Enjoy Nature with These Fun, Relaxing Activities That Aren’t Hiking

This blog often touches on the many ways spending time in nature benefits your health. But it’s one thing to intellectually understand that spending time outside can boost your health; it’s another to actually do it.

There are plenty of reasons why people don’t participate in outdoor activities. However, for many, spending time in nature means hiking, and that just doesn’t appeal to them—it may sound boring, pointless, or simply too strenuous.

If you want to get outside, but hiking up a mountain doesn’t exactly thrill you, there are plenty of other outdoor activities you may not have considered. Here are a few. These activities are lowkey and relaxing, and can provide you with hours of fun outside.

Photography, Painting, and Visual Art

Photography

Spending time in nature doesn’t just boost your health. It also gives you the opportunity to indulge in creative pursuits like photography, painting, and sketching. This can be a relaxing, fun way to spend time outside without having to work up a sweat or even travel far. You can also make a game of it—for example, go on a walk in the woods and try to find five wildflowers to photograph. From wildlife to plants to scenic views, nature offers plenty of fascinating, colorful subjects and beautiful light to inspire your creativity.

Geocaching

Geocaching is an excellent outdoor activity if you have children—it’s essentially a treasure hunt. Geocachers use a GPS device or mobile phone to navigate to hidden “caches” filled with trinkets. These caches and their GPS coordinates are published on sites like www.opencaching.us and www.geocaching.com; there are more than 3 million active geocaches in 191 countries on all 7 continents worldwide. 

Geocaching is fun because it combines aspects of hiking, orienteering, and treasure-hunting, and it offers a fun challenge and reward if a walk or a hike doesn’t seem interesting to you. In addition, caches are rated according to difficulty and the surrounding physical terrain. This means there are caches that are perfect for families with young children and caches that demand a lengthy hike to reach, and everything in between.  

Forest Bathing

Forest bathing is a meditative practice that only requires you to be present in nature. First established as the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is a way to “bathe” in nature with all your senses. For example, you might take a slow walk through the woods, breathing deeply and taking the time to note all you see, hear, smell, and touch. There’s no need to rush or make it to a certain destination; the goal (if you can call it that) is just to be. If you’re feeling stressed and tense, forest bathing is a great way to slow down and reconnect with the natural world.

Birdwatching

There are 47 million birders in the United States—why not join them? Birdwatching is a relaxing, fascinating hobby and a fun way to spend time in the natural world. It’s also a hobby that appeals to a broad range of people.

For example, there’s a challenging, competitive aspect to it if you want; many birders compete in what’s called the “Big Year” to see who can spot the most species in a specific region in a year. Plenty of birders take a lowkey, more relaxed approach to their hobby and simply enjoy learning how to identify birds by their appearance and song. Other birders enjoy the “citizen science” aspect and record their sightings for research projects and wildlife organizations. If you’re looking for a hobby with a community, birdwatching is also a great choice—birdwatching clubs abound.

Mushroom Hunting

Mushrooms

Mushroom hunting is another excellent hobby to pick up if you want to spend more time in nature, but don’t want to go on a strenuous or fast-paced hike. There are tens of thousands of species of mushrooms, which makes identifying them a fun challenge, and they are more ephemeral than plants—they often appear after a rain. Finding one in the wild is like finding a hidden treasure, especially if you find an edible one prized for its taste! 

At the same time, keep in mind that some mushrooms can make you sick or even kill you if you eat them. If you’re a beginner, go mushroom hunting with someone who is experienced and invest a quality field guide. You may also find a local foraging group in your area. If you go alone as a beginner, do not eat anything you find—your goal for your first few hunts should simply be to find mushrooms, identify their species, and collect a sample or photograph.

Nature Collecting

Even when walking through your neighborhood, you’ve probably noticed a particularly beautiful leaf, a pinecone, or a feather dropped by a passing bird. Collecting natural objects is an easy, fun way to spend time outside, and it can also entertain young children for hours. Start your collection with what interests you the most—maybe it’s rocks, shells, sea glass, old birds’ nests, or even seeds. Nature collecting is also fun because it gives you something to do once you’re home: figuring out how to display your collection.

Other Outdoor Activities

Of course, there are plenty of other outdoor activities, like bicycling, kayaking, climbing, bouldering, surfing, and swimming. However, remember that you can also enjoy nature if more lowkey activities appeal to you. Give one of the activities on this list a try and get outside!

These Studies Prove Spending Time in Nature Offers Major Benefits

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard that spending time in green spaces and enjoying nature offers a range of benefits. You may understandably be a bit skeptical. People and pundits constantly claim that everything from practicing a hobby to organizing your home yields significant, measurable benefits.

Luckily, there’s plenty of research that shows that spending time in nature is helpful. The following are just a few examples of studies clearly demonstrating the many reasons we should all prioritize relaxing in green spaces—for example, through forest bathing or solo and group nature excursions.

Even Pictures of Nature Are Beneficial

It’s important to understand that actually going out and spending time in nature is the best way to take advantage of the experience. Immersing all your senses in a natural environment is more effective than taking a “virtual hike.”

That said, it’s worth noting that nature’s effects on our wellbeing are so strong that, when you’re stuck inside, even mere pictures of nature can still offer some clear benefits.

Yosemite Park nature

For example, in one study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers discovered that when participants simply stared at pictures of beautiful natural settings for as little as 40 seconds, the brain entered a measurably more relaxed state. Participants also performed better on a test of attention than the control group, who were instructed to stare at a concrete ceiling.

Another study published in Environmental Science & Technology indicates that looking at pictures of nature can boost your autonomic function after having an acutely stressful experience. That’s especially important, because your autonomic nervous system controls crucial but unconscious bodily processes, such as digestion, heart rate, breathing rate, and how the pupils of your eyes respond to light.

The researchers conducting this study had one group of participants look at pictures of nature after having stressful experiences, while another group looked at pictures of urban settings. The group that looked at pictures of nature exhibited significantly greater improvements in autonomic function than the group that looked at urban scenes.

Once again, none of this is to suggest that looking at pictures of green spaces is a substitute for actually experiencing them in person. These examples merely show how nature’s ability to improve our physical and mental health is so strong that it can even deliver measurable effects through images.

Some researchers explain these results with a concept called biophilia. First popularized by the American naturalist Edward O. Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis posits that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life, and that this quality is the essence of our humanity. (For a more complete exploration of this idea, see Wilson’s own book on the subject.) The biophilia hypothesis has influenced professionals in other disciplines—for example, biophilic architecture is designed to increase building occupants’ connection to the natural environment.

More Benefits with More Time Outdoors

If pictures of nature can provide measurable benefits, imagine what going outside can do!

Don’t fret if you live in a city. Odds are good you have plenty of options to choose from if you ever want to get out of the city and enjoy spending some time in nature. For instance, just a little over an hour north from New York City, you’ll find the Shawangunk Ridge, a gorgeous area of the state that’s home to Minnewaska State Park. The Shawangunk Mountains and the Hudson River Valley are excellent, accessible destinations for New Yorkers looking to get back to nature.

Fortunately, even when immediate circumstances don’t permit you to leave the city, there’s a good chance you can at least spend some time in one of your local parks. Research indicates that this can also provide benefits.

Many studies throughout the years have confirmed that exposure to nature can reduce physical and mental stress, and even potentially guard against a range of psychiatric conditions. Recent evidence also indicates you don’t need to spend hours at the park if you’re on a tight schedule, either—one recent study revealed that spending as little as 20 minutes in a park was enough to increase participants’ subjective well-being: in other words, their sense of life satisfaction.

Though a quick walk in your local park can help you feel less stressed and happier, other research suggests you may receive even greater benefits by spending more time in nature. A study in Behavioral Sciences compared the different effects of experiencing three “levels of nature”: an undeveloped, natural site that resembled wilderness; a city park; and an indoor exercise facility in a city.

The researchers measured participants’ cortisol and amylase (a digestive enzyme) levels before and after they visited the respective sites. Their findings show that natural environments can reduce physical and mental stress—and that visitors to the wild, natural environment reported “significantly lower” levels of stress than the participants who visited the urban park or the indoor exercise facility.

These results are similar to the research on forest bathing. This practice was born in Japan but is now popular around the world—it involves taking a longer, quiet, meditative walk in the woods, just to absorb nature with all one’s senses. Research indicates that forest bathing can reduce stress and even increase production of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, which are critical to the immune system.

All these studies remind us that nature can have tremendous positive effects on our wellbeing. You don’t need to do more than look at a photo of a natural setting for a quick pick-me-up, but longer nature excursions and forest bathing may provide the greatest benefits.

The Amazing Benefits of Solo & Group Nature Trips

Reconnecting with the natural world through a nature excursion isn’t just a pleasant way to escape from your typical routine. Research shows it can also offer a range of very practical benefits, such as reducing stress, improving focus, and reducing blood pressure.

However, if you’re planning a nature excursion, you may wonder whether it’s better to head out into the woods with a group, or to go solo.

There’s no universal answer to your question. Both solo and group nature trips offer their own unique benefits. This guide will help you determine which option is right for your goals.

Benefits of Group Nature Excursions

It’s important to understand that heading out into nature by yourself can be dangerous if you’re not an experienced hiker. Without others, you may get lost, or potentially injure yourself without anyone nearby to assist you. 

This highlights one of the primary benefits of spending time in nature with a group of people. Venturing into the wilderness with company is always safer, especially if you are planning an overnight trip.

That said, even if you do have the proper experience to navigate the wilderness by yourself safely, there are still other reasons to consider a group nature excursion. Spending time in nature with others gives you an opportunity to get to know family, friends, or even strangers in a way that you typically can’t during other social activities. For example, if you’re sitting on the couch watching TV with your partner, any socializing you do will likely be passive; you certainly aren’t in a position to have a deep or engaging conversation.

On the other hand, when you’re out in nature together, all the distractions in daily life that often prevent us from truly connecting with each other are removed. This facilitates a deeper connection that’s difficult to come by otherwise. Even after what might otherwise be a relatively short hike, you may emerge from the experience feeling closer.

What’s more, walking in the woods or other natural area is a feast for the senses. What you notice might not be exactly what someone else notices. On a group nature hike or other excursion, you’ll get the chance to appreciate more elements of the overall experience, because you’ll be with people who might notice sights and sounds you’d otherwise miss. For example, maybe you have a great eye for spotting beautiful foliage, while someone else in your group is good at identifying birds just from their songs.

Everyone can appreciate nature’s beauty—there’s no special skill or knowledge required. Group nature excursions can be a joyful experience that allow you to connect with family and friends, or even make new ones, by sharing your delight in nature’s beauty.

The Benefits of Solo Nature Excursions

excursions

Spending time alone in nature can be a peaceful experience. That’s one of the key reasons solo nature excursions are often beneficial. Everyone needs time for self-reflection; it provides a chance to evaluate your life, your choices, and your identity, determining if you need to make any adjustments. Many of us spend much of our time denying our emotions, rather than dealing with them. Self-reflection is an opportunity to check in with yourself emotionally and pay attention to what you’re really feeling.

However, finding opportunities for self-reflection and introspection can be difficult. A certain degree of silence (that lasts for a relatively extended period of time) is necessary to facilitate the proper mindset. Even if you’re out in nature, you may not be able to find that type of silence if you’re traveling with a group. You need to be alone for this experience, which is why a solo nature walk or hike can be excellent for self-reflection.

Keep in mind that the benefits of spending time by yourself in nature aren’t merely theoretical. Research also confirms that solo nature excursions can support your well-being in a variety of ways. 

For example, researchers have found that being in nature by yourself has a profound impact on stress levels. Studies have also indicated that solo nature trips can improve your attention and focus.

It’s easy to see why. During everyday life, numerous stimuli likely distract you. Emails, text messages, and conversations can eat away at your attention span. When you’re out in nature, however, you’re no longer bombarded in that way. This gives your brain a chance to reset itself. While you can enjoy this benefit to a degree during a group nature excursion, the effect is even greater when you’re alone, because you can focus completely on your thoughts or just being present in the moment, without interruptions.

Again, you still need to consider your own safety if you’re planning a nature excursion. A difficult hike might not be ideal for a solo trip if you lack experience. That said, as these points indicate, whether you venture into nature alone or with others, you’ll experience major benefits.