Hiking is magic. There are few things in modern-life that are as simple, readily available, free/cheap, and potentially as life-changing as spending a few hours walking in nature. Here are our top 7 reasons you should hike:
- You can start small, short, easy. You don’t need any fancy equipment for straightforward day hikes. Pack snacks/lunch, water, a cell phone, and some first aid supplies and you’re good to go. You can find trails on All Trails (or here, of course!) or just ask your friends for ideas.
- Hiking is essentially free. Sometimes you pay a park entrance fee or you shell out a few bucks for parking. But that’s rare. It usually won’t cost anything except the gas to get there.
- You learn about nature. We’ve learned how pine trees mark their age (count the rows of branches), what praying mantis cocoons look like, how to read a map and a compass, and how to follow trail blazes. Hiking not only immerses you in a science classroom, but often in a history lesson as well. For example: King Philip’s Cave leads to a discussion of King Philip’s war; stone walls in the woods lead to a discussion of New England farming and its demise.
- Spending time in nature inevitably leads to an appreciation for the planet, its life forms, and its ecosystems. It’s hard to spend time in nature and NOT want to work to preserve and conserve it. It makes us want to take better care of Mother Earth so we can continue to enjoy her beauty.
- Time outdoors makes you feel better–for so many reasons. You get Vitamin D from the sun. Physical activity makes you sleep better and strengthens your body. Your mind gets exercised and stimulated as you traipse over obstacles, read maps, and navigate the trails. Your mental health benefits from the peaceful noises of the birds, the wind in the trees, the crunch of leaves beneath your feet. You can literally feel the stress melt away as your body and mind relax. The Japanese call mindful hiking in nature “Forest Bathing”– What a wonderful way of expressing the cleansing of mind and spirit that happens while in the woods.
- We’ve never had a hike that wasn’t memorable for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s because we’ve discovered something weird (a tree with flip-flops nailed to it), or because we find something fun to do (like roll an old abandoned tire down a huge hill), or because we discover a stunningly beautiful spot we never knew existed (Aaron Reservoir at Wompatuck State Park, we’re talking to you!). Other times, the experience is memorable because it didn’t go the way we planned (whining, forgotten water bottles, soggy/blocked trails, sick kids, temper tantrums, fights over snacks, getting lost…). But no matter what, we never fail to create memories to take with us as a family. We are confident that our children will always remember the time spent on the trails with their cousins, because we still remember our hikes with our father when we were growing up.
- When you walk in the woods in the company of others, you are walking side-by-side or perhaps single file. But you’re not eye-to-eye. While there is a time, a place, and a purpose for eye contact, people often feel liberated in conversation when they are NOT making eye contact. Much like driving, when you’re out in the woods in the middle of nowhere with someone, there is no escape. There is no one else around. There is no eye contact. Deep conversation seems more possible. Bonding happens. You’d be surprised what you suddenly feel able to talk about with your family and/or friends in the woods. Use the hike as a way of spending quality time with your kids while they are young. Establish this habit early, and do your best to continue to use it as a place for conversation and bonding as your children grow.
Time in nature is never wasted. We’ve never heard anyone finish a hike and say it was a bad use of time. Grab your family or a friend and hit the trails. You won’t regret it.