To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from — Terry Tempest Williams
I am in the mountains and they are healing me. It is like the miracle pool at Lourdes except it’s not a miracle and we’re not at Lourdes. We’re at Maroon Bells, which depending on which website you ask, are the most photographed mountains in Aspen, in Colorado, or in North America. I photograph them some more, to help them hold onto their title.
The mountains, and their attendant plant life and water features, are helping to lower my blood pressure, and my stress hormones, and keeping my heart rate variability normal. These are just some of the health benefits of spending time in nature that studies have found in recent years. But this beautiful, soothing environment is fairly remote—its nearest neighbor is the wealthy enclave of Aspen. Back home, I don’t see anything like this on a regular basis. And neither do most people.
“Intuitively, many of us believe this to be true, that we feel better in nature. But it’s only recently that we’ve been able to see biomarkers of this change,” says Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix. She is a member of the panel that is currently holding forth on nature’s health benefits, fittingly, in an outdoor amphitheater right by the Bells, as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
As the empirical evidence mounts, nature-as-medical-treatment is catching on. “Ecotherapy” is a burgeoning field, and some doctors even write prescriptions for time spent in parks, as my colleague James Hamblin wrote in 2015.
In some ways, this is a return to an 18th- and 19th-century understanding of what the body needs. Old-timey therapies that suggested patients go for walks outside or “take in the sea air” were on to something. The pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale advocated strongly that patients be exposed to fresh air and sunlight. As she wrote in her 1859 Notes on Nursing:
It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light; that, after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room. And that it is not only light but direct sun-light they want… People think the effect is upon the spirits only. This is by no means the case…Without going into any scientific exposition we must admit that light has quite as real and tangible effects upon the human body.
The light certainly feels tangible here, snuggled in the bosom of the Rockies. There are still stripes of snow on the mountains, which are peppered here and there with fistfuls of pipe-cleaner pine trees. There is a sparkling lake in the valley, and the rushing sound of a hidden waterfall off to our right. The morning mountain air is thin and cold, but fresh, and the smell of pine is so strong that it seems fake. It smells like someone has strapped a got-dang Yankee Candle to my nose. I discreetly sniff the woman next to me to be sure she’s not just wearing a really strong perfume.
All of this is distracting, Williams says, from any ruminative, negative thoughts I might otherwise be having. She references a study that had people take a 90-minute walk either in a natural environment, or in an urban environment, scanning their brains before and after. The people who went on a nature stroll had decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is associated with rumination—the sort of negative thoughts that you return to over and over, picking at a scab. And the participants reported feeling better, as well.
Williams says she copied Michael Pollan’s “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” axiom for her own prescription: “Go outside, go often, go with friends, or not.”
But the problem is that this rash of research showing how wonderful nature is for you is coinciding with a decrease in the amount of time people actually spend in nature. “Our culture tells you that watching Netflix or eating ice cream will make you feel great, and those things are great, but many of us in our society are very disconnected from nature,” Williams says.
A 2008 study found that the percent of Americans who participate in outside activities like camping, fishing, or hunting has been decreasing by about 1 percent a year since the late 1980s. A survey done in the U.K. found that 70 percent of adults remembered doing most of their “adventurous play” outside, while only 29 percent of kids said the same. And, at least in 2001, when the Environmental Protection Agency did its National Human Activity Pattern Survey, adults spent 87 percent of their time indoors in buildings, and another 6 percent of their time in vehicles.
“That goes to this issue of who has access to nature, and who can gain access,” says Michael Dorsey, the senior program officer for sustainability at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. “The decline is differential, based on socioeconomic differences, on race, and on class.” As more people move to urban areas, nature gets farther away. And it’s easier to get to the nature if you have the money to pay for the gas to drive there, for the park entrance fee, for camping gear. When coming up with prescriptions for nature, Dorsey says, “we also have to do that in a political economic context.”
That means making nature available for people who can’t trek to the mountains—making it part of people’s day to day lives. Williams brings up Frederick Olmsted, the designer of Central Park. “His greatest lasting legacy,” she says, “is what he understood about how human communities really need nature, not just to make us feel better. We need these green spaces for democracy. It becomes a ground for the mixing of different classes, different ethnicities. It wasn’t just about the aesthetics—it was about what it meant for the way we socialize with each other, the way we live together.”
Source: Julie Beck, Nature Therapy Is a Privilege, The Atlantic, June 23, 2017.
Between the 193 million acres of public land managed by the US Forest Service (thanks Teddy) and the 247 million acres of public land managed by the BLM, the United States is full of endless forests, snow-capped peaks, crashing waterfalls, peaceful lakes and prime real estate for dispersed camping. Unless otherwise explicitly prohibited, dispersed camping, which is camping anywhere outside of a designated site, is permitted anywhere inside the U.S.’ 154 national forests and BLM-managed lands as long as you follow a few rules.
After months indoors, people are renting RVs, cabins, and fancy tents to spend time in nature.
The great outdoors can be made a little smaller for a close-to-home adventure.
Spending time outdoors, can improve your blood pressure and digestion and boost the immune system. Spending time in green space, near trees, also means that we take in more oxygen, which in turn leads to release of the feelgood hormone serotonin.
Or almost never, that is. With rental options on the rise, not all ‘essential’ equipment deserves a permanent spot in your garage
Camping is proven to have an impact on reducing stress and contributes to emotional and physical health (depending on how many s’mores you’re eating, of course).
When camping, Wright recommends tracking the times you wake up and go to sleep, and then set your alarm to match those times once you're home. Around sunset, turn off some of the excess lights in your home and dim the rest. And when you find yourself dragging a few Mondays in a row, you'll know that your internal reset button might be just a trailhead away.
The positive effects of being outside impact us on every scale: from individuals, to communities, to the entire planet.
Two writers debate the pros and cons of sleeping outdoors. Plus: 6 of the best campgrounds in the U.S., according to Bear Grylls and other outdoorsy pros.
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of an off-road adventure in some remote destination is the opportunity to spend a night in nature. Whether you’re in the desert, mountains, forests or along the coast, camping and off-roading go hand in hand.
Don’t let a tight budget hold you back from traveling. Learn the secrets for finding free places to camp and tips for saving money on the road.
...here's some advice on car camping 101 from folks who know what they're doing in a big way, and also ... me, a camper who probably wouldn't even make JV if it came down to it.
If hopping on your 4×4 and heading deep into nature is something that appeals to you, you’re going to love checking out these great camping locations across the U.S. that aren’t easily accessible and offer some of the most spectacular views of mother nature that you may ever see. If seclusion sounds good to you, here are a few of the best off-road and well off the beaten path camp spots that you won’t want to miss.
Leave the cramped, noisy campgrounds behind and spend a night in the open wilderness. With over 245 million acres to choose from, you can safely pitch your tent almost anywhere on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management without nary a neighbor for miles.
As the country begins to reopen, some American traditions are still in jeopardy.
Research suggests that even a winter week under the stars can help reset sleep.
There is nothing better than gathering up your best friends, a cooler full of fresh salmon, and Pacific Pilsners, then hitting the woods for a few days of fun, sun, and sleeping in a tent, right?
When you venture into the wilderness by yourself, you can restore your focus and well-being. Here’s what to pack for the trip
Science is learning more about the health benefits of going outside—at a time when access to wild spaces is ever-more unequal.
Here are some of my favorite family camping essentials to keep you and your family prepped and ready for your next trip to the great outdoors.
It’s hard to think of a more satisfying way to spend a beautiful weekend than camping on one of Northern California’s spectacular array of public lands—except, perhaps, camping there for free. Land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management is typically home to lots of free "dispersed" camping, meaning folks can drive up to an established primitive site—which don’t typically have the usual campground services like water, garbage pickup, or restrooms—and pitch a tent without the hassle of fees or permits.
For people who love nature's creatures and creature comforts.
Whether you just need to know where to camp nearby or you want to plan a free camping road trip, we've got you covered. You can simply use your smart phone's GPS to find camping near you or even use our trip planner to plan your route from coast to coast.
We believe good things come from people spending time outside. It’s about more than standing on the mountain top. It’s about nourishment and learning. It’s about protecting what sustains us. It’s about building relationships with the outdoors and each other.
Family of 4 traveling full time in an RV! We downsized in order to live larger with less. We chase adventure and are loving exploring this great country in our home on wheels.
Total Escape features ONLY local travel in California. Much of it is free or inexpensive, primarily on the back roads – with abundant nature and outdoor activities.
BLM-managed lands offer numerous opportunities for camping under the stars ranging from staying in an RV at a highly developed campground to simply throwing a sleeping bag on the ground in the backcountry. No matter what type of experience you are looking for, you can find it on BLM-managed public lands.
We rent fully-equipped, hand-painted campervans from 12 locations across North America. Functional and comfortable vans for fun, affordable adventures!
As an organization we value the world, the people who live in it, and the contribution each individual can make. These are not separate values, but concentric circles. The values that are important to us as an organization are the same as those we strive to instill in the children we guide.
Camping is a fun way to get family and friends together to enjoy the outdoors. Follow these tips to help ensure your camping trip is safe and healthy.