As warm weather approaches, it is never enough to air out the office with open windows and exchange heavy sweaters for light blouses. Just as the grey clouds disperse for blue skies, I seek a way to clear my mind and reset how I approach my workload and its accompanying stress levels.
To truly feel revitalized I need nature outside city limits
For an optimal experience I turn to one of the 59 U.S. National Parks. Without fail, I am never the same person leaving as when I entered, returning to work and my daily routines with a refreshed perspective. The clean air, constant movement, respite from phone and computer screens, calming natural environment and countless recreation possibilities (hiking, climbing, swimming, rafting etc.) offer mental and physical health benefits that far exceed a cup of coffee or an hour at the gym. And, if I go with a co-worker, we find our relationship both outside and inside the office is greatly strengthened, enabling us to tackle projects with renewed vigor.
From casual day trips to intense backpacking adventures here are just six parks I can’t get enough of:
1. Glacier National Park, Montana
Take notice. Walk with an open mind and open eyes. Maybe a cloud is blocking the view you hoped to see, but under its shade you come upon a black bear and her cubs. Maybe you get drenched in a storm, but then you witness double rainbow magic. The pristine lakes, majestic mountains and deep forests in Glacier are rich with discoveries if you choose to see them.
2. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Get lost. Sometimes the best way to find a direction is to go without one. Sequoia trees are so massive that you can drive a car through their trunks. Whether you metaphorically let your thoughts get lost among these giants, or, as I did, quite literally become lost in the backcountry, there is relief in relinquishing the control we rely on in our day-to-day lives.
3. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Find inspiration. It’s hard to believe an arid landscape can be considered picturesque. Yet, the hillsides of saguaro cacti, resembling dancers frozen in varying positions, are so striking, especially at sunset. Contemplating these towering ancients, you can’t help but wonder at nature’s perseverance and creativity. But stay alert: Those needles mean business!
4. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Have fun. Enjoying nature doesn’t have to be an existential exploration. Take the tour boat out on Crater Lake to Wizard Island (an old volcanic cinder cone). Hike to the top. Then embrace your inner child and go sliding on the snow inside.
5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Go together. Christopher McCandless wrote, “Happiness is only real when shared.” So, grab a friend and go biking on the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, wander from woodlands to wetlands or attend the many outdoor arts and cultural events in the valley. This place is my home state’s best-kept secret.
6. Yosemite National Park, California
Embrace challenges. Outside a gym, physical exercise is an entirely different experience. Rock climbing on actual rock means there is not a clear route. Running on a trail means you’re going to get dirty. Swimming in a lake does not guarantee perfect water temperatures. But when the air you breathe is fresh, not stale with sweat, the music comes from birds, not loudspeakers and the view is an unfathomable vista, not a T.V. screen, you’ll find gratification that far exceeds simply having good physical fitness.
Most important to remember when embarking on your next park adventure: