This time of the year is great for so many reasons, including the wonderful fall foliage and the opportunity to hike. I took a trip this month to Blowing Rock, a small town in western North Carolina that has access to the beautiful, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Named after The Blowing Rock, a formation 4,000 feet above sea level, with incredible views of the scenic fall landscape and the Johns River Gorge. There are plenty of hiking trails here as well as in the neighboring town of Boone. In recognition of National Take a Hike Day which is November 17, I did just that on my weekend get-away. Did you know that there are over 60,000 miles of trails across the United States? The American Hiking Society says it is so. Wow!
Hiking is a great opportunity to get outside and away from the computer screen, TV or couch and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. It doesn’t have to be an intense hike if you are just getting started. You can look for an easy trail and one that provides an opportunity to just get outside and move. And think. Some of my best thinking is done when I am outdoors and moving! Stanford researchers found that being in nature can boost mood and improve mental health. Spending time outdoors can reduce stress, calm anxiety, and lead to a lower risk of depression, according to research.
Note that there is a difference between hiking and walking. Hiking is walking in a natural, outdoor setting, such as an outdoor mountain or wooded trail as opposed to walking which is usually in a less rustic environment. Hiking is typically for a longer period of time (i.e., days instead of minutes or hours) and involves changes in terrain and elevation. Both require attention to proper gear and attire and to one’s body (i.e., nutrition, hydration, signs of overexertion) as well as to safety and awareness of surroundings though for different reasons (i.e., you’re not likely to see wild animals on a walk through the city park – I hope!).
A great place to start when looking for a place to hike is a national or state park. The National Park Service has a great website with interactive tools to help you find a park near you, for purposes of scoping out a place to hike or to see some of the many other perks of visiting these amazing natural jewels. There are over 21,000 combined miles of trails of all varieties in the National Park Service. They also provide great safety information for beginners which is a great refresher for experienced hikers as well. Of course, there are plenty of other places to hike as well, but this is just a start.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
National Park Service: www.nps.gov
Stanford University, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment (2015). Stanford News. Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved 11/13/2021, from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/