Updated: Dec 26, 2020
It's very easy to get wrapped up in the world of "Instagram Travel". If you were going to judge your outdoor pursuits against the likes of the most popular "influencers", you'd probably end up pretty disappointed. It's not hard to get lost in these people's adventures, I know that I'm guilty of it. It's nice to dream of seeing the clear waters of the Maldives, the snowy peaks of the Canadian Rockies, and epic views along the great Grand Canyon. Not everyone gets to have an everyday picnic in Yellowstone or enjoy their morning coffee with a sunrise along the coastline of Acadia in Maine.
While it might be a while before you take that big "Instagram Adventure" yourself, that doesn't mean you need to compromise on creating your own adventure closer to home. I'm going to share three ideas to spice up a local adventure and to get the most out of what you have around! These are some fun and simple ways to spice up even a walk around the neighborhood. If you're someone who has never camped before and you're wondering what's the big deal, you'll love this resource from my friends at Sport Fitness Advisor! They laid out 35 Amazing Benefits to Camping, According to Science here!
I'll preface this with I understand that some people have very little access to natural areas and the idea of an outdoor adventure might not even seem possible. Remember, much like beauty, adventure is in the eye of the beholder! Don't let someone else dictate what an adventure means to you. Alright... let's get started!
1. Check out what is nearby:
This seems like an obvious place to start, but you'd be amazed at what you can find within an hour of where you are currently. Throughout my travels across the United States a few years ago, I was always amazed at the green spaces we found even in many of the cities that we stopped. Here are some examples of places to look for:
National/ State Parks
National/ State Forests
National and State parks and forests are a great place to start. While the regulations that govern both the parks and forests are usually different, you'll find access to hiking trails, waterways, and often other avenues of outdoor recreation. You'll want to do some research on these areas before going to draw up a gameplan for whatever outdoor pursuit you want to get into. To find the National Parks in your area, follow this link. To look for State Parks, follow this one!
A greenway is a strip of undeveloped land near an urban area, set aside for recreational use or environmental protection. If you've never heard of these before, join the club (t-shirt is in the mail). Because I've always lived in fairly rural areas, it hasn't been a challenge to get away and find someplace to enjoy some fresh air. While traveling through cities, I realized that I grew up very fortunate to have that opportunity. It's a lot harder to find a place to throw up a hammock or get lost in the woods for a while. This is why I absolutely LOVE the idea of greenways. Essentially, these are large tracts of land that are set aside close to/inside cities to give people a place to love on some nature! My favorite greenways from my travels have been Greenbelt Park in Washington DC, Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto, Canada, and the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, Texas. If you live in a city and want to find a place to reconnect with nature without completely leaving town, try to find one of these greenways to check out!
The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, manages significant sections of land in the United States. About 92% of BLM land is managed across 12 western states, so it's safe to say you have a much greater chance to capitalize on BLM land activities if you live in the West. BLM land is great for several different avenues of outdoor recreation. There are also several sites that are designated to protect culturally and socially important areas!
Want to explore on a smaller scale? Check out the local city and neighborhood parks. At first glance, these options might not seem like they hold a candle to a national park but let's face it... not everyone has a national park 5 minutes from their house. The utility and proximity of these closer to home options are a fantastic way to get outdoors and check out some local wildlife. We'll chat about some ways to spice up a local park visit in just a second too!
My final thought on looking for what is nearby is taking advantage of your backyard! You might have nothing but a patch of grass or maybe you have an acre or two at your disposal! Either way, making this a comfortable place for you to enjoy some outdoor time is a great way to create an adventure literally in your backyard. If you have some space, consider planting a garden or seeding some natural wildflowers to attract a myriad of pollinators and other local insects, birds, and mammals. If your space is more confined, attract some wildlife with a bird feeder. Creating a place that you can find some peace and connect with Mother Nature at your own home can be a powerful change for a lot of people. Sometimes you don't need to go further than just a walk around your backyard for a sense of adventure!
2. Learn Something New
Want to take your adventuring up a notch? Try learning a new outdoor skill! I'm not necessarily saying to go master multi-pitch climbing or how to roll a kayak in class V rapids (unless you really want to get extreme!) but maybe pick out a skill that can be practiced in any of the areas that we discussed above. There are so many fun outdoor skills to increase your local adventures. Here are a few that quickly come to mind:
Learn how to identify birds based on sight and sounds
Plant and Insect Identification
Journaling and Art
Learning how to identify birds has been one of the favorite skills I've ever learned, and I'm still very mediocre! This is going to sound a little funny, but I've always loved the concept behind the game Pokémon. You go around and capture unique creatures as you travel around the world. That's how I feel about birding! You can hone your skills and add new birds to your life list pretty much anywhere you go. You should have seen my lose my marbles about a simple Mountain Chickadee that was bopping around my backyard last week...
If you're interested in this, I'd recommend finding a pair of binoculars and downloading the Audobon Bird Guide App! Identification becomes even more fun as you begin to attract more and more birds to your backyard, start to pay attention to the dreamy songs in the woods, and notice the species who utilize the local pond!
In the same realm, learning how to identify plants and insects can be a great way to spice up just about any outdoor adventure. Both of these fields can be fairly difficult, so having a handy field guide with you is essential. I often like to bring my camera or my phone to make sure I can take pictures to aid in my identification later. If you're going to take pictures and identify later, I recommend taking photos from several perspectives since you'll be amazed at how easily you forget the fine details!
If identification isn't your thing or you'd like to focus your energy elsewhere, I highly recommend allowing yourself time to be creative outdoors. Just being outdoors can be such a refreshing reset on your mind. In one of my favorite articles from Outside Magazine, this idea is explored. By letting your mind to enter a state of "soft fascination", you allow the creative side of your brain to take control and to melt away the stress of your day to day thinking. Just the smooth water slowly rippling as you canoe across a lake or the soft sound of rustling leaves as you read a book in your hammock allows your brain to be more receptive to creativity in it's most powerful and inspired form. Take advantage of this "superpower" and read a book, start that journal you've been thinking about for months, or pack your watercolors and paint whatever catches your attention most.
John Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." and I believe that accurately depicts the power of mixing your creative side with nature.
3. Extend your trip: Make a weekend of it!
One of the greatest ways to truly feel the rush of a good adventure is to plan to be gone for several days! The thrill of being away from home for a night or two is worth it. Again, the idea is creating an adventure that isn't overwhelming to plan or execute, so picking the right place to camp is essential. It's also crucial that you plan your trip around the comfort level you'd like to have. If a shower is important to you, make sure you're looking for places that allow such a luxury before picking where to go. Here is how I go about planning for a multi-day adventure:
1. Pick out activities that I want to do during this trip. What I want to do can greatly dictate the direction I'm willing to travel. For example, I'd likely choose different spots for a relaxing weekend vs a whitewater kayaking weekend. Once I know the general direction of where I want to be, there are two websites I use pretty religiously when looking for areas to stay. They are Freecampsites.net and Campendium.com. My goal is to find the coolest campsite for the least amount of money, but Campendium will show everything from free sites to paysites. I can't stress enough how amazing some of these free campsites can be. They are often first-come, first-serve, so keep that in mind when deciding what route you want to take.
*These sites can be great options if most of your local campgrounds are shut down due to COVID-19. I went to several sites last weekend that were shut down but not listed as so on their website!
Also, be aware of the state parks and other local campgrounds that might be a little more accessible. If you really want to look into some neat options, check out Hipcamp.com! It's like Airbnb for camping.
2. Write out what you need and pack according to your comfort level. While a shower isn't always essential for me, I do like to be pretty comfortable when I head out on an adventure. Even if its just a local day hike, I'm often overpacking with more than I'll need. I'm the guy with the GoPro, DSLR camera, and binoculars strung around his neck no matter the situation. I also like to have a cooler full of snacks and cold beers for the end of a long hike.
If you're a comfort camper, take that into consideration and make sure you have everything you need before heading out the door. Spice up the evenings with a stylish game of frisbee or a favorite board game. One of my favorites is Sequence.
3. Have a blast! Get out there and soak it all up. Have a plan, but don't be so rigid that you can't modify things if an opportunity presents itself. You never know who you might meet or what kind of fun you could find along the way. Every adventure, from the neighborhood hike, to the multi-day float can present you with a fun twist you weren't expecting.
There it is! Not every adventure has to be the grandest of them all. With that in mind, I challenge you to plan your own adventure this week. I know that many of you are stuck in places where you can't really get out, so focus on the adventure close to home. For some, it might be just a walk through the local park or a small jaunt through the backyard as you focus on the sounds of birds and emerging plants. For others, it might be finally checking out a local state park that you've been curious about for years. Whatever it is, find some peace and clarity by taking some time to enjoy the outdoors. Your soul will thank you.
I'll end this by offering my help in planning any adventure you'd like to go on, big or small! If you fill out this short questionnaire, I'd be happy to get in touch and see what we can throw together. I love you, people! Stay safe and stay healthy. Wear a damn mask in public if you need to and be considerate of others. When in doubt, be compassionate. Next time you want to get mad, smile instead. Be the light and I have no doubt that you'll love the person you see in the mirror.
Adventure comes to those who GO!