, grills, drinking water, and restrooms. The Sunset Ridge Area sits atop a hill with commanding views of the lake. It has 21 picnic sites with tables, grills, and a porta-john.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discovery Center and Playground

In 2016, the original dam observation/visitor center building was expanded and given a stylish update. The Discovery Center now offers visitors a good introduction to the lake with exhibits on history, wildlife, plant communities, and information on upcoming events. Spotting scopes and signs on the balcony help you identify points of interest that range from features of the dam to the distant ridge of Four Peaks. Children will love the adjacent playground filled with animal-themed slides and swings. The Discovery Center is now open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, until further notice.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Lake Pleasant

Imagine starry nights or the light of a full moon shimmering on the water. Snag a campsite to enjoy that show. Lake Pleasant offers 148 sites for RV and tent camping spread across the Desert Tortoise and Roadrunner campgrounds. Campsites cost $15-$40 per night, depending on amenities.

Developed sites have water, electricity, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. Sites can be reserved up to six months in advance at maricopacountyparks.org or by calling 602-506-2930.

Primitive camping is allowed along much of the shoreline in such areas as Two Cow and Fireman’s coves. Locations change with fluctuating water levels. Park staff can provide more details.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Location: From central Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to the Carefree Highway (SR-74) exit. Drive 15 miles west, then turn north on Castle Hot Springs Road.

Park Elevation: 1,700 feet

Surface Water: 10,000 acres

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle.

Campsite Rates: $22-$32

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Fun Outdoor Getaways You Can Easily Hit from 25 Cities

Take a short drive to a different world

One thing the pandemic has taught us—beyond how much we hate Zoom—is that nature is not a luxury. It is essential for human survival. And while many city folks have gained a new appreciation for the outdoors, you don’t have to commit to some epic cross-country RV trip just to get some fresh air.

With that in mind, we searched the country for the best outdoor getaways—national parks, national forests, state parks, and the like—to find seven iconic destinations within easy driving distance of major US cities. Regardless of your level of experience in the outdoor world, these spots offer natural beauty and invigorating adventure in spades. Now hit the road already.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Close to: Washington DC (70 miles), Baltimore (108 miles), Pittsburg (214 miles), Philadelphia (250 miles)

While most well known for its sensational displays of fall foliage, this nature-packed park just outside DC makes for one great urban escape any time of year. The 105-mile Skyline Drive running the length of the park is Shenandoah’s most famous asset but the park also boasts nearly 200,000 acres of backcountry camping and numerous waterfalls, views of which you’ll share with black bears, red-tailed hawks, and the full slate of charming wildlife forest creatures. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Mathews Arm Campground (MP: 22.1), Big Meadows Campground (MP: 51.2), Loft Mountain Campground (MP: 79.5)

Coolest pit stop: Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful towns in America—and it’s just 37 miles from Shenandoah and home to the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s home of Monticello, and the picture-perfect pedestrian Historic Downtown Mall, C-ville’s more than worthy of a pit stop.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Forest, California

Close to: Los Angeles (128 miles), San Jose (234 miles), Sacramento (257 miles), San Francisco (279 miles), Las Vegas (285 miles)

National parks may protect some of the best-known natural landmarks but national forests have just as remarkable landscapes. The U.S. Forest Service manages 154 national forests including Sequoia. Named for the world’s largest trees, Sequoia National Forest has the greatest concentration of giant sequoia groves in the world. One of America’s finest national forests features a gargantuan 1.1 million acres in three counties of Southern California and offers an abundance of recreation opportunities for people to enjoy. The Forest offers 52 developed campgrounds, hiking on more than 1,147 miles of trails including 47 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, over 314,448 acres of wilderness, 222 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, 2,617 rivers and streams, world-class whitewater rapids, 158 ponds and lakes, boating, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and more.

River Run RV Park, Bakersfield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: River Run RV Park (Bakersfield), Orange Groove RV Park (Bakersfield), Bakersfield RV Resort (Bakersfield)

Coolest pit stop: As you drive on Generals Highway between the Lodgepole area in Sequoia National Park and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, you will pass by several popular areas within the national forest. Here, you will find access to campgrounds, Buck Rock Lookout, the Big Meadows area, Jennie Lakes Wilderness, and Montecito Sequoia Lodge.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Close to: Phoenix (134 miles), Tucson (203 miles), Las Vegas (267 miles), Albuquerque (290 miles)

This unsung 1.8-million-acre national forest has a little bit of everything for the outdoor enthusiast. From mountains like the famous San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon-Esque Oak Creek Canyon to the magnificent Zion-like desert landscapes of Red Rock Crossing and Arizona’s largest natural lake (Mormon Lake), one thing you won’t be here is bored. Pack some extra energy if you wanna see it all. 

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Black Barts RV Park (Flagstaff), Grand Canyon Railway RV Park (Williams), Distant Drums RV Resort (Camp Verde)

Coolest pit stop: Flagstaff brings a wintery vibe to challenge your notions of what Arizona is all about. If that’s not enough, you’ve also got Route 66 running west of town as well as the nearby freakishly beautiful artsy paradise of Sedona. This road trip basically plans itself.

Cradle of Forestry, Pisgah National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Close to: Charlotte (126 miles), Knoxville (137 miles), Atlanta (173 miles), Chattanooga (248 miles)

While the iconic Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the foliage-packed Blue Ridge Parkway are perhaps the most-well known nature retreats around these parts, the lesser-visited Pisgah National Forest outside Asheville remains content to fly under the radar. Explore the forest for top-tier wildflower-dotted mountain landscapes, verdant rolling hills, and serene waterfalls in addition to vibrant swimming holes and rushing whitewater. 

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

Where to stay if you’re camping: Asheville Bear Creek RV Park (Asheville), Asheville West KOA (Asheville), Mama Gertie’s Hideaway Campground (Swannanoa)

Coolest pit stop: The national forest is only 30 minutes outside Asheville, so there’s no reason not to visit one of America’s best mountain towns. When you’re done with all the craft and stuff there, nearby Chimney Rock State Park makes another excellent diversion for heart-stirring mountain vistas.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Close to: San Diego (87 miles), Los Angeles (151 miles), Phoenix (372 miles)

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the trails, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site at Palm Canyon and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

The Springs at Borrego RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, The Springs at Borrego RV Resort & Golf Course

Coolest pit stop: Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Close to: New York City (214 miles), Boston (234 miles), Buffalo (268 miles)

Clocking in at a mind-boggling 6.1 million acres—more than twice the size of Yellowstone— Adirondack Park’s nearly endless list of attractions includes more than 10,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers, and 200,000 acres of forest. Explore iconic mountain towns like Lake Placid, scale some mountains, do some canoeing, or just kick back and relax: You’ve heard of Adirondack chairs, right? 

Village of Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Lake George Riverside Campground (Lake George), North Pole Resorts (Wilmington), Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Paradise Pines Camping Resort (North Hudson)

Coolest pit stop: Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont makes for a nice diversion on the route from Boston or NYC. Serious question: Has there ever been a bad time to visit Vermont?

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

Close to: Austin (56 miles), San Antonio (64 miles), Houston (142 miles), Corpus Christie (146 miles), Dallas (247 miles)

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water (including the San Marcos River), Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

This small park offers a large amount of fun, both on water and land. You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Palmetto State Park offers 18 RV and tent camping sites

Coolest pit stop: Luling is home to the Luling Oil Museum and is renowned for watermelons, barbecue, and colorfully decorated pump jacks. Texans know Gonzales as the “Cradle of Texas History” where the first shots were fired for Texas Independence. If you’re hankering for barbecue, head north to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

Refreshing palm oases, intriguing wildlife, and miles of hiking trails draw visitors to the Coachella Valley Preserve

On the northern side of the Coachella Valley, nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, and other desert cities. The Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas Fault and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy palm groves, picnic areas, a diverse trail system, and the rustic visitor center, the Palm House. Inside the historic building are trail maps as well as unique displays of the natural and historic features of the area. 

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The palm encountered in the oases within the Preserve is the California fan palm, or Washingtonia filifera. It is the only indigenous palm in California. The Washingtonia filifera has a very thick trunk and grows slowly to about 45 feet. Dead leaves hang vertically and form what is called a skirt around the trunk providing a place for various critters to live. Inflorescences, or fruit stalks, extend beyond the leaves and bear masses of tiny white to cream colored flowers. During the fall months, large clusters of small hard fruit hang from the tree. The palms may live 150 to 200 years.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No one knew just how significant a 6-inch lizard would be to conservation in Coachella Valley. In 1980 a lizard small enough to fit in the palm of your hand brought the $19 billion Coachella Valley construction boom to a screeching halt. When the lizard was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all development was jeopardized because it might illegally destroy habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A six-year conflict ensued as environmentalists battled developers over the fragile desert habitat. Finally, the Nature Conservancy was called in to resolve the bitter stalemate and the result was a remarkable model of cooperation through which endangered species and economic development could co-exist.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Conservancy proposed creating a nearly 14,000-acre preserve that would provide permanent protection for the little reptile and other desert species, while allowing developers to build elsewhere in the valley. It was a great experiment in cooperation that produced astonishing results. The creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve proved that through consensus, economic development, and species protection can indeed be compatible. 

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From easy to moderately difficult, from flat terrain to steep grades, hikes of all varieties are available. There are also several designated equestrian trails, but there are no bike or dog-friendly trails. One hike that is a sure bet for all levels, is through varying desert terrain to the McCallum Grove, about a mile from the Palm House visitor’s center. There are about a dozen isolated palm groves within the preserve, the largest being McCallum Grove.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s more water here than anywhere else in the preserve and the overflow allows a large and diverse community to thrive, including tiny freshwater crayfish called red swamp crayfish, desert pupfish, and the occasional mallard duck making a brief stopover during its annual migration.

After leaving McCallum Grove keep hiking west on marked trails out to “moon country”. You will come to an overlook that provides you with great views of the entire area. From there you can return to the visitor’s center or continue via the 4.2-mile Moon Country Trail Loop, or the more advanced Moon Country Canyon Extension which adds an additional 1.63 miles roundtrip.

Other delightful trails include Pushawalla Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Hidden Palms which are all somewhat more strenuous hikes.

Coachella Valley Preserve is a great way to spend a day with its fantastic hiking trails, and beautiful vistas, but best of all it’s free and also easy to find. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Coachella Valley Preserve, you won’t be disappointed.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Palm Springs take Interstate 10 East to the Ramon Road exit. Turn left and follow Ramon Road and make a left turn on Thousand Palms Road. The entrance to the visitors center is located about two miles on the left.

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.

—Edward Abbey

Oft-Overlooked National Parks to Escape the Crowds

They might not be as famous as Great Smoky Mountains or the Grand Canyon but these five often overlooked parks are perfect for experiencing the great outdoors

As humans, we crave nature. Nature has been proven to be “deeply powerful and healing for our minds, bodies, and souls.” In fact, research from Harvard Medical School has found that mood disorders can be alleviated by spending more time outdoors. Nature also helps with pain and post-operative recovery, calms ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), and decreases the risk for certain health problems. Despite all the benefits that spending time in nature boasts, people are spending less time outside than ever before.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A study conducted by The Nature of Americans National Report found that over half of adults reported spending five hours or less in nature each week. Parents of children ages 8 through 12 said that their children spent three times as much time using technology than they did playing outside. In comparison, there were 1 billion fewer outdoor excursions such as hikes and climbs, in 2018 than in 2008.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prior to the pandemic, the reasons why people spent so much more time indoors ranged from work to technology to a cost of entry. However, with so many people now spending the majority of their time at home, this is the perfect time to explore nature.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks are timeless and fun because the parks have been preserved and kept to their natural states as much as possible. There are 62 national parks in the United States across 29 states and two territories. The possibilities of being one or more national parks in your state or nearby are high.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They are also very affordable. Usually, the average entrance ticket to a national park is $30 per vehicle while the annual pass is only $80. The annual pass covers entrance fees to all 419 units within the National Park Service although only 109 charge an entrance fee.

Following are five often-overlooked national parks where you can escape the crowds.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The active but sleeping volcano is the high point of a lively wilderness environment. Across 160,000 acres, elevations range from 5,300 to over 10,000 feet creating a diverse landscape decorated by jagged mountain peaks, alpine lakes, forests, meadows, streams, waterfalls, and of course, volcanoes. There are hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, steam vents, and other geothermal features in the area as well from where bubbling activity still appears, reminding us of the region’s stormy past.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swampy land may not be the first place on your list to roam but Congaree National Park is beautiful in its own way. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. It is estimated that 70 to 95 percent of bottomland hardwood forests were destroyed from the start of European settlement to the present. Congaree is the last of the hardwood forests that once stretched across the eastern US. The park has one of the highest concentrations of champion trees in the world. Champion trees are the largest trees of its specific specimen and Congaree holds 15 of them.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this preserve comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transformed into colorful slabs of stone. A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, the park offers plenty to do. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create a 387-mile outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Some of the natural wonders created by Mother Nature are just a road trip away, so take the time this autumn to enjoy the great outdoors. National parks are an integral element of America. They offer rich histories, a wide selection of different environments, and a much-needed breath of fresh air. National parks will help you get in touch with your wild side, and who knows? It might just teach you a thing or two about the healing powers of the natural world, too.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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

Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

Parks and gardens are ideal destinations for picnics, enjoying the outdoors, and simply taking time to relax and enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

From an ancient forest and coastal wetlands to a botanical garden and desert oasis, here are eight of our favorite parks and gardens for enjoying nature.

Frances Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frances Beider Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina

Feel the beauty and serenity of this ancient forest. Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, this 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary offers a beauty unsurpassed in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Audubon’s Beidler is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem. Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. Paddle the flowing blackwater under towering 1,000-year-old cypress trees. Wildlife is plentiful and varied.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas

Lady Bird Johnson was the First Lady who championed the planting of wildflowers along Texas highways. Her passion was not only for wildflowers but native plants of all kinds. So it’s fitting that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, natural history museum, aquarium, and botanical garden all in one place. Founded in 1952, 85 percent of the Desert Museum is outdoors and primarily a walking experience. Located just west of Tucson, it features 2 miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. The Desert Museum’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, Gila monster, and mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). This highly acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves all the accolades that it receives.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

You’ll never look at cacti the same way again after visiting the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. In this environment, every plant represents stunning beauty. Five marked trails, such as the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, capitalize on views (whether of mountains or flowers) and fragrances. Learn how native ancestors and current ethnic groups survived in the desert climate by traveling along the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail which documents Hispanic, Tohono O’odham, and Western Apache people’s connection to plants. The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park in central Phoenix.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, tucked into the foothills of Picketpost Mountain near Superior is a state park like no other. The Arboretum is home to hundreds of species of desert loving plants from around Arizona and other parts of the world. This venerable “Arizona oasis” has nearly three miles of paths and trails winding through colorful gardens, woodlands, and native riparian habitat. Founded in 1924 by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden and offers over 323 acres to explore.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

What’s in a Name? Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary or Great Swamp Sanctuary

Take a break from I-95 and walk on the wild side

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. The sanctuary contains a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History, culture, recreation, and educational opportunities are abundant. The 600-acre sanctuary features a “braided creek” swamp which divides into an interlocking or tangled network of several small branching and reuniting creeks resembling a braid. The 3.5-mile loop is paved and well maintained.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most historically significant path here follows the Colonial-era Charleston-to-Savannah Stagecoach Road still bearing the cypress remnants of long-fallen bridges. Waltersboro was the southernmost spot where this wagon road was built likely since a more southern route would be far too swampy. The former road still bears the remains of cypress built and long-fallen bridges.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perpendicular canals with tannic water had been carved decades or more before to drain the swamp and levees could have provided narrow-gauge access for loggers to remove the cypress. A few old specimens have hollows in their trunks or are double-trunked.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s in a name? Much, it seems. Names give a place meaning. So it was, on our trip through the Lowcountry in December 2012 we visited the 600-acre Great Swamp Sanctuary at Walterboro. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the Great Swamp Sanctuary charmed us.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the ACE Basin—for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers—this part of South Carolina is where floodplains merge feeding the estuaries of the Lowcountry. In fact, it’s from this very swamp where the Ashepoo River rises.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife is abundant with native populations of wild turkey, deer, raccoons, beaver, otter, mink, opossum, squirrels, fox, and wildcats. More than 80 species of birds have been observed here. The park’s four-mile network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and nature trails provide visitors vantage points for observing the diversity of wildlife inhabiting the black water bottomland.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now here’s the twist. It seems that the folks in Walterboro having built such a beautiful showcase of this natural feature decided a few years back that it wasn’t a good thing to call it what it is—a swamp—and renamed the sanctuary to the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary. Their rationale? In part, “The word ‘Swamp’ has negative connotations, especially to our more urban friends.”

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well, folks, that’s not your market for nature-based tourism. We love swamps (especially ones with boardwalks) and our fellow nature-lovers do too.

Embrace your heritage! You have a lovely swamp here with a rich history. Sure, it will be wet part of the year and there’s certain to be mosquitoes, but a swamp by any other name is still a swamp. And if it weren’t for that name (Great Swamp Sanctuary), we wouldn’t have stopped to discover the good work the city has done in preserving this land and making it accessible for residents and visitors alike.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From I-95, take Exit 53 and head into Walterboro. The first entrance is located to the left at the corner of S. Jefferies & Ivanhoe Roads. There is also parking at 399 Detreville Street and Washington Street.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bikes and dogs on leashes are welcome on the pathways of the sanctuary, so load up the family and make your way to this nature-based tourism gem that Trip Advisor gives 4.5 stars.

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dubbed the “Front Porch of the Lowcountry,” Walterboro offers a lot to enjoy, just down the road. Enjoy a day trip to Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve. At the end of the day return to your home base at New Green Acres RV Park conveniently located at I-95, Exit 53 (Waterboro exit).

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson dives into the healing powers of the wilderness. “In the presence of nature,” he wrote, “a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spending time outdoors has been linked to increased brain function, amplified vitamin D intake, reduced stress, and more. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outside. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family? Check out this list of fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the Trails

If you already take a walk or go for a run each day, getting back to nature can be as simple as changing your location. Rather than hitting the treadmill, take your walk or run to a local park. You can hit a paved path through the park or opt for a hiking trail for an even greater challenge.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

Birding is a great way to keep a healthy outlook—physically and mentally—and get outdoors with some level of exercise. Birding activity often includes walking, but it can easily include biking, canoeing or kayaking, hiking or backpacking—it’s up to you. Birding may be the secondary focus of such exercise outings or it may be your primary interest while you know you will get some exercise in the process. A little sunshine and fresh air and interesting avian action will make any day better.

Canoeing at Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exercise in Green Space

Trees produce phytoncides which help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost immunity. The microbes in forest soil have been found to reduce depression and may contribute to the health of our microbiome. A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month while an afternoon walk somewhere green means better sleep at night.

Hiking at Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a Hike

There are a lot of places where you can hike—national and state parks, trails and footpaths, nature preserves. Being out in nature, you’ll enjoy different types of flora and fauna. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos

Taking photos outside requires a focus on nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or animals to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit for photography since the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching shapes and patterns. You can also visit a nature preserve and looking for photo opportunities with animals or plant life. Simply look for scenes that you find interesting including colorful leaves on the ground, spring flowers, or a stunning sunrise or sunset.

Camping at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentuky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Camping is not just a weekend escape or a less expensive holiday. Camping comes with many health benefits. In addition to physical exercise, it is also great for your mental health and social wellbeing. There are numerous options when it comes to camping such as a tent, camper, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, or a motorhome—all of which promote a healthy lifestyle.  

Photographing a green jay in South Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby

Hiking, trail running, camping, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting, consider mountain biking. Before you hit the trails on two-wheels, learn more about this exciting sport and the gear that you’ll need to stay safe.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Bathing

Ok, so this one is a little esoteric, but bear with me here. Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Sequoia National Park, California

The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature Today

Get outside today! Any of these outdoor activities can be a great way to spend quality time with friends and family while helping to inspire healthy, active habits.

Worth Pondering…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

—John Muir

It’s Clearer than Ever That We Need our Parks and Natural Areas

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

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.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Francis Beider Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein