Friday, June 7, 2013

Five Ways to Explore the Great Outdoors

Maybe your friends or family members are more excited that June contains National Donut Day than they are about June being proclaimed by President Obama and most state governors National Great Outdoors Month.  To help you nudge those you care about to abandon the couch, the television, or the computer games for a little outdoor enjoyment, here are five ideas to help elevate the interest level.  Each were selected for their relative affordability, their availability nationwide, and their suitability to all ages.

Trail sign


1.  Explore a trail


The nice things about taking a day hike are that it's cheap (a decent pair of casual shoes or boots and you are ready to go), it's plentiful (trails just about anywhere in the US) and it’s very easy to adjust the scope of the adventure to match the skill and physical capabilities of the group, simply by adjusting the duration, the pace, or the difficulty of the trail selection. Good free resources for trails near you:
  • LocalHikes.com has trail pictures, topographical maps, elevation profiles, and user ratings for many great day hikes and hiking trails near just about any U.S. metropolitan area. 
  • Check out mtbr.com.  Yes, it's a site dedicated to mountain bikes, but their trail guide section is outstanding and worldwide. Most biking trails are also open to hikers.
  • Don't miss TrailLink.com by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an organization that serves as the national voice for supporters of the 20,000-plus miles of former railways that have been converted to Trailways throughout the country, and advocates for the further transition of the more than 9,000 miles of potential rail-trails waiting to be built.  The nice thing about the trails featured on this site is that they are often flat trails, or trails with a very comfortable grade, since they were originally built to serve as train tracks.
  • AmericanTrails.org claims to be the world's largest online trails resource. One brief tour of their site may convince you of this as well.


2.  Bird watching


Like hiking, bird watching is a very affordable sport. To make it a little more informative or educational, here are a few bird watching tips:

Bird watching
  • It's always good to have a bird watching handbook of some sort along with you on your adventure.  Some well-rated field guides for bird watching include National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Dunn and Alderfer, and Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman.  Having one of these on hand will allow you to not only enjoy local birds, but be able to identify them as well.
  • Make the bird watching a more well-rounded adventure by packing a picnic lunch.  If your bird watching companions have trouble getting into the spirit of the field trip, a tasty lunch break is something everyone can enjoy.
  • While binoculars are often the stereotypical bird watching purchase, a better choice is to take a long a good digital camera or camcorder, both of which generally have telephoto lenses for getting a closer look at the birds, but also allow you to record what you see.
  • To get some professional help with your first bird watching adventure, consider a guided tour.  To find one in your area, use your favorite search engine and type in "bird watching tours" plus the name of your city or county.


3.  Go on a family swimming adventure


Part of making a swimming field trip a great memory is the creativity you add to what might otherwise be an ordinary trip to the local pool. To celebrate National Great Outdoors Month in style, consider spicing up a swimming field trip by:
  • Trying out a different city pool than your nearest;
  • Skipping the city pool for a more adventurous option, such as a local swimming hole at a river or lake;
  • Involving the entire family, especially if a normal swimming trip normally involves just one parent or the other;
  • Partnering up with friends who have a backyard pool, adding a cookout to the outing, along with fun pool games.
Girl swimming in lake


4.   Do a backyard campout


As it turns out, June is not only Great Outdoors Month but is also the month when we celebrate National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout on June 25Even if your family doesn't do camping, and therefore does not own a tent, there's a good chance that one of your friendly neighbors or relatives would be happy to loan you theirs, making this a virtually free way to enjoy the great outdoors. All you need is a backyard. If you're a renter – and thus fresh out of backyard space – consider doing a backyard campout with family friends who do have a yard.

Ways to make a backyard campout extra special:
  • Fire up the grill to add the tantalizing aroma and culinary delight of fire-roasted hot dogs and s'mores.
  • While the kids may be perfectly fine sleeping with nothing between them and the tent bottom but a sleeping bag, consider investing in, or borrowing, an inflatable air mattress or camping cot for the adults sleeping out. Or, save money by using your yoga mat or exercise mat for some extra padding instead.
  • For older kids, don't forget ghost stories – a campout favorite – that's sure to make this a memorable backyard campout.


5. Explore online for outdoor adventures


There is a plethora of resources online dedicated to the subject of enjoying the great outdoors. For starters, try one of these:
There something about fresh air and sunshine – or even rain – that makes for great memories. Don't let June – home of National Great Outdoors Month -- go by without tasting some of that great outdoors.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


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