Nature is good for you. Yup, scientists have found that being in nature can decrease stress, make you happier and boost your creativity. If you’re looking for a feel-good experience, now may be the time to get out into our National Parks, or at the very least, start planning a nature-focused summer adventure.
Of course, you can go hiking or camping in our National Parks, but there’s so much more. Here are 10 fantastic ways to explore nature and get a happiness boost at the same time:
1. Sled Down a Sand Dune. At White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, you can sled down any one of the many sand dunes on a snow saucer. Bring your own saucer or buy one for $15 in the gift shop at the park (note: you’ll get back $5 if you return the sled when you’re finished sledding).
2. Become a Junior Geologist. At Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, kids can earn a Junior Geologist patch between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Children will learn about geology, erosion and colorful rock layers at the park. Also, look for ranger-led programs on rocks and geology during your visit.
3. Try a Cell Phone Audio Tour. Kids love electronics, especially cell phones, so this is a great way to get them into nature. At the Grand Canyon, kids can use your phone (or their phones) to learn about points of interest when they see Park Ranger Audio Tour signs.
4. Enjoy a Geology Scavenger Hunt. Take the Geology Challenge at Badlands National Park to see if you can find Sod Table and Hoodoo. Study up on geologic formations so you can easily complete the scavenger hunt. Also, stop in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center for exhibits and hands-on activities.
5. Go Horseback Riding. Many parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana, offer horseback trail rides to experience wilderness trails. This is a fun way to enjoy the parks from a new vantage point, like three or four feet up from the ground. A two-hour ride is generally plenty for kids.
6. Sign Up for a Night Sky Program. Several national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, offer night sky programs. You’ll use high-powered telescopes to see planets and constellations. Some parks also have dark sky festivals during the summer with hikes and hands-on activities.
7. Become a Junior Paleontologist. At Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, kids can learn about fossils and complete fun activities to earn a Junior Paleontologist badge. Kids can also earn this badge at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, as well as any national park that preserves fossils.
8. Try Geocaching. Lots of national parks offer geocaching adventures in which you seek out treasures that have been hidden in the parks. Or, try EarthCaching, which is like geocaching only it involves finding caches that the earth has created, rather than treasures left by other game players.
9. Go on a Mule Ride. At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, sign up for a mule trip at the South Rim or North Rim. Plan ahead because mule trips are booked up to 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. Ride into the canyon while learning about geology, native peoples and the Colorado River.
10. Go on a Full Moon Ranger Hike. Several national parks, including Bryce Canyon in Utah and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, offer full moon ranger hikes or walks. These popular nocturnal adventures are a fun way to explore the parks and wildlife as you seek out the best views of the full moon.