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

The Best State Parks for Fall Camping

Campers fall paradise

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, camping has offered travelers an excellent alternative to hotel stays, air travel, and cruising. As summer gives way to fall, there’s never been a better time to reconnect with nature while still practicing social distancing. As the leaves begin to turn, here are seven one-of-a-kind state parks where campers will feel right at home this autumn.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park: Blairsville, Georgia

If you’re looking for a park with mind blowing fall color, head to Vogel-ville. Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s top parks to see fall foliage in October. To reach the park, travelers can drive through the Chattahoochee National Forest on Wolf Pen Gap Road. Even the drive into the park is something special.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Located between Front Royal and Luray, this 1600-acre park takes beautiful advantage of the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Come for the leaves—but stay for the hiking, the mountain biking, the horseback riding, the canoeing, or the ziplining. More than five miles of shoreline border the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and a small-boat launch is busy on weekends with canoeists, kayakers, rafters, and tubers. More than 24 miles of well-marked trails take you on level ground by the river or up steep inclines to ridgetop views.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

The tree-lined lagoons at Dead Horse Ranch are a sight to behold during late September and October! Golden hues reflecting off of the still water put the mind at ease and cause thoughts to wander toward beautiful destinations. Feeling adventurous? Take a hike down the adjacent Verde River and explore the limitless beauty of a riparian fall. Absorb even more of Arizona’s beautiful autumn display by booking a spot in the expansive campground or in one of the secluded cabins. Stay for a while and collect as many colorful memories as possible before the leaves fall and it’s too late.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Conveniently located between Meridian and Jackson, Roosevelt State Park is known for gorgeous scenery especially during the fall, thanks to its close proximity to Bienville National Forest. The park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking in autumn when the forest is bright with fiery colors. The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

For an awe-inspiring, eye-popping autumn experience plan a fall color drive in the Black Hills. Consisting of 71,000 acres, Custer State Park encompasses rolling hills, granite peaks, and beautiful lakes and wildlife around every corner. Start your adventure as you travel on the back roads out of Keystone where you will see large stands of birch and aspen. As you travel through the Needles Highway the rich fall colors are from the birch and quaking aspen trees. The bright purples of the Dogwood and the soft green of the Russian olive will keep the color seekers eyes occupied for a while. Watch for the bison, pronghorns, wild burros, and deer along the Wildlife Loop. Many of the elms are a stark yellow contrast to the darker oaks. The ash trees have the speckles of orange like sparks from a campfire.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Offering gorgeous vistas of fall foliage, 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 about 15 miles of multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool, and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana

For generations, a blend of history and legend has drawn visitors to this meeting place of incredible natural beauty and unique historical background. At Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, visitors are introduced to the diverse cultural interplay among the French-speaking peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Many visitors may be familiar with the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, and their arrival in Louisiana, as portrayed in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem Evangeline.

Worth Pondering…

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.

―Lauren DeStefano, Wither