Summer is nearly upon us, and now is the perfect time to start planning your warm weather getaways. No matter where you live, a hidden gem of a mountain to hike, lake to kayak or beach to lounge on likely lies no more than a few hours away.
Even for the most budget-conscious urban dweller, there are many ways to enjoy one’s natural surroundings without breaking the bank.
1. Stay in your state
Sometimes just a short drive out of your usual environment is all that is necessary to get away from it all. Each state has an extensive system of state parks, and often just a quick search on the Web with your state name and the words “state parks” will yield a hidden escape close to home.
A visit to a state park is also an impromptu way to explore your natural surroundings for a day or weekend without a lot of advance planning.
2. Plan a beach trip and make a difference
Heading to the beach is one of the best ways to spend a warm summer day, but many beaches and oceans are in peril due to environmental degradation and the effects of climate change. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, you can also help keep the coastline clean near you by participating in a beach cleanup.
Organizations like Heal the Bay regularly organize official cleanup days. These events are also an excellent place to meet like-minded people and strategize about more ways to protect our precious waterfronts.
3. Get out in the garden
Gardening in your own backyard or even on your balcony is both an excellent way to get outdoors and to grow a little bit of your own organic food. Whether a novice or seasoned gardener, resources abound such as books, gardening blogs and even groups that support the effort of local gardeners by offering classes and workshops on everything from composting to container gardening.
Many local farmers also sell veggie, herb and fruit starts at farmers markets this time of year, so the potentially daunting task of starting a garden from scratch is often unnecessary.
4. Consider a “staycation”
A staycation is a great way to enjoy all the amenities of a traditional vacation, but without traveling too far from home to do it. It’s great entertainment that’s good for your wallet and for the environment as well, as the energy used to travel is greatly reduced.
Check with your local town or city parks and recreation department and get maps of local parks and hiking trails. Many cities have large parks to explore such as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Central Park in New York City and Discovery Park in Seattle.
If you are a biker, check with your local biking group and get maps for the most bike-friendly roads as well as existing bike paths. If you have a kayak or canoe, look for a lake, river or ocean near you that would make an excellent local destination.
5. Hit the trails
There are thousands of miles of hiking trails to explore. For example, the Appalachian Trail on the East Coast runs from Maine to Georgia, and the Pacific Crest trail on the West Coast stretches from Mexico to Canada.
Many of these trails also have conservancy associations like the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which work to preserve the trails and the area surrounding them.
The websites for these organizations are full of information to help you plan everything from a day hike to a month-long backpacking trip. Many of these organizations also maintain the trails, and you find volunteering opportunities for trail cleanups or join a local hiking group. Organizations like the Sierra Club also run year-round outdoor excursions through their local chapters.
6. Hit the rails
The Rails to Trails Conservancy has created a national network of bike trails by converting former railroad lines. The rails to trails currently cover 19,000 miles with plans to convert up to 9,000 more miles of vacant rails to usable bike paths. Its website has extensive information about the trails, as well as information about what you can do to support the conservancy.
7. Fly above it all
For the more adventurous, consider a low-impact ziplining adventure above the tree line. Ziptrek Ecotours offers ziplining adventures in Whistler, British Columbia, and they built their system with a minimal impact on the environment following The Natural Step guidelines.
8. Look for a national park
Many national parks start opening their resorts and taking reservations now, so this is the perfect time to plan your trip. There are several ways to experience the extensive national park system – from making your way on a bike to rafting through the Grand Canyon, there is an outdoor adventure to suit every taste this summer.
From camping in Yosemite Valley in California to staying at Paradise Inn in Mt. Rainier National Park, there is also an accommodation for every budget. National parks offer a vast array of experiences and climates around the country. Visit the National Parks website for more information about a specific park.