Leave No Trace 7 Principles

Before you head into the great outdoors, embrace the practices highlighted below

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of how to properly behave and act while in nature. Whether you’re hiking, camping, kayaking, wildlife viewing, photographing, or anything else, the 7 Principles apply to pretty much all outdoor recreation.

Every individual principle tackles a specific subject, offering in-depth information to limit the impact of your activity.

I personally live by these Principles and I encourage everyone who visits state parks, national parks, county and regional parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, or other protected areas to adhere to them. They greatly help to ensure that wild (and less wild) landscapes will be there for the enjoyment of future generations, too.

Observing wildlife at Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land. Poor planning often results in unhappy hikers and campers and damage to natural and cultural resources.

Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who because of poor planning and unexpected conditions degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.

The basics:

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use
  • Visit in small groups; split larger parties into smaller groups

More information about planning and preparation

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

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

The goal of traveling outdoors is to move through natural areas while avoiding damage to the land or waterways. Understanding how travel causes impacts is necessary to accomplish this goal.

Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails.

The basics:

  • Durable surfaces include established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and dry grasses or snow
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams
  • Good campsites are found, not made; altering a site is not necessary
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites

More information about traveling and camping on durable surfaces

Keeping a clean campsite while camping at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Dispose of waste properly

The waste humans create while enjoying outdoor spaces can have severe impacts if not disposed of properly. It is crucial to anticipate the types of waste you will need to dispose of and know the proper techniques for disposing of each type of waste in the area you are visiting. Leave No Trace encourages outdoor enthusiasts to consider the impacts they leave behind which will undoubtedly affect other people, water, and wildlife.

Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition.

For other waste, pack it in, pack it out is a familiar mantra to seasoned wildland visitors. Any user of recreation lands has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash and garbage.

The basics:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Burning trash is never recommended.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Bury toilet paper deep in a cathole or pack the toilet paper out along with hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter dishwater.

More information about proper waste disposal

Leave petrified wood for others to enjoy (Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Leave what you find

Leave areas as you find them. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs, or pine cones replace these items before leaving.

Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at them with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks—thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable.

Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In national parks and many other protected places, it is illegal to remove natural objects.

The basics:

  • Preserve the past: Observe cultural or historic structures and artifacts but do not touch them
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches

More information about leaving objects and living things as you find them

Use firepits carefully © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Minimize campfire impacts

Fires vs. Stoves: The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper.

Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of lightweight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire for cooking.

Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, and flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition—and they Leave No Trace.

The basics:

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts on the environment; use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light
  • Use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires where fires are permitted
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, and then scatter cool ashes

More information about minimizing campfire impacts

Observe wildlife from a distance (pronghorns at Custer State Park, South Dakota) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Respect wildlife

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a better look. Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee.

Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide it into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed, or force animals to flee. (One exception is in black bear or grizzly bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears.) Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up wild animals.

The basics:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance; do not follow or approach them
  • Never feed animals; feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter

More information about respecting wildlife

Yield to others on the trail (Catalina State Park (Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Be considerate of other visitors

One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward others. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and damaged surroundings detract from the natural appeal of the outdoors. Being considerate of others ensures everyone can enjoy nature no matter how they interact with it.

The basics:

  • Respect others and protect the quality of their experience
  • Be courteous; yield to other users on the trail
  • Greet riders and ask which side of the trail to move to when encountering pack stock
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and others
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail; avoid loud voices and noises

More information about sharing nature with other visitors

Worth Pondering…

Please leave only your footprints.

What NOT TO DO in National Parks

What are 10 things you really should NOT DO in a National Park? Here are the rules and regulations that protect wildlife, plants, and visitors.

National Parks are a treasured part of the American landscape offering visitors the chance to explore some of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural environments. It’s no wonder that millions of people flock to these parks every year. 

However, as with any public space, there are rules and regulations in place to protect the park’s natural resources and ensure the safety of visitors.

Whether you’re a seasoned park-goer or planning your first visit, it’s important to be aware of these rules to help preserve these amazing spaces for future generations. 

The following national park rules and regulations are in place for everyone’s safety. That includes people, plants, and wildlife. They should be respected and not bent for your convenience. The importance of these parks is more significant than you and me.

Bighorn sheep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do NOT feed the wildlife

The first item on the list is NOT feeding the wildlife. Feeding a cute little chipmunk some of your lunch can be tempting. However, human food can make wild animals extraordinarily ill or even kill them. 

In addition, feeding wild creatures can endanger humans and themselves. Wild animals may hurt a human to get their food if they are used to getting fed. 

In addition, they may be braver to approaching humans and inadvertently get hurt. Most animals are skittish for a reason. That hyper-awareness protects against predators.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Do NOT interact with wildlife

I know this goes along the same lines as not feeding wildlife. But you should NOT interact with wildlife at all. 

Two women were seriously injured in separate bison attacks while visiting national parks in just a few days. At Theodore Roosevelt National in western North Dakota, a woman suffered injuries to her stomach area and foot when a bison charged at her. Then, a bison gored a woman in Wyoming. Both were sent to hospitals for treatment.

When it comes to encounters with wild animals, park officials have issued timeworn advice: give them space. Visitors should stay at least 25 yards away from large animals which include bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes, the park said; they should stay more than 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Mid-July to mid-August is mating season, resulting in aggressive and unpredictable bison.

In June 2022, a bull bison gored a 34-year-old man after he moved “too close,” park officials said. Weeks earlier, a bison had flung a 25-year-old woman 10 feet into the air after she came within 10 feet of the animal. In 2019, a 9-year-old girl was sent airborne from a bison’s head butt which was captured on video and shared on social media. The girl was part of a group that stood within 5 to 10 feet of the bison for at least 20 minutes, officials said.

Pronghorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several reasons why interacting with wildlife is not recommended:

  • Safety: Wild animals are unpredictable and can become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. Approaching or touching a wild animal can endanger you and the animal.
  • Disease: Wildlife can carry diseases that can harm humans such as rabies, Lyme disease, and hantavirus. Interacting with wild animals can increase your risk of exposure to these diseases.
  • Disruption of natural behavior: Interacting with wildlife can disrupt their natural behavior and cause them to become dependent on humans for food or other resources. This can lead to problems for animals and humans as it can cause animals to become aggressive or reliant on human handouts.
  • Protection of the environment: Many wildlife species are protected by law and interacting with them can be illegal. Additionally, disturbing or harming wildlife can harm the environment and the ecosystem as a whole.

Overall, respecting the natural boundaries between humans and wildlife is essential to ensure their safety and well-being. If you encounter wild animals, it’s best to observe them from a safe distance and avoid any actions that could harm or disturb them is best.

Hiking the trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. You should NOT veer off trails

Staying on trails when hiking or exploring natural areas is essential for several reasons:

  • Safety: Trails are typically designed and maintained to be safe for visitors. Staying on the trail can avoid hazards such as unstable terrain, steep drop-offs, or poisonous plants.
  • Preservation of natural areas: Trails direct human traffic to minimize environmental impact. By staying on the trail, you can help prevent damage to fragile ecosystems and minimize disturbance to wildlife habitats.
  • Navigation: Trails can serve as a guide and help visitors navigate through unfamiliar terrain. You can avoid getting lost or wandering into unsafe or restricted areas by staying on the trail.
  • Respect for private property: Trails are often established with permission from private landowners or government agencies. You can respect their property and avoid legal or ethical issues by staying on the trail.

Stay on designated paths to help protect yourself and the natural areas you visit.

Animals in national parks are protected by law © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. You CANNOT hunt or trap

Hunting and trapping are generally prohibited in national parks. National parks are designated as protected areas to preserve and protect natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife populations. Hunting and trapping can disrupt these ecosystems and wildlife populations and are, therefore, not permitted in most national parks.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some national parks allow limited hunting for specific species to manage their populations or control invasive species. Additionally, some national parks allow certain traditional or ceremonial hunting types by indigenous communities with historical ties to the area.

It’s important to note that national park regulations can vary by location and season. If you plan to visit a national park and have questions about hunting or trapping, check with park officials or consult the park’s website for specific rules and regulations.

Be aware of fire safety when camping in national park and elsewhere © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. NO fires in an ubdesignated area or during a fire ban

Wildfires are a significant threat to national parks. Not only can they cause years of devastation to parks but they can kill many humans and animals in their wake. 

Many national parks allow fires in designated fire pits or grills. However, it’s essential to check with park officials or consult the park’s website to determine if fires are permitted in the area where you plan to visit. Follow any guidelines or restrictions that are in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the park.

If a fire ban exists, the fire danger is too high to light a fire. During fire bans, you are NOT allowed to have a fire, even in designated areas. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. NO drone flying

The NPS banned drone flying in national parks in 2014 according to Policy Memorandum 14–05. This policy applies to any “unmanned aircraft” that drones are classified as.

To fly a drone in a national park, you must obtain a Special Use Permit but these aren’t given out easily. These permits are only for special use cases such as search and rescue, research, and fire safety.

If you fly a drone without a permit, NPS rangers have the authority to confiscate your gear, fine you, and even put you in jail. The maximum penalty is 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

NPS has these strict guidelines for a reason, as explained in an article on their website:

“…their use has resulted in noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, park visitor safety concerns, and one documented incident in which park wildlife were harassed. Small drones have crashed in geysers in Yellowstone National Park, attempted to land on the features of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, been lost over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and been stopped from flying in Prohibited Airspace over the Mall in Washington DC.“

Don’t pick the wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Can you pick wildflowers at a national park?

This one is a big NO! Not only are you not allowed to pick flowers or other plants in national parks but it is also illegal under federal law. That is because the NPS has regulations to protect national park areas’ natural beauty and resources of national park areas. 

The Plant Protection Act, the federal law governing the protection of plants, prohibits the unauthorized removal or destruction of plants from federal lands including national parks.

Visitors to national parks are encouraged to enjoy the beauty of the natural environment without disturbing it. Taking photographs or simply admiring the wildflowers in their natural habitat is a great way to appreciate these areas’ beauty while protecting them for future generations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Do NOT make excessive noise

You should not make excessive noise when visiting a national park. Playing music or speaking louder than a normal speaking tone can disrupt wildlife.

As I’ve already covered, we should disrupt wildlife as little as possible during visits. Loud noises can scare animals and cause them to act differently than they normally would. By disrupting their behavior you can impact their feeding, mating, and other vital habits.

Plus, excessive noise interferes with other visitors’ enjoyment. So, do not yell, scream, or play music for all to hear. It’s not fair to the wildlife or your fellow visitors.

BY THE WAY, if your solution to not playing music for all to hear is to wear headphones, be mindful of the volume level. For your safety, you need to still be able to hear your surroundings including nearby animal noises and shouts of warnings.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. DO NOT leave painted rocks

There is a well-meaning trend where people paint rocks and leave them for others to find. They often paint a happy design or write encouraging words earning them the name kindness rocks.

This trend spawned from a national campaign called The Kindness Rocks Project. It’s meant to inject a little joy or inspire those who find them. And it certainly does in non-public, landscaped settings.

However, as part of the Leave No Trace policy, you should never leave painted rocks in a national park. Nor should you remove any rocks from the national park to paint later!

Even if you use environmentally safe paint on the rocks, the colors and designs can disrupt an ecosystem. Birds and fish in particular can be thrown off by foreign objects disrupting their eating, nesting, and mating behavior.

The painted rocks also pose a serious risk to hikers. People have mistaken painted rocks for trail markers causing them to unwittingly go off trail. And as we learned in Gone Without a Trace: Mysterious Disappearances in National Parks, hikers in national parks go missing more often than you might think.

Be careful and obey all warning signs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. DO NOT ignore warning signs

I know this seems obvious but most incidents, injuries, and fatalities in national parks occur because people ignore the warning signs. As we saw in the above article signs are there for good reason.

The same goes for wandering off the trails and boardwalks. Not to mention touching things you’re warned against! Yet SO MANY PEOPLE ignore these warnings and pay the consequence.

The latest such story is a woman who actually dipped her hand into a steaming hot spring at Yellowstone and then jumped back, yelling, “It’s hot!” To do this, the woman and a man beside her chose to get off the boardwalk, walk to the edge of the hot spring, kneel, and place her hand in it. The whole thing was recorded by onlookers and spread over social media.

Yellowstone has rules prohibiting people from touching, swimming, or soaking in the hot springs because they are so hot they have KILLED people. The spring where this woman did this, Silex Spring, has an average temperature of 174.7 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Last year it was reported that a shoe with a partly disintegrated human foot was found in a hot spring. We’re not sure if the foot was ever identified.

The point is, do NOT think the warning signs don’t apply to you. They are there to keep you, other visitors, and the ecosystem safe.

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your next RV trip to a national park:

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Doctors can now prescribe access to nature with the Parks Canada Discovery Pass to patients through the national nature prescription program

Imagine going to your doctor and, instead of a prescription for some named or generic pharmaceutical, you instead receive a prescription for a 30-minute walk in nature. This is not actually that far-fetched. Put down the Prozac and pick up your walking shoes.

Enjoying nature at Devonian Gardens Botanical Park near Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paracelsus, the 16th-century German-Swiss physician, wrote: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” He could not have imagined the advent of the Smartphone, nor a 24/7, digitally enhanced, Instagram-able world.

Enjoying nature in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much has been written about the evils (and glories) of technology but the resulting dissociation from our natural surroundings leaves us emotionally and physically worse off. We are bereft of nature. Our bodies—and our minds—need nature. And there is hard science to prove it.

In fact, there is enough science about the health benefits of nature to get the attention of the medical profession. Nature as medicine. Just don’t tell Big Pharma.

Enjoying nature in Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canada is famous for its pristine waterways, soaring snowcaps, and beautiful forests from coast to coast to coast. Thanks to a new partnering agreement, health care professionals in four Canadian provinces can now prescribe time in the national park system to boost people’s mental and physical health.

Related Article: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Parks Canada is collaborating with a program called Park Prescriptions (PaRx). Doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals who register with the program can prescribe nature—and even a Parks Canada Discovery Pass—to their patients.

Enjoying nature at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature,” Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, said in a written statement.

“This exciting collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for how we treat mental and physical health challenges and couldn’t come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives.”

Enjoying nature at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx is an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation, driven by health-care professionals who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature. Featuring practical resources like quick tips and patient handouts, its goal is to make prescribing time in nature simple, fun, and effective.

Each prescriber who registers with PaRx will receive a nature prescription file customized with a unique provider code and instructions for how to prescribe and log nature prescriptions.

Enjoying nature at Banff National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parks Prescriptions began as a grassroots movement in the United States over a decade ago. We are proud to be Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.

Related Article: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Parks Canada has provided 100 adult Discovery passes this year and will reassess this number in future years. An annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass covers admission to more than 80 destinations for 12 months. The pass sells for $72.25 and provides unlimited access to national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites for 12 months. The park system is already free for anyone 17 and under.

Enjoying nature at Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The BC Parks Foundation is the official charitable partner of BC Parks and the provincial park system. It launched PaRx—Canada’s first national nature prescription program—in November 2020 in British Columbia. In 2021, it expanded the program to Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Enjoying nature at Brae Island Regional Park near Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association, it has garnered widespread enthusiasm across the country with over 1,000 prescribers registered. Doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals are able to add Parks Canada Discovery Passes to the doses of nature they prescribe.

Enjoy nature at Sunshine Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Until now, the nature prescriptions revolved around working out what kind of nature time people should consider, and not something tangible like a park pass. For now, only people in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario are eligible for the Parks Canada passes but the PaRx hopes to expand to Quebec, Alberta, and New Brunswick soon and eventually roll out in every province and territory.

Enjoying nature in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2022 than being able to give the gift of nature to my patients,” said PaRx director Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician. “There’s a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety, and I’m excited to see those benefits increase through this new collaboration.”

Enjoying nature in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Participating prescribers who can prescribe a Parks Canada pass are asked to prioritize patients who live close to national parks, historic sites, or marine conservation areas, and who could benefit from it the most.

For years doctors have discussed the healing qualities of nature and in 2006 a group of doctors in Albuquerque, New Mexico launched Prescription Trails, the first nature-prescribing program. Other programs launched soon afterward, and in 2019, Betty Sun of the Institute at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy said there were 71 programs of this nature operating in 32 different U.S. states.

Enjoying nature at Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature prescriptions were one of the top eight global wellness trends in 2019 and are cropping up around the world. Countries such as the United Kingdom are now investing in park prescription pilots to help tackle mental and physical health problems and the resulting strain on their health care systems and economies.

Related Article: Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Enjoying nature at Banff National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx was recently recognized by the World Health Organization in its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health where it was featured as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health—one of only two case studies cited from North America.

Enjoying nature at Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Research shows that children and adults who are more connected to nature are not only more likely to work to conserve it but also engage in other pro-environmental behaviors,” said Lem. “I like to think that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re making the planet healthier, too.”

Enjoying nature along the Fraser River in Hope, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx has been endorsed by the BC Family Doctors, Saskatchewan Medical Association, Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba and Ontario College of Family Physicians. It offers practical, evidence-based online resources like quick prescribing tips and printable fact sheets, plus a green-time target of “two hours per week, 20+ minutes each time.”

Related Article: Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

As Canada grapples with the ongoing pandemic, it’s a critical time for health care professionals to promote the mental and physical health benefits of heading outdoors.

Enjoying nature near Valemont, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Our goal is to make sure that people who need it can get out easily and affordably to benefit from the healing power of nature,” said BC Parks Foundation CEO Andy Day. “So far, through the generosity of our donors and partners, we have provided free trips and nature therapy sessions during the pandemic to health care workers, seniors, refugees, and vulnerable youth. It’s been incredibly inspiring to see the impact nature has on people.”

Worth Pondering…

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

—E. O. Wilson

Experience the Journey Within

How the forest can change your life

Who could have imagined that being confined to our homes would bring so many people closer to nature?

As we wrap up the first month of 2022, let’s remind ourselves to hit the “reset” button. America offers RV travelers the opportunity to do just that and tap into true joy and fully relax and reset. Improving your health and well-being can be as simple as getting outdoors to enjoy parks and forests and trails. The health benefits of outdoor recreation inspire healthy, active lifestyles, and a connection with nature.

Enjoying nature at Lackawanna State Park (Pennsylvania) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Humans are custom-designed for nature awareness. Before there were computers, smartphones, and televisions, most of our time was spent outside in the fresh air, tuning in with birds, plants, trees, and all the aspects of nature.

This deep level of knowledge and understanding about edible plants or how to move quietly in the forest and get closer to wildlife was developed out of a need for survival.

Enjoying nature at Roosevelt State Park (Mississippi) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But beyond the surface appearance of a basic need to find food, shelter, and navigate without getting lost, using our sensory awareness in nature also brings significant benefits to our health and wellness.

Related Article: Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Just check out some of these nature awareness quotes by famous people.

“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according to what others think, you will never be rich.”
—Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher (4 BC-AD 65)

Enjoying nature in Custer State Park (South Dakota) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

 “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even
spiritual satisfaction.”
—E.O. Wilson (1929-2021)

Enjoying nature at the Coachella Valley Preserve (California) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
—John Muir (1838-1914)

Enjoying nature on the Creole Nature Trail (Louisiana) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a reason why history’s greatest philosophers, scientists, and leaders tend to have close relationships with nature!

Yet today things are quite different.

Related Article: Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

Most people today have barely any awareness of the natural world.

Enjoying nature at Bernheim Forest (Kentucky) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve become preoccupied with technology, video games, and how to fit into an expanding world. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities, they simply don’t stimulate the human brain in the same way that nature does.

That is why so many people around the world are now coming back to the wilderness and intentionally rebuilding practices of nature awareness into their daily life.

Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Enchanted Rock (Texas) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 have received the designation.

Francis Beider Forest (South Carolina) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.

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

With national and state parks, millions of acres of national and state forest, and thousands of miles of trails, America offers a lot of opportunity and free access to the outdoors with numerous options for outdoor recreation including hiking, biking, birding, photography, canoeing, rafting, skiing, and simply taking a walk in the woods. Activities such as these have proven major benefits for human health and wellness due to their ability to clear the mind, engage our senses, and get our bodies moving.

Related Article: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Birding (Little blue heron) at Corkscrew Sanctuary (Florida) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spending time in the outdoors is something we need at any age. Spending time in nature is inherently calming. The patience that birding requires only serves to enhance this meditative effect. As birders learn to appreciate nature’s slower pace, it inspires reflection, relaxation, and perspective. The exercise benefits that come from walking outdoors also contribute to increased happiness and energy levels.

Birding (Sandhill cranes) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a fun hobby you can do anywhere, anytime, without spending much cash upfront? You can’t go wrong with birding, commonly known as bird watching.

Birding (Black skimmer) at South Padre Island Birding Center (Texas) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can do it purely for fun or keep a life list—a birding term for the running list that bird enthusiasts keep of all the different species of birds they see. Whatever your goal, you’ll be rewarded by the sights and sounds of beautiful and interesting feathered creatures.

Birding (Great kiskadee) at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the 47 million birders in the United States, there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. 

Related Article: Getting Back to Nature: How Forest Bathing Can Make Us Feel Better

Anyone who spends time birdwatching knows intuitively why they keep going back: It just feels good. Being in nature—pausing in it, sitting with it, discovering its wonders—brings a sense of calm and renewal. 

Worth Pondering…

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

National Parks inspire life-changing love of nature by taking people out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary

Teddy Roosevelt was on to something. It’s been 149 years since the former president set aside 3,500 acres in Montana and Wyoming for Yellowstone National Park. Now, there are 6,000 similar parks around the world and more than 400 national parks and monuments spread across all 50 U.S. states. The first 10 U.S. national parks were all in the West, and include Yellowstone (1872), Sequoia (1890), Yosemite (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), Mesa Verde (1906), Glacier (1910), Rocky Mountain (1915), and Haleakala (1916).

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park service manages 63 national parks including iconic parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains. These spectacular parks are some of the most famous destinations in the U.S. They’re iconic and beautiful, and deserving of their stellar reputations.

But there are 423 parks, monuments, preserves, reserves, seashores, recreation areas, and other units under the protection of the National Park Service.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From golden sand dunes to hardwood forests, from historic sites and iconic monuments to the winding trails that crisscross the U.S. Encompassing mangrove forests, massive glaciers, active volcanoes, and towering mountains, these protected areas provide visitors with a firsthand look at the unique beauty of the untouched American wild.

Related: How National Parks Saved Us?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famously called “America’s best idea” by historian Wallace Stegner, the national park system offers families a wonderfully affordable way to visit these cherished and beautiful landscapes, view wildlife in their natural habitat, learn about geological and cultural history, and appreciate the great outdoors. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many parks have interpretive exhibits and dioramas in the Visitor Center, and often movie theaters. They’re always well worth the time, and you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the park.

The park rangers and volunteers are a huge resource as well. Chatting with one of the staff will often yield insider knowledge about the best places to visit at that time. If you have a specialized interest such as birding, photography, hiking, or history, let the staff know and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most parks have self-guided tours and hiking trails. Hike as much as you can. There are often hidden treasures of the park that can only be discovered on foot.

Related: These National Parks are ALWAYS FREE

The following National Park Service sites are just a sample of the hundreds of other worthwhile destinations in America.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amphitheater of multi-hued rock at Utah’s Cedar Breaks National Monument is shaped like a massive coliseum. Filled with hoodoos, spires, fins, arches, and columns, these intricately shaped sculptures were formed by wind, rain, ice, and streams. More than 2,000 feet deep and 3 miles across, the huge bowl is sculpted along the steep west-facing side of the 10,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin.

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

Great Smoky Mountain National Park has one of the world’s best-preserved deciduous forests, the oldest mountains in the United States, and more annual visitors than any other national park in the country. The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) bisects the park, stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina with incredible views. Clingmans Dome is just past the “gap,” commonly referred to as “pass” in other parts of the country.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia’s largest barrier island, is full of untouched maritime forests, beaches, and marshes. Visitors can find solitude while camping under the stars in the 9,800 acres of a designated wilderness area or can see one of the many historic sites and structures such as Dungeness (an abandoned mansion that was originally built as a hunting lodge in 1736). Access to the island is by ferry out of St. Marys.

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway lazily meanders through the Appalachian Highlands in Virginia and the Blue Mountains of North Carolina. Some of the parkway’s most spectacular stretches can be found in North Carolina, south of Asheville.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most unusual places in California, yet is relatively little visited. Lassen is spectacular. It’s the only place you can see several volcanoes that all have a different type of cone. Lassen is renowned for its volcanic past and its massive eruptions from 1914 through ’18, and as a destination for its lava-plug-dome volcanic peak, geothermal areas, great day hikes, and wilderness, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no symbol more emblematic of the American Southwest than the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)—standing tall with arms reaching out from the trunk toward the sky. And if you want to spend the day with these goofy, prickly characters, Saguaro is one of the easiest national parks to visit. It’s separated into two sections, each of which can be easily tackled in a day: East (also called the Rincon Mountain District) and West (aka the Tucson Mountain District). In between are I-10 and the city of Tucson so getting here by the interstate is pretty straightforward.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in southern West Virginia, the New River Gorge National Park offers something for everyone. New River, estimated to be over 250 millions year old, is the second oldest waterway in the world after the Nile. Its meandering course through the Appalachian mountains hides many natural wonders that appeal to every type of outdoor enthusiast.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few National Parks boast the mythical and mystical quality of Joshua Tree. Massive boulder piles, bleached sand dunes, and Dr. Seussian yucca forests spread across hundreds of square miles of the desert are an otherworldly sight to behold. The good news for RVers is that the majority of campgrounds near the park are RV-friendly. The key is to call ahead to confirm any maximum length restrictions before you arrive. Like many National Parks in the Western United States, there are plenty of free dispersed camping options on BLM land nearby.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a perfect refuge in the midst of the Southeast: Congaree National Park, a 41-square-mile patch of old-growth forest. Congaree is the last stand of a forest ecosystem that was long ago cleared to supply timber and to make room for farmland and development.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the words “badlands” and “petrified” evoke harsh landscapes devoid of life, the Petrified Forest National Park is both beautiful and bountiful. Located about 110 miles east of Flagstaff,  the park’s badlands and petrified wood (the world’s largest concentration) are composed of bands of blue, white, and purple which come from quartz and manganese oxides. See fossilized trees and crystalized wood up close on the 0.75-mile Crystal Forest Trail or 3-mile Blue Forest Trail.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

Mindful hiking is the perfect way to explore how being present in nature can transform how you feel

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.

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

Walking in nature helps me destress, reprioritize, feel more energy, and boost my chances of living longer.

A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

Hiking Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that walking can lead to a longer life. And you don’t even need to aim for the magical (and completely arbitrary) 10,000 steps per day. The benefits of walking are relative: If you’re only getting about 2,000 steps per day now, getting to 4,000 will come along with some added benefits.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This new study found that people who took 7,000 steps per day had a 50 to 70 percent lower risk of dying from all causes during an 11-year follow-up, compared to those who took fewer steps.

Related: The Power of Mindfulness

Researchers found incremental benefits when people took more steps which ultimately began to taper off around 10,000.

Hiking Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They also found that speed didn’t matter. Step intensity, or the number of steps per minute, didn’t influence the team’s findings. In other words, a slow saunter could be just as beneficial as a quick walk. The key was the number of steps.

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

The researchers didn’t really examine how walking contributed to a longer life. That said, physical activity is linked to better cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, weight reduction, lower blood sugar, more efficient use of cholesterol, and better brain health. And all you really need is time and a pair of comfortable and supportive walking sneakers that fit well!

When I became aware of mindfulness practices in tandem with hiking, my time in nature took on new meaning.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness can be explained in a lot of different ways, but most simply, it’s the ability to be present and aware of the current moment. It’s bringing awareness to what you are directly experiencing through your senses.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Similar to mindfulness, many studies tie nature therapy, or ecotherapy, to increased awareness and decreased stress. Research has even tied nature to increasing the part of our nervous systems that helps our minds and bodies relax and calm down after being provoked. No wonder I fell in love with mindful hiking: Mindfulness and nature are two of the best strategies especially when combined—available at my fingertips—to relieve stress and re-focus.

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

So let’s get into how. Whether you’re a mindfulness beginner or an experienced pro, mindful hiking can be both a great entry point and a great way to take your mindfulness practice to the next level. 

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Set an intention. Mindful hiking is intentional beyond briefly noticing a leaf or an interesting rock as you hike. So, set your parameters before you start. Are you going to practice mindfulness for three 15-minute intervals? Are you going to start your practice from the beginning of the trailhead or after you get into your hiking rhythm? Make sure you have a plan so that you can be as focused as possible once you start.

Hiking Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When I walk—which I do almost every day, as basic sanity-maintenance, whether on the trails through the forest or looping the campground—I walk the same routes, walk along loops, loops I often retrace several times in a single walk. There is an appeal in such recursiveness as it sharpens my observation skills. But I walk to observe and think more clearly which means to walk with the ever-broadening scope of attention to reality.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I spend a lot of time on my computer, writing. So to boost blood circulation and keep fit, I walk the trails up and down and around. And I believe it behooves us old fogeys to make as many decisions as possible, no matter how tiny, to keep our brains in gear.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometimes to help me be intentional, I’ll include an affirmation to set the tone for my mindful hike. I might say to myself: “I don’t need to be anywhere else right now. I can take this time to focus and be in nature.” At first, this will feel a bit awkward, but you’re just reminding yourself of your purpose.

Remove distractions. Once you’re ready to start your mindful practice, try to remove unwanted distractions. This will help you to focus and be in the moment. 

Hiking Waterboro Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For example, if you have made it a goal to practice mindfulness for a certain amount of time on your hike, pick a point in the distance and practice mindfulness until you reach that tall tree, large boulder, or giant saguaro. If you’re a hiker that loves music, put the headphones away while you’re trying to be in the present. Being focused requires more energy than you think. Removing the distractions in your control can help you.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you begin, take a physical inventory of how you feel. Notice your body. What muscles are tight? Where are you feeling fatigued? Where are you feeling strong? Notice your mind. Are you feeling foggy? Are you focused on other things? Taking a physical inventory helps you see the impact of your mindful hike as you compare it to how you feel at the end of your practice. It can also help to take those things that try to tug at our focus, acknowledge them, and set them aside as we move into our mindful practice.

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

Take several deep breaths. Try breathing in for four counts, holding for two, and exhaling six. Do this as many times as you like. Your breathing will flood the body with oxygen which helps to ground you in the present and relax as you begin to focus on your senses.

Related: Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

Hiking Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you begin to deepen your mindfulness, your senses become the entry point to the next phase of your practice. Focus on one sense at a time. Notice what you can see. A leaf dancing in the breeze. A leftover snow patch from winter. The outline of a lake in the distance. Narrow your focus to one specific thing. Trace the outlines of the object with your eyes. Take your time. Next move to the details in the center. What lines do you see? What colors are you noticing? Think about all the details you observe.

Hiking Waterboro Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Softly take your attention from a specific object and move it to what you smell. Take a couple of deep inhalations and notice all you can with each. The wet soil from recent rain or mountain run-off. The scent of the deep forest. Notice how the smells change as you continue your walk down the trail or as you take several deep breaths. 

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slowly take your attention from what you smell and listen to what’s around you. First, focus in on sounds closest to you—a branch cracking close by or your steps on the trail. Next, extend your attention out farther. What do you hear in the distance—the low rumbling of a waterfall or a bird up high in a tree?

Related: Hiking Arizona

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

After you have trained your ears to be active and take in the surroundings, notice what you can feel. Focus on what muscle groups you’re using to hike. Notice how your feet feel in your hiking boots. Feel how the air brushes past the skin on your face as you move or how the breeze floats by as you’re still.

Hiking Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you meditate on your body, take a final scan of how you feel. Do you feel calmer? More focused? Is your body more relaxed as you have walked along the trail or rested in a still spot? Use this as a time to do a post-practice inventory.

Mindful hiking has become one of my favorite ways to destress. Unlike meditations where you sit and close your eyes, mindful hiking allows you to be out in nature and its healing powers. 

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For me, sometimes the motivation for walking in nature is to escape our fast-paced world but mindful hiking leads me to escape in a new way. I can escape from my stress, negative feelings, and restlessness while still remaining present in my body and in the present. Mindful hiking is an easy addition to any outing and though it may take some extra effort, I hope you enjoy feeling less stressed and more grounded as you practice.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

The Power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can improve both mental and physical health

Mindfulness is a key component of many meditative and contemplative practices and it can also be an illuminating approach to everyday life. To be mindful is to focus our awareness and attention on the experience of the present moment. We can be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions; the natural world and our immediate environment; the people around us; and other parts of our lives.

A huge body of research now shows that mindfulness can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It improves our focus, resilience, and memory, and it has a whole host of health benefits including increased immune function and powerful anti-aging properties.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

On the trail at Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices encourage us to slow down and notice what we can be directly aware of at any given moment. A recommended way to begin is to sit in a quiet place and notice the movement of our breathing. By bringing mindfulness to this one simple and flowing experience, we may be able to temporarily let go of our habitual thinking, daily narratives, and worries.

Along with formal meditation practices, we can be mindful in our everyday lives. Eating a meal, walking, driving, and other seemingly mundane tasks are all opportunities for mindfulness. The more we ground ourselves in the present, the more fully we can experience being alive.

Related: Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

Why is mindfulness so effective? In a world that’s hectic and fast-paced, it’s beneficial to stop and re-center by noticing what’s around you.

Hiking the lava fields, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I often find myself stuck in one of two places. I am either ruminating on a past—perhaps revising what I had seen and done and trails hiked on past snowbird travels before COVID. Or I am desperately concerned about and planning the future—what if I’m no longer able to drive my motorhome or what if someone I love gets really sick?

It’s easy to spend the majority of a day doing what’s been described as “rehashing the past” or “rehearsing the future.”

Related: Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

The biggest problem with rehashing or rehearsing is that those thoughts are often a source of stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness can become a powerful antidote. Spending time each day meditating and grounding ourselves in the present has been tied to less stress, fewer unwanted thoughts, heightening creativity, encouraging appreciation, and combating overall mental and emotional fatigue.

Along the byways of Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices have also been found to reduce stress, boost immune systems, and improve brain functions.

How could simply tuning into your thoughts and feelings lead to so many positive outcomes throughout the body? Researchers believe the benefits of mindfulness are related to its ability to dial down the body’s response to stress.

Chronic stress can impair the body’s immune system and make many other health problems worse. By lowering the stress response, mindfulness may have downstream effects throughout the body.

Because mindfulness is so helpful at easing negative and stressful feelings, it can contribute towards us living healthier, happier lives. It may even slow down the aging process because while stress has the side-effect of speeding up our biological clock, mindfulness can help to slow it down.

Related: Camping Benefits Mind and Body…Here Is How

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

In a study from Stanford University, a 90-minute walk in a natural area was shown to lower the risk of depression and one survey found that 65 percent of people who put away digital devices while on vacation enjoyed their way more (not surprising, right?). But where can you go to truly unplug? Turns out, that’s the easy part. I’ve got some ideas to get you started. Stay tuned for a follow-up article.

In the quotes below, practitioners discuss the essence of mindfulness and its myriad benefits.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
—Henry Miller, writer

Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness… It [is] the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought.
—Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk

Exploring Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
—Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist monk and author

Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are… It is called mindfulness.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher

24 Reasons to Stop Dreaming About It and Travel NOW

Stop dreaming about it and just do it. The time is NOW.

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t embark on your right now—but there are even more reasons why you should. You work hard for those vacation days to freely take a few weeks to yourself.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what it takes, traveling should be everything you hoped it would be and more. You’ve only got one life to live, so get in everything you deem worthwhile while it still seems like a good idea. And, taking a dream summer vacation is most certainly a good idea—and the time is NOW.

But back to that one specific vacation, you keep daydreaming about. The Grand Canyon, Historic Route 66, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rushmore! They’re all on our list.

We looked to travelers past and present to share their insight into why you should stop dreaming about it and travel NOW. Ahead, you’ll find 24 reasons why you should start (or finish!) planning that dream summer vacation.

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out There

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.

—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond (1697-1780)

Why We Travel

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

—St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin the Journey

If we wait for the moment when everything is ready, we shall never begin.

—Ivan Turgenec (1818-1883) Russian writer

Learn From History

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician, scientist

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smell the Roses

That delicate forest flower, With scented breath and look so like a smile, Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould, An emanation of the indwelling Life, A visible token of the upholding Love, That are the soul of this great universe.

—William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) American poet

Explore the World

Oh, the places you’ll go.

—Dr. Seuss

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect with Nature

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs (1837-1921) American naturalist and nature essayist

Explore Wild Outdoor Spaces

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American writer, critic, and naturalist

Roseate spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try Something New

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama (1935-)

Experience More

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Altshuler, American writer, speaker, and leadership trainer

Carriage tour in Historic Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reconnect with Wilderness

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…
—John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist and author

Love Nature

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) essayist, naturalist, and philosopher

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Expand Your Horizons

You lose sight of things…and when you travel, everything balances out.

—Daranna Gidel

Walk Amid Nature

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk in the Woods

To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) American poet

Learn to Go with the Flow

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

—Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936) English writer, poet, and philosopher

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drop the Itinerary

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English author

Learn Something New

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958) American historian

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn from Nature

The world is not to be put in order; the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.

—Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer

Enjoy the Journey

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Essayist, playwright, and poet

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make Memories

Take only memories leave only footprints.

—Chief Seattle (1786-1866) Suquamish chief

Find a Reason to Journal

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

—Moslih Eddin Saadi (1210-1291) Persian poet and writer

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

Just Enjoy the Journey

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

—Lao Tzu (601 BC-531 BC) ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

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

Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

The unique floodplain ecosystem in central South Carolina is home to some of the tallest trees on the East Coast

There’s a perfect refuge in the midst of the Southeast: Congaree National Park, a 41-square-mile patch of old-growth forest. Congaree is the last stand of a forest ecosystem that was long ago cleared to supply timber and to make room for farmland and development.

The vast majority of the original forest has been destroyed, something that occurred over several centuries. It wasn’t until the 1950s and ‘60s that local folks realized they had something special you couldn’t find anymore.

Today, Congaree is what’s left of a 30-to-50 million-acre forest that once stretched from Maryland to Florida and as far west as Missouri. The timber industry was active in the area until the 1970s when a coalition of conservation groups worked with South Carolina’s U.S. Senators to get a national monument designation for the park. It was expanded, designated as a national park in 2003, and later as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

The East Coast isn’t known for its uninterrupted wilderness. But when you start to consider the understated beauty of places like the Okefenokee Swamp—a shallow, 438,000-acre, peat-filled wetland—or the Everglades, or even the northern woods that cover much of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, the eastern wilderness concept makes sense.

Congaree National Park sits roughly in the middle of a giant triangle formed by three busy interstates connecting Columbia (the state capital), Sumter, and Santee. The farther we traveled from the asphalt of the city, the thinner traffic became. The state’s rural areas felt alive. But the pace seemed slower, too, as we drove along the mostly-empty roads.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other than a handful of signs here and there, you wouldn’t know there’s a national park nestled amid these hundreds of acres of old growth forest.

For a long time, not a lot of people did know. According to Park Service statistics, Congaree attracted fewer than 96,000 visitors annually 20 years ago. That number has crept up a bit—146,000 people found solace there in 2018—but it’s a trickle compared with the millions of people that visit the Grand Canyon National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains every year.

For some reason, people are not familiar with the park or even this part of the state. A lot of people who come to South Carolina want to go down to Charleston. The middle of the state is a lesser-known entity.

Those who do make it to Congaree National Park are in for a treat. The entry road winds toward the visitor center through a thick canopy of trees. More than 20 miles of trails and more than 10 miles of the Congaree River snake through the park. About 15,000 of its 27,000 acres are designated wilderness areas.

Some of the bald cypress trees have been here for centuries. The average canopy height is 130 feet and among the tallest trees are a 167-foot-tall loblolly pine, a 157-foot-tall sweetgum, a 154-foot-tall cherrybark oak, and a 135-foot-tall American elm. The forest floor is teeming with wildlife—everything from bobcats, coyotes, armadillos, and otters to turtles, snakes, alligator gar, and catfish. It is also an important hub for migratory waterfowl.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is a floodplain forest, so it’s a unique ecosystem most people aren’t familiar with. At any given time of the year, the forest floor could be dry, muddy, or flooded with a foot of water. Regardless of the season and the amount of water among the trees, anytime is a good time to visit because there are so many different ways to experience the park. All the different seasons and phases are beautiful.

On a warm November day we enjoyed an afternoon walk on the raised boardwalk that cuts a 2.4-mile loop around the north end of the park. There were several places to descend from the boardwalk onto solid ground.

One thing to keep in mind is that conditions can change from month to month and even from day to day. One day, you might need a pair of walking shoes; another, a kayak might be a better bet. There’s a canoe and kayak access trail for the days when the river floods large parts of the forest.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree is unique in the East. You can go out and it’s just you and nature. Even on a busy day, you don’t have to go too far to get away from folks.

Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day, year round. The visitor center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on federal holidays

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