GET YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE

Kim Dinan  |

Want your kids to be happy adults? Get them outside as children.

A recent study published in the journal PNAS found that growing up near vegetation is associated with an up to 55 percent lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood. The study is the largest ever look at the association between mental health and green spaces. Researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University combined satellite imagery dating back to 1985 with health and demographic data from one million people in the Danish population to understand the effects of how access to nature impacts our mental health. After accounting for socioeconomic factors, researchers found that growing up near green space reduced the risk for mental illness anywhere from 15 to 55 percent, depending on the specific illness. “Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health, like history of mental health disorders in the family, or socioeconomic status,” said Kristine Engemann, the biologist who led the study.

Duke Energy to fight N.C. coal ash cleanup order

Duke Energy is fighting its order from the DEQ to dig up all of its coal ash from unlined storage bins where toxic chemicals like mercury, lead and arsenic are leaking into local water supplies. Duke is challenging the order, saying that the DEQ did not consider all of the scientific evidence when it ordered the energy giant to clean up the coal ash from six storage basins deemed low-risk, which the company would prefer to cover with a waterproof cap. Duke has 14 coal ash sites around the state of North Carolina and projects that the cost of digging up the coal ash at 8 of them will cost $5.2 billion. Excavating the additional six coal ash storage bins could raise the total cost to $10 billion, a price that Duke isn’t willing to pay without a fight. Last year the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Duke could collect $545 million in cleanup costs from its customers rather than its shareholders.

Scientists have successfully sequenced the genomes of coastal redwoods and giant sequoias

The first step of a five-year project to develop the tools necessary to study the forests’ genomic diversity has been achieved with the successful mapping of genomes from coastal redwoods and giant sequoias. The coast redwood genome is the second largest ever mapped and is nine times larger than the human genome. The hope is that sequencing the genomes of these giant trees will lead to conservation and restoration opportunities for the species. Scientists say that the redwood forest is not healthy and that having the resources that a medical doctor has for their human patients will help make the trees healthy again. Over the past 150 years, over 95 percent of the ancient coast redwood range and one-third of the giant sequoia range have succumbed to logging. For the record, the largest genome ever mapped belongs to the axolotl, a North American salamander.


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The Ultimate Guide to the Night Sky

Summer is the ideal time for stargazing. Here are five tips for seeing nature’s light show.

There may well come a night in your life as an outdoors person when you wander away from the campfire, gaze up at the thousands of stars burning over the backcountry, and realize you know almost nothing about the night sky.

Start with the Big Dipper

For people in the Northern Hemisphere, astronomy begins with the Big Dipper, a group of seven bright stars in the constellation Ursa Major laid out in the shape of a ladle. Michael Narlock, head of astronomy at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, a natural history museum in Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, says finding the Dipper is the first step to unlocking whole swaths of the sky, no binoculars or telescopes needed. “Once you find north, everything flows from that,” he says. “You can use the handle to find other constellations and stars and orient yourself to the rest of the sky.”

Experience the Dark Skies of Michigan

With an International Dark Sky Park, three remote national parks and lakeshores, and half a dozen spectacular state parks, Michigan is the perfect place for stargazing

READ MORE

Utilize a Few Simple Tools

For casual stargazers, an augmented-reality smartphone app like Star Walk or Night Sky that can be held up to automatically ID stars and constellations overhead is fine. But Narlock says really learning your way around the sky requires a little more dedication. Paper star charts that correspond to your date and location or a planisphere—a wheel-like gadget that shows how the constellations move throughout the year—are the only gear you’ll need at first. After getting the Dipper under your belt, beginners should wear a dim red light to preserve their night vision and work with the star chart to find celestial touchstones like Polaris, the North Star, visible year round, before moving on to other bright, shiny objects like Vega, Arcturus, and Sirius the Dog Star, often the brightest bodies in the sky.

Get Some Binos to Peer into the Great Beyond

Once you’ve made friends with a few constellations, it’s time to start looking a little deeper into the sky. While most people think astronomy is all about telescopes, the best bet for novices is a pair of binoculars. Not only are binos much cheaper than good telescopes, they’re more portable, meaning you’re more likely to carry them into the backcountry.

Which ones? When it comes to astronomy, the key isn’t magnification. Instead, the size of the objective lens, the wide front lens that allows light in, is what counts. Beginners should look for 7×50 binoculars, which magnify seven times with a beefy 50mm lens. Most people can hand-hold binos of that size with minimal shaking.

Looking deeper into space means you’ll need an upgraded star chart that shows objects that can’t be seen with the naked eye. A map of the moon is useful at this point as well. With just a modest amount of magnification, you’ll begin to see craters, maria, and mountains on the moon and can start to follow the wandering of the planets.

Join a Club

After some time chasing planets and gazing at the moon with binoculars, you might find yourself browsing for telescopes. Using one opens up entirely new worlds, literally. A scope that magnifies by a power of 100 will reveal Saturn’s rings. Pinwheel galaxies that were smudges with binoculars will show off their arms. You can even see comets and their iconic tails. As with binoculars, the objective lens is a big deal. The larger it is, the brighter and more detailed the images will be. There are so many options that before you buy one, Narlock recommends hooking up with a local astronomy club to try out some gear firsthand and get expert advice. Having trouble finding one? Just type “astronomy clubs near me” into your web browser.

Head for Dark Skies

While a nice telescope can reveal awesome images of the heavens from just about anywhere, to get the most out of the magnification, you also need to get away from human-generated light. Even driving 20 minutes away from a city is often enough to find a spot with spectacular night skies. For people with a little more time on their hands and a burning need for crisp eyefuls of the Swan Nebula, there’s nothing like a dark sky park. Located in areas far away from light pollution, these parks have been established internationally and by states to protect naturally occurring dark skies.


Michigan has some of the darkest parks, lakeshores, and wilderness areas in the U.S. and it’s one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. Click here to see the best places for stargazing in Michigan.

Outside Online | May 1, 2019

6 Reasons Why Your Next Trip Should Be an RV Road Trip

Randy Propster | BackPacker Magazine

Life on the open road in an RV is about discovery, and re-discovery – of your surroundings, a new route, and most importantly – of yourself. Choosing to take an RV on an adventure opens up a wide variety of experiences, including convenience and comfort, jumpstarting vacation from the minute you leave the driveway.

Here are my six reasons to consider an RV for your next outdoor adventure:

1. Plan – Or Don’t

The fantastic part about an RV trip is that planning is mostly optional. Of course, you have to move, but when and how quickly is entirely up to you! You have everything you need with you along the way, so dining and lodging needs are taken care of. Road tripping is universally appealing to both the trip planner and the wanderer.

2. Maximize Vacation Time

Rather than a point-to-point visit to a destination, the travel to and from becomes a series of micro-experiences. You have shared meals, sleepovers and quality time with family and friends during your journey. Your travel days are no longer just eating up time you could be adventuring – they are the adventure.

3. Eat, Sleep, Drive

The RV vacation gives you control over your pace, timing, and expenses. A well-stocked kitchen offers treats for everyone. Comfortable beds make sure that road warriors are rested for the next day. This flexibility gives more space to be spontaneous.

4. Stop Spontaneously & Stay

Every good road trip passes signs such as “Natural Bridge” or “30-Foot-Tall Dancing Hog.” Why hurry? Park, have a snack in the RV, and hang out for a while. When your vacation includes an RV, getting to know the kitschy side of the US or simply stopping at every country store becomes a possibility.

5. Make Unexpected Connections

Nothing says “welcome” like seeing another RV at a campground. Pulling up in an RV automatically invites you to be part of an adventure-loving community. Road travel encourages some social time (if you want it!). When your schedule is flexible, taking the time to converse with local shop owners and other like-minded travelers offers new perspectives on destinations and can open you to experiences you wouldn’t otherwise know about.

6. Play Better Games

Have you been on a road trip if you haven’t played The Alphabet Game and stared out the window looking for words in alphabetical order? With an RV as your vehicle of choice, the family can gather around the table and play some board games to better pass the time. Just be mindful not to play ones with lots of pieces that could get too shuffled if you hit a bump – yikes.


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Chipper the Dog Sets a High Bar for Recycling

MARY JO DILONARDO | MNN |

Not long after Katie Pollak adopted Chipper in Mesa, Arizona, the puppy showed an interest in bettering the environment. Actually, he just liked playing with plastic bottles when he found them on walks.

“He was always eager to pick them up!” Pollack tells MNN. “Because of his interest, I began encouraging and rewarding his ability to pick up and carry water bottles. I would celebrate and give him treats each time he would offer to pick up a bottle. Then it stuck, and became our thing!”

Chipper the recycling dog with backpack of trash

Quinci joins Chipper on all his adventures. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Now 8 years old, Chipper has developed a passion for the outdoors and for picking up trash. He, Pollak and her other pup, Quinci, are often found in nature.

“We go out a few times a week. Sometimes we go out with the intention of cleaning up an area,” she says. “Other times we’re just out for a hike or paddle, but always carrying bags with us to clean up any trash we come across.”

If the trash is in the water, Chipper will swim out to get it. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Pollak and her dogs often meet up with friends to do organized cleanups in the area.

Chipper has become a bit of a celebrity for his recycling efforts. He’s well known in the community, and more than 31,000 people follow Pollak on Instagram to keep track of his adventures. The pair recently even made an appearance on the “Today” show.

Sometimes Chipper finds other interesting castoffs. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Chipper doesn’t limit himself to plastic bottles. He picks up whatever trash he finds, including cans, discarded clothes and the occasional old shoe.

Chipper has helped Pollak spread the word about protecting the environment. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Pollak says Chipper’s interest has sparked her own.

“I am very passionate about the environment and wildlife. I believe it is our responsibility to protect it, to keep it safe and preserved for future generations,” she says. “I love that Chipper has inspired me, to put even more of a focus on this issue. We do our best to spread the word and encourage others to at least take notice of the problem, so we can all work together to overcome it.”

Chipper swims back with a bottle he found. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Chipper — who Pollak describes as “a mixed breed with a pure heart” — always has his buddy Quinci along for moral support.

The recycling pup seems to enjoy the spotlight.

“Chipper is handling fame much better than I am!” Pollak says. “He loves the attention that comes with it.”

Chipper always does his part to contribute to community cleanups, bringing his contributions to the pile. (Photo: Katie Pollak)

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.


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Let’s Hear it for the Radical Simplicity of Walking


Simplicity and slowness are core components of virtually all the best adventures.

Walking is king of both of these. Walking requires no expertise and can, if you prefer, entail zero training, preparation, or planning. If you decided that you wanted to walk around the world, you could be packed and on your way ten minutes from now. It’s that simple.

Walking journeys require little gear, though it is worth spending more money on lightweight kit if you can. You could, in fact, fly to the start line of most walking journeys using only your carry-on luggage allowance on the airplane.

In many parts of the world, you will stand out on your travels for being very rich. Rich enough to afford the time for your adventure. Rich enough to buy fancy snazzy equipment, a plane ticket, and a possess passport. Going for a long walk gives you a better chance of not being perceived in this way and to engage more naturally and equally with the people you meet. People will think you are crazy – that is a given. But they will at least not be covetous of your expensive bicycle. You will share the road, as an equal, with people walking to school, walking to work, walking to their fields, walking as a pilgrimage, walking because they are too poor to take the bus.

On the flip side, walking can be very monotonous – arriving at the horizon takes an inordinate amount of time. When you’re hungry and thirsty the ‘just a few miles’ to the next town can last an eternity. Blisters, a heavy pack, and a blazing sun can turn a walk into the most exquisite form of agony.

I don’t think I have ever done a journey as painful as one on foot. And the agony is not reserved for long journeys: I once walked a lap of London, a week-long walk, with a friend of mine, Rob, who has also done a 3000-mile walk. He still tells me that the pain he was in on our stroll trumped anything he experienced trekking all the way from Mongolia to Hong Kong.

I have also walked 600 miles across southern India. It was a tiny journey compared to the vastness of India as a whole. So I saw but a fraction of the country. And yet it remains one of my richest travel experiences. What I saw, I saw well. I wanted to walk because walking is slow and simple and difficult.

I wanted to visit India. I decided to walk from the east coast of in Tamil Nadu to the west coast of in Kerala. I did the tiniest amount of planning I could do yet still have the nerve to commit to the journey. And then I set off. The most difficult, nerve-wracking part of the whole trip was landing in India in the middle of the night, getting to a bus station, finding the correct bus in the melee, then surviving the suicidal, maniacal drive to the coast where my walk would begin.

I hated those first 24 hours. I always do. I find crowded foreign places lonely, overwhelming, and frightening when I am by myself until I am established in a country. I invariably wish I’d stayed home and not bothered. It’s only once I commit to the journey, get moving down the road, that I can relax and the joy and excitement and curiosity comes bursting forth once more. I followed the course of a holy river through southern India carrying a tiny pack. I ate at street stalls, and at night I slept under the stars in my mosquito net, in cheap trucker’s hostels, or with kind families who took me into their homes. It was a busy, noisy, crowded journey and I savored it for those very reasons.

Indeed, it was a very conscious contrast to a walk I had undertaken the year before when I crossed Iceland by foot and packraft. I chose Iceland for its emptiness and beauty. I traveled with a friend so I had none of that pre-trip worry and I could share any other concerns that I had. We didn’t actually have time to worry: the night we arrived in Iceland we gorged on a barbecued whale, knocked back vodka shots, and danced the midsummer night away so effectively that we were too hungover to begin our expedition the next day.

If you decided that you wanted to walk around the world, you could be packed and on your way ten minutes from now. It’s that simple.

Twenty-fours later, then, we were off. Laden with all our food for a month, plus cameras, crampons, and packrafting gear, our 40kg packs were a daily torture. We walked as fast as we could: move slowly and the trip would take longer, so our rations would be spread thinner still. My main memories of that journey are pain, hunger, incredible scenery, isolation, and lots of laughter. It was a great trip.

You can speed up the slowness of your walk by running. And anyone can run; Jamie McDonald was a novice runner when he set out to run thousands of miles across Canada. I have never done a running journey, but I have run marathons and ultramarathons, including the 150-mile Marathon des Sables through the Sahara Desert. The memories are seared into my mind, perhaps from the pain, perhaps from the euphoric satisfaction of being very fit and churning through distance.

You cover miles more quickly when you run than when walking, so you can potentially do a longer journey. But you also risk greater agonies and need to travel even more minimally to reduce the weight of your kit. Every gram counts. Injury risks rise. People will think you are doubly crazy, but this may play to your advantage if you’d like to raise money for a charity during your trip, as Jamie did, running in a superhero outfit costume.

All the long-distance runners in my new book, including senior citizen superhero Rosie Swale-Pope who ran around the world, have resorted to using some form of trailer during their expedition. It improves the efficiency of their run but reduces the minimalist simplicity. Karl Bushby is using a trailer for his multi-year hike – the longest human walk in history – and Leon McCarron and I took the cart idea to stupid extremes when we set out into the Empty Quarter desert with the worst cart in history (designed by the combined genius of both our incompetencies) laden with 300kg of food and water.

Terrible though our cart was, when the terrain was good it was incredible how easy it was to tow such a vast weight in a cart.

If I were forced to choose, I would say that bicycle trips trump journeys on foot, except where the terrain would be impassable on two wheels or if there is some other reason why a bike would not work, for example, the vast load of our cart in Oman.

I have done lightweight walks and walks laden with wilderness gear. I’ve walked with a big cart and I have run through the Sahara with my toothbrush sawn in half to save weight. It’s hard to lump all these experiences into one category.

There is one common thread, however: travel on foot is slow. It is the speed that most of the human race experienced life for thousands of years, right up until the last couple of hundred years.

In the time span you have available for your adventure, you will see the fewest places if you decide to walk. But the places that you do see, you will truly see. And that is worth a lot.

This post originally appeared on Alastair Humphrey’s website.


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10 REASONS WHY SPRING IN SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA IS AN EXCEPTIONAL TIME TO VISIT

If you crave small-town friendliness and adventures in the great outdoors, there’s no better time to explore the town of Abingdon, located a particularly beautiful corner of Virginia. We’ve found the top 10 ways to enjoy a trip to Southwest Virginia this spring.

1. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail!

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile, rails-to-trails bicycle path that travels from Abingdon to Whitetop Station, Virginia. Start at either end of the trail and enjoy a breezy, downhill ride with a convenient shuttle pick up at the bottom.

2. Explore South Holston Lake

Mountain ridges and thick forest make up the undeveloped shoreline of South Holston Lake. It’s a popular place to rent a pontoon or kayak and spend the day enjoying pristine scenery.

3. Scale the rocky heights of Backbone Rock Recreation Area

Backbone Rock Recreation Area is part of the Cherokee National Forest that straddles the border of Virginia and Tennessee. The most notable feature is Backbone Rock, which features a 20-foot long hole that was blasted through it to make way for the railroad back in the early 1900s.

4. Visit the Wild Ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park

The biggest attraction at Grayson Highlands State Park is its wild ponies, which were first introduced to the park in 1974 to graze on the grassy balds. During the spring you’re most likely to see foals taking their first steps while the mares look on protectively.

Photo by Bob Diller

5. Enjoy Springtime Blooms

Roads through this neck of the woods are winding, but you’ll be glad for the slower pace thanks to the eruption of color on either side. White and pink laurel and magenta rhododendron grow to enormous heights here, while the flowering dogwoods have white and pink flowers growing on their delicate branches.

Photo by Bob Diller

6. Day Hike the Appalachian Trail!

The storied Appalachian Trail covers a 167-mile stretch of Southwest Virginia. Abingdon is an official AT Community partner, and some hikers on the AT take the 12-mile detour to visit the town where they’re welcomed with a variety of lodging options, access to outfitters, and lots of friendly restaurants.

7. Paddle the North Fork of the Holston River

The Class I/II rapids make for a relaxing ride along a remote section of this scenic river flanked by rocky bluffs. It’s the perfect setting to learn kayaking techniques—kids as young as eight can navigate the river on their own. Pack your water shoes and book a trip with Adventure Mendota.

8. Mingle with Locals at the Abingdon Farmers Market

Open from the April until Thanksgiving, the Abingdon Farmers Market sells local produce, meats, cheeses, and wine directly to the consumer. Some vendors have sold their wares here since the Great Depression.

9. Music and Festivals

Southwest Virginia is filled with places to listen to live music. Wolf Hills Brewing features musicians performing on Friday and Saturday nights, in addition to various events during the week. Spring is also the start of festival seasons. The Virginia Creeper Fest at the end of April features a wide variety of outdoor activities surrounding the area’s most famous trail.

10. Eat at a Farm-to-Table Restaurant

Avid readers know Barbara Kingsolver for her many bestselling books, but she and her husband Steven Hopp are also advocates for the local food movement, and co-owners of The Harvest Table restaurant in Meadowview. At Abingdon Vineyards, order a flight of wines and a plate of cheese, crackers, salami, nuts, preserves, chocolates and other artisan snacks for a riverside picnic. Dogs, kids and kayaks welcome!

 

Your Adventure Shots on Instagram Could Raise Your Insurance

Shannah Compton Game | Outside Online

But the flip side is that your healthy fitness habits—so deemed by lurking insurance companies—could lower premiums

Many of us use our social media accounts to showcase our lives—or at least some glorified, filtered version of them, where we’re always on top of a mountain or looking strong and confident at the gym.

We know the posts are public; that is, after all, the whole point. But what you might not have known is that we should now count insurance companies as potential secret followers lurking among our audiences. That’s right—just as hiring managers use LinkedIn to confirm resumes, some insurance carriers are turning to social media to find new ways to justify premiums and substantiate claims.

Here’s what you need to know about this creepy new frontier in the health and fitness space.      

First, Some History (Thanks A Lot, New York)

In January 2019, the New York Department of Financial Services became the first regulator to allow insurance carriers to use social-media data to help set insurance premiums and verify claims. The official statement read, in part:

“The Department fully supports innovation and the use of technology to improve access to financial services. Indeed, insurers’ use of external data sources has the potential to benefit insurers and consumers alike by simplifying and expediting life insurance sales and underwriting processes. External data sources also have the potential to result in more accurate underwriting and pricing of life insurance.”

Insurance carriers are always on the lookout for ways to improve their underwriting process and confirm that insurance claims are legit. Typically, they ask a series of questions on an application to dial in your risk classification. Here are some standard ones that I’ve seen repeatedly on life- and disability-insurance applications:

  • Do you hang glide?
  • Are you a pilot of a plane?
  • What countries are you traveling to?
  • Do you participate in any adventure sports?
  • Do you scuba dive?
  • Do you participate in hazardous sports?

Disability- and life-insurance carriers will offer you insurance based on a rating classification. The standard top rating is usually referred to as Super Preferred Non-Tobacco, which only a small fraction of the population qualifies for. As you might have guessed, those lucky few then tend to get lower-cost premiums.   

Health and travel insurance don’t use the same rating classification, so your social media presence isn’t as important in those areas—at least not yet. Health-insurance rates vary based on where you live, what type of deductible you have, and whether or not your company underwrites a portion of your premiums. Travel insurance is based on the amount you wish to insure your trip for, in the case of an unexpected cancellation.

Why Your Posts Matter

Each insurance carrier will have its own set of lifestyle-based questions. The risk of lying about your activities could come back to bite you in more ways than one.

For example, let’s say you file a disability insurance claim. If insurance carriers have access to your social media feed and see a photo of you skiing down a mountain or zip lining through the jungle in Costa Rica, well, that’s going to raise some red flags and could trigger an immediate denial of your claim. Conversely, if you stated on your application that you don’t participate in hazardous sports, and then the insurer sees a photo of you BASE jumping on Insta, that can be grounds to offer you a higher rating class, which means you’ll end up paying more money for your insurance.

It’s Not All Totally Unfair

There’s a flip side to all this, too: insurance companies might also reward you for a healthy, active lifestyle. The car-insurance industry, for example, has been using lifestyle data and mobile apps to help reduce its premiums for so-deemed “good” drivers for years. Many health-insurance companies are offering gift cards and incentives to stay healthy and check in each time you go to the gym and work out. These credits and incentives can help reduce your health-insurance deductible, putting more money back in your pocket.

A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed to the fact that living a healthy lifestyle could be a great incentive for reducing insurance costs, so there’s that argument for publicly sharing that data.  

How to Protect Yourself

For starters, turn on your privacy settings in your social media feeds, especially Facebook and Instagram. This will limit your posts and feed to only your friends—not insurance carriers. If you want to be supercautious, you can also untag yourself from friends’ photos of yourself in an adventurous setting, which the suits in New York could deem risky. 

Social media will, of course, only tell a fraction of your story. Insurance carriers still rely on good old blood and urine samples to figure out your risk classification. There’s also a lot of health and lifestyle information that can be uncovered from your doctors’ records when you apply for disability or life insurance. But it’s worth taking a minute and ensuring that your feeds align with your insurance applications and claims. It’s just a little bit more filtering and polishing of our digital lives, after all.


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8 things every hiker can do to address (or avoid) overcrowded trails

Bothered by busy trails and poor trail etiquette? Here’s how every hiker can address the issue of overcrowded trails.

When I started as the travel and outdoors reporter at The Seattle Times, among the first advice I received was to be careful when writing about hiking, because people feel strongly about “over-loved trails” in Seattle. Based on reader comments and emails, this has proved to be true.

When I ventured out to my first popular local trail — Poo Poo Point in the Issaquah Alps — I went midday on a gray, rainy weekday, and was surprised to find it pretty much empty.  It was only when I went back the next week in drier weather that I saw what people were talking about. The trail was packed, and I had to navigate around faster and slower hikers here and there. Still, it wasn’t as bad as some had made it sound. But while increased engagement with the outdoors is a good thing, poor trail etiquette and  unethical practices can have a harmful impact.

The good news is  hikers are not powerless in the face of heavily-trafficked trails and unsustainable outdoors practices. I spoke with Kindra Ramos, avid hiker and director of communications and outreach at the Washington Trails Association (WTA), and together we came up with some actions every hiker can take to confront the issue of “over-loved” trails.

1. Seek solitude on lesser-known trails

 

There are more than 3,000 trails on the Washington Trails Association’s Hike Finder Map, and more are added regularly. The WTA database doesn’t even account for all the trails in Washington state. So if it’s solitude you seek, look beyond the popular trails like Poo Poo Point and Rattlesnake Ledge.

Ramos suggests taking a chance on a new trail by randomly selecting a hike from the Hike Finder Map, or filter your results based on specific criteria. Also good to know? New trails are created every year. You can check with your local city council or parks department to find out where they are.

2. Know before you go

Don’t feel like taking the risk on a new-to-you trail only to find it crowded? The WTA and AllTrails websites have trip reports and reviews written by fellow hikers. Check them out before you go.

If you’re heading to a state or national park  with a visitor center, call ahead and ask when the trails are busiest. If all else fails, ask a local. Avid hikers can tell you where the busiest trails are. (If you ask nicely, they might even tell you what trails they seek out when they need a little solitude.)

3. Consider a rainy-day hike

Not afraid of a little rain, are you? Despite Pacific Northwest locals’ notorious tolerance for gray skies and wet weather, trails are likely to be less busy on rainy days. So pack your rain gear and get out there.

Ramos herself dons a headlamp and hits the trail in the early morning to avoid crowds. “It’s an opportunity to see a trail in a different way,” she says. She recommends hiking at off-peak hours — like early mornings or weekdays.

4. Volunteer

Trail maintenance requires a lot of work and willing volunteers. If you’re concernedabout the impact  on your favorite trails, join a local work party or stewardship program to help combat trail erosion and assist with trail maintenance. The Pacific Crest Trail Association, the Washington Nature Conservancy and Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Trails Program offer plenty of opportunities. For both new and seasoned hikers, volunteering can be a great way to learn more about trail maintenance and emergency preparedness.

5. Make some noise

Can’t get your hands dirty maintaining trails — or just don’t want to? Use your voice instead. “As you saw during the closure, volunteers can’t do it all, so in addition to giving back via volunteering, I really encourage hikers to talk to their representatives about why investing in these infrastructures is so important,” says Ramos.

WTA is scheduled to host a Hiker Rally Day in Olympia, when concerned hikers can meet with legislators, engage in outdoors training and network with others, on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Registration information is available at wta.org/get-involved/events.

6. Teach and learn

Bothered by the poor trail etiquette of others? They might just be unaware of best practices for keeping our trails safe and minimizing our impact on them. That doesn’t mean angrily confronting people on the trail. There are more effective ways to share your knowledge. Direct people to resources on sustainable practices. You can also share tips on social media or volunteer as a group hike guide.

Still learning yourself? Seek out a friend or experienced hiker you know and ask for pointers, join a Meetup group for hikers, or subscribe to an outdoors magazine. (Many offer tips for hiking safety and best practices.) There are also outdoors workshops and courses available through organizations like REIthe Washington Trails Association, the Mountaineers and other local outdoors groups.

7. Embrace some of the change

It’s not for everybody, but if you embrace some of the positive aspects of a busy trail, you might like it. “Often, trails, when they’re built right, can hold folks sticking to the path,” says Ramos. She also emphasizes the importance of annual maintenance and the volunteers and land managers who help maintain Washington’s trails.

As long as users are engaging with an eye to sustainability, a busier trail experience is just a different trail experience — not necessarily a bad one. In fact, there are even some positive aspects. For new hikers, busier trails can offer a sense of community and safety. And there are always other trails.

8. Hitch a ride

Parking is a major issue at several popular trailheads. When lots are full, hikers often resort to parking on the sides of the road, creating a traffic hazard. Consider alternatives like Trailhead Direct. The trail might still be crowded, but seeking alternatives to driving will at least reduce your carbon footprint and spare you parking woes.

 

 
 

8 PERFECT WEEKEND TRAILS

Thru-hiking for months on end is out of reach for most of us. But a weekend backpacking trip? Most of us can carve that time into our schedules. Luckily, the Southern Appalachians are chock full of sub-100 mile trails that offer a thru-hiking experience in just a few days.

Wild Oak Trail, VA

This 25-mile National Recreation Trail forms a perfect weekend loop moving from easily accessible front country to some very remote corners of the George Washington National Forest. The loop begins along the headwaters of the North River, but quickly climbs to the ridges and stays there, which means water is scarce.

“A lot of the trail follows ridgelines that provide some very panoramic vistas,” says Dennis Herr, who organizes fun ultra runs on the Wild Oak Trail.

Total Mileage: 25.6
Highlights: Ridgeline views, solitude, mountain laurel and oak species
More Info: Wilderness Adventures

Day One

Begin your 7-mile day at the parking area near North River Gap (the low point along the trail) and start your counter-clockwise hike by climbing Grindstone Mountain and Chestnut Ridge. Prepare for the views along the ridge leading to Little Bald Knob, the highpoint of the trail at mile 7. Look for small, flat clearings near Little Bald Knob to pitch your tent for the night. Take a walk out the gated FS 427 for excellent views from the ridgeline.

Day Two

Save enough water for the  8.5 mile hike, including the three-mile, 2,000-foot drop to the North River. The next climb to Big Bald Knob is steep and rocky, but this perch has arguably the best views along the trail. You’ll hike along the border of the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness before taking a hard left to descend Dividing Ridge. Look for campsites along the trail before you reach FS 96.

Day Three

At 10.2 miles, the last day is your longest. Climb up Hankey Mountain to the gated forest road for several miles. Then the trail gets technical again, with the last few miles highlighted by steep, rocky climbs leading to dramatic overlooks before dropping back down to the parking area.

Iron Mountain Trail, VA

The Iron Mountain Trail can seem a bit disjointed at times: a 19-mile stretch between Cross Mountain and Damascus that ends with a road walk into town, then another 14-mile section near the Little Dry Run Wilderness. But the best section parallels the Appalachian Trail inside the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area running for 23 miles between Damascus and Highway 16.

“This is the old route of the A.T. and it’s had a lot of rest,” says Jeff Patrick, who leads hikes all over the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. “The rest of the High Country gets so much use, but Iron Mountain, even though it’s close to town, doesn’t see a fraction of the boots.”

Total Mileage: 23
Highlights: Rocky terrain, shelters, solitude (everyone’s busy hiking the A.T.)
More Info: Mount Rogers Outfitters

Day One

Pick up the trail just outside of downtown Damascus and begin a rocky climb up to Feathercamp Ridge. Camp at the Sandy Flats Shelter for the night. It’s a short 6.2-mile day, but this will give you time to take an optional side trip down Feathercamp Trail, which drops into a cover offering a series of wading pools and small cascades.

Day Two

Continue heading east on the Iron Mountain as it crosses a forest road and rolls and dips over small knobs along the Iron Mountain ridgeline.  Eventually, you’ll start passing some older growth trees and pass the Straight Branch Trail shelter, 4.5 miles into your day. Keep on trekking another four miles to the Cherry Tree shelter. There’s some road walking as you skirt the edge of Round Top and Double Top.

Day Three

The Iron Mountain Trail, which shares the path with the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail for less than two miles. You’ll cross paths with the A.T., then drop and rise in and out of seasonal creek gorges. Between the A.T. and the intersection of 4022, locals know of a pasture with incredible views called Comers Meadow. It’s off trail, but if you’re looking for adventure, it’s worth seeking out. The big finale of this portion of the Iron Mountain is Comers Falls. Take the Comers Creek Trail 0.2 miles to a series of drops and pools inside a tight, rocky gorge.

The North Fork Mountain Trail offers stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Michael McCumber.

North Fork Mountain Trail, WV

The North Fork Mountain Trail is a 24-mile long ridgeline trail running along the entire crest of the North Fork Mountain near the Virginia-West Virginia border.  Along the way you’ll get incredibly dramatic views of Shenandoah Mountain, Seneca Rocks, two forks of the Potomac, and Dolly Sods. The mountain has long been highlighted by the Nature Conservancy for its surprising biodiversity. The rocky crest supports ancient, twisted oaks, white pines, beds of ferns, even virgin red spruce. The trail is the centerpiece of a recent effort to create a federally designated Wilderness area.

Total Mileage: 24
Highlights: Views, rocky outcroppings, more views, virgin
More Info: Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides

Day One

Start at the southern terminus and roll along the ridgeline, where you’ll get your first big view of Germany Valley and Spruce Knob to the west. Eventually you’ll reach High Knob, which has campsites and a view of Seneca Rocks. If you’re fit, push forward and turn this into a two-day, one-night trip, where you stash a car with water and food at FS 79, halfway into the trail. There are campsites within a short walk of either side of the road.

Day Two

Continue hiking north and enjoy the views of Dolly Sods and the South Branch of the Potomac. The trail arrives at Chimney Top Rocks, a massive sandstone cliff band with arguably the best views along the trail. Shortly after the cliffs, you’ve got an 1,800 foot descent over 2.5 miles to Route 28, near Smoke Hole Caverns.

The Laurel Highlands Trail meanders through some of Pennsylvania’s most scenic river valleys. Photo by Michelle Adams.

Laurel Highlands Trail, PA

The 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking trail serves as the backbone of a 218-square-mile forested area that ’s called the Laurel Highlands.  The area has 600 miles of hiking trail. The Laurel Highlands Trail runs from Ohiopyle State Park and the Youghiogheny River to the Conemaugh River, connecting a variety of maintained forests along the way.

“You hike from park to park, running along the ridge, occasionally dropping into stream valleys, and popping back up for great views from cliffs,” says Bruce Sundquist, who wrote a guide to the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail for the Sierra Club.

The trail is blazed at regular intervals, has concrete mile markers, and offers shelter systems with reliable water, making this the most beginner-friendly long trail in the region. Note: the hiker’s bridge over Interstate 76 has been removed and an 8-mile road walk detour is in place.

Total Mileage: 70+
Highlights: Shelter system, cliffs, expansive views and roaring rivers
More Info: Wilderness Voyageurs

Day One

Start at Ohiopyle State Park and hike along the river before climbing to the top of the ridge for views of a bend in the mighty Yough below. You’ll drop off the ridge into a stream valley, cross a forest road and arrive at the first trail shelter after six miles.

Day Two

Start your day with a two-mile climb to a level ridge at 2,500 feet. You’ll skirt a pond below Cranberry Glade Lake before mile 14, then pick up your next shelter at mile 18.5.

Day Three

Keep rolling along the ridge at 2,700 feet through a state park, then drop off Grindle Ridge, cross a few creeks, and arrive at next shelter at mile 24.

Day Four

Enjoy the scenery near Seven Springs Resort, as well as some brief lake-side hiking. After the eight-mile detour, continue hiking north to the highlight of the trip, Beam Rocks, offering sweeping views to the east. Your shelter for the night sits at mile marker 46.5.

Day Five

This 11-mile day rolls through Laurel Ridge State Park where you’ll spend the night at a shelter at mile 57.

Day Six

You’ve got 13 miles to the northern terminus through some of the most scenic terrain along the trail, especially as you skirt the rim of the Conemaugh Gorge. Views of the river below are almost continuous for the last few miles of this thru-hike.

John Muir Trail, TN

The 20-mile John Muir National Recreation Trail in Eastern Tennessee (lovingly referred to as “the other JMT”) follows a tiny piece of the 1,000-mile journey that John Muir took from Kentucky to Florida in 1867. The trail predominantly follows the Hiwassee River, except when it rises via switchbacks to ridgelines and cliff bands to offer gorgeous views of the broad, green canyon.

“Trillium, jack in the pulpit, bloodroot, and other wildflowers line the trail in April and May,” says Harold Webb, a native to the area who owns the Webb Brothers General Store.

Total Mileage: 19 (not including a side trip)
Highlights: wild flowers, swimming holes, gorge views
More Info: The Webb Brothers General Store

Day One

Begin at the Childers Creek Parking area and start hiking upstream. The first three miles are flat and easy, passing through wildflower meadows. You’ll do a little road walking but also get up onto some high bluffs with great views of the river and its green gorge. The gorge gets thin at “the Narrows” and the trail rises to a serious cliff line high above water level. Find primitive campsites along Coker Creek.

Day Two

You have seven miles from Coker Creek to TN 68, most of which is hiked along the Hiwassee River. Optional Side trip: Before you break camp, hike 2.5 miles up the Coker Creek Falls Trail to the falls of the same name, which is a series of ledges and pools (the biggest drop is 40 feet).

Before the hike is over, you’ll leave the river to climb a ridge to an overlook 600 feet above the riverbed that offers a view of the Hiwassee Gorge and beyond.  The trail continues for a mile past TN 68, but it’s typically overgrown and strenuous.

A hiker pauses at an outcropping along the Tanawha Trail near Grandfather Mountain, N.C. Photo by Todd Bush.

Tanawha Trail, N.C.

13.5 miles may not sound like a long trail, but the technical terrain and panoramic side trips make the Tanawha a mini-epic adventure.  The Tanawha (Cherokee for eagle) parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway along the edge of Grandfather Mountain, running from Beacon Heights to Julian Price Park.

“You’re either walking through rolling meadows or extremely rocky boulder fields,” says Jason Berry, a hiker who chooses the Tanawha for short overnight excursions.

Sections of the Tanawha are so biologically diverse that massive boardwalks were helicoptered into place to keep our feet off of precious plants. Accessing the trail is easy, thanks to the Parkway. The tread is schizophrenic, oscilating between smooth singletrack to rocky steps to boulder hopping.

Total Mileage: 13.5 (not including sidetrips)
Highlights: Boulders, stargazing, boardwalks, and big views
More Info: Footsloggers in Boone and Blowing Rock

Day One

Start this 9-mile day at Beacon Heights and head north. Pass under the Lynn Cove Viaduct (an engineering marvel that attracts visitors all on its own), and gets even more technical as you make your way up to Rough Ridge, an expansive rock outcropping with beautiful views. Along the ridge, you’ll climb rock stairs, squeeze through chutes, and climb boulders. ”It’s like a jungle gym for big people,” Berry says.

After the ridge, the terrain mellows. Stop at the Hi-Balsam Shelter near Flat Rock, an amazing stargazing site.

Day Two

You’re roughly six miles from the northern end of the Tanawha. Optional Side Trip: The Cragway Trail offers views of the Boone Fork Bowl. After a mile, hang a left on the Nuwati for a short hike to Storyteller’s Rock for an even better view of a valley. Take the Nuwati downslope to its junction with the Tanawha in 1.2 miles, then continue your journey north.

The terrain gets progressively easier as you near the terminus at Julian Price Lake, with meadows blanketed in spring wildflowers.

Fires Creek Rim Trail, N.C.

Backpackers come to this 25-mile loop for one thing: solitude. The Rim Trail hugs the ridgeline around the 21,000-acre Fires Creek Wildlife Management Area, in a remote corner of the Nantahala National Forest. Blowdowns and briars also cover this rugged, remote trail, and water is scarce, so be prepared to work for your solitude.

Total Mileage: 25
Highlights: Solitude, rugged terrain, high elevation balds, expansive views
More Info: Appalachian Outfitters: 828-837-4165.

Day One

Start at the trailhead at the Fires Creek Picnic Area soaking in the 25-foot Leatherwood Falls before heading northwest on the Rim Trail. Travel 8 miles on your 3,000-foot climb to Big Stamp. The Phillips Ridge Trail junction is one of the few reliable sources of water, so stock up for the journey ahead.

Day Two

Pack up camp and continue your trek along the Rim toward Tusquitee Bald, 7.3 miles away. You’ll cross Weatherman Bald, which sits just under 5,000 feet and offers partial views of the surrounding peaks, and the headwaters of Fires Creek. When you reach the edge of Tusquitee Bald, scramble up the Chunky Gal Trail a short distance to the grassy, 5,200-foot summit.

Day Three

The last nine miles are a predominantly downhill hike as you make your way back to the Fires Creek Picnic Area. Along the way, you’ll pass Potrock Bald, which many backpackers say is the best view along the trail.

Side trips along the Tanawha Trail lead to swimming holes and cascades. Photo by Todd Bush.

Art Loeb Trail, N.C.

This 30-mile-long footpath traverses balds, rocky knobs, Wilderness areas, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“If you take the A.T. and mash it up into 32 miles, you get the Art Loeb,” says Marcus Webb, a Brevard-based hiker and climber.

With rhodo tunnels, waterfall sidetrips, 360-degree views, and ridgeline traverses, the Art Loeb is a highlight reel of the Southern Appalachians. There are even a few shelters stashed along its route.

Total Miles: 30
Highlights: Bald knobs, expansive views, shelters, side trips
More Info: Pura Vida Adventures 

Day One

From Daniel Boone Camp, tackle the beastly 2,000-foot climb to Deep Gap in under four miles. Optional side trip: a three-mile out and back to the summit of 6,030-foot Cold Mountain. From Deep Gap, head south through the heart of Shining Rock Wilderness, traversing the Narrows, a mile-long ridgeline crest. Eventually you’ll pass Shining Rock, a massive collection of quartz rock. In 8.2 miles, reach Ivester Gap and set up camp for the night.

Day Two

From Ivestor Gap, keep heading south on the Loeb, crossing 6,000-foot  Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob, a rocky dome with 360-degree views. Cross over the Parkway and hike Shuck Ridge. You’ll reach another Deep Gap at 7.6 miles. Set up camp, or pick a spot in the shelter for the night.

Day Three

After leaving Deep Gap, you’ll summit Pilot Mountain, with great views of Looking Glass Rock. Butter Gap Shelter is only 6.1 miles down trail. If you’re looking for another side trip, check out Butter Gap Trail, which offers a dramatic waterfall just 1.5-miles from the Loeb.

Day Four

It’s 8.2 miles to the southern terminus at Davidson River Campground. Skirt Cedar Rock Mountain shortly after leaving the shelter, and at Cat Gap, consider a side trip to John Rock, a granite cliff that drops 200 feet. After the gap, it’s a steady drop and smooth sailing into the campground.

Daniel Boone National Forest

 Emily Duty | Jan 18, 2019 | National & State Parks

Daniel Boone National Forest

 

In Winchester, Kentucky, you can visit the Daniel Boone National Forest. It spans hundreds of acres, several counties and is filled with great history, stunning rock formations, endangered animals, and more. 

Inside this post, you will learn how it got its name and what there is to see and do when during your visit. 

Who was Daniel Boone?

In case you don’t know, here’s a quick history lesson. In short: Daniel Boone was an American Pioneer and explorer who spearheaded the exploration into what is now known as the state of Kentucky.

After the Revolution, he became one of the leading citizens there, helping to establish roads and rules, and survey the land. So, it’s fitting then that in 1966 the Cumberland National Forest, which originally opened in 1937, changed it’s named to honor Boone. 

The Forest

Millions of visitors head to the Daniel Boone National Forest each year to soak up its beauty and abundant wildlife. And also to enjoy the outdoor recreational activities.

Popular attractions are Cave Run Lake, Laurel River, and the Red River Gorge. The Red River Gorge Geological Area is known for sandstone cliff, natural stone arches, and unusual rock formations. One formation, in particular, is the Natural Arch. It was formed throughout many years, thanks to wind erosion, water, and ice. It’s now considered a sacred sight to the Cherokee Indians. 

Animals and Plants

In addition to interesting rock formations, the forest is also home to an incredible amount of biodiversity. The naturally eroded sandstone that helped to form waterfalls, cliffs, gorges, bridges, arches, and pathways provide an alluring habitat for the plants an animals within the forest. There are 18 different species of endangered or threatened animals, like bats, fish, and mussels. 

Get Outside 

green pathway inside of Daniel Boone National Park in Kentucky

The Forest is a popular destination for outdoor adventure and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. It’s nearly 600 different trails, winding rivers and streams make it an excellent place for a quiet escape and peaceful hike. 

It’s also the perfect place for fishing, climbing, horseback riding, and camping. Or if water sports are more your thing: kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. 

Are you looking to stay the night? There are four different camping locations within the park. Some have cabins available for rent, and others with RV accommodations. 

Enjoy 

Enjoy your visit. Nothing is better than the great outdoors.


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