Eight Feel-Great Ways to #OptOutside on the Trail

Posted 11/22/17 by Suzanne Matyas in Taking Action, America's Trails

Hit the trails and #OptOutside for some feel-good fun and fresh air. | Photo courtesy Cleo Fogal | CC by 2.0

Whether you’re hiking a favorite trail, going for a bike ride or simply sitting in the garden—it doesn’t get much better than spending quality time outdoors. 

That’s why the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy family is inviting you and your family to #OptOutside with us, REI and millions of others on Black Friday! Grab your grandpa, Grover and the rest of the gang—and give the gift of time, sun and the great outdoors. That’s a feel-great holiday present everyone can enjoy.

If you want to go the extra mile, here’s a list of eight ways you can make a difference while you #OptOutside this year.

1Help Others Experience the Outdoors

Healing Rides, Bloomington, Illinois | Photo courtesy Barbara Brown

At 85, my nana is a lean, keen power-walking machine, but not everyone can keep up with her quick cadence on the trail (namely me), whether from an injury or physical disability or even just a lack of knowing where to go. This #OptOutside day, you might get together with someone who needs a little extra assistance to experience nature. Need some inspiration? Check out this heartwarming blog about a wheelchair bike program in Illinois.

If you’re not sure of where to go, you can visit TrailLink.com to look up nearby trails. Best of all, TrailLink is free and allows you to filter your search for rail-trails with gentle grades, paved surfaces and wheelchair accessibility.

2Be a Citizen Scientist

Youths learning about stream health monitoring | Photo by Kyle McIntyre

Being a citizen scientist means you get to learn about the world around you through observation. Depending on what sort of science piques your curiosity, you choose and monitor your subject, report on it and sometimes even analyze your findings. Added bonus: Participating in citizen science can be a great activity for fostering youth enthusiasm in science through practice-based learning.

A few examples are wildlife counts, stream health monitoring and even the easy task of mapping your backyard using the YardMap app.

3Plan a Cleanup

Team RTC cleaning up the Capital Crescent Trail on Monday, Oct. 16, 2016 | Photo by RTC

Small or large scale, with many or just you, a cleanup is a terrific way to spend time out of the house while making the community better for everyone. The RTC family recently made a difference by cleaning up a trail near our office, and you can do the same; commit to picking up litter, raking leaves or removing weeds on your local trail, at a public park, community center or waterway! Just be sure to bring appropriate materials, and check to see if you need permission first.

4Take a Shelter Dog on a Field Trip

Adopted shelter dog enjoying the outdoors | Photo by RTC

Sadly, there are many pets that don’t get to spend time with their family over the holidays, because they haven’t yet found their forever home. To help our furry friends connect with people, there’s a growing movement amongst animal shelters to let volunteers “borrow” adoptable dogs during the day. If available at your local shelter, taking a pooch out for a hike or a trail walk is a wonderful way to opt outside and inspire happy wags.

If you would like to make a dog's day near you, contact your shelter to learn if they offer this opportunity. And don’t forget to snap a selfie of you and your new friend; it might even lead to an adoption!       

5Make a Difference by Supporting Trails

You can always give back to your community by supporting the trails you love! In addition to giving everyone at any stage of life a wonderful and safe space to enjoy the outdoors, trails unite and connect us. Every day, we are amazed by the efforts and enthusiasm of trail volunteers and supporters from all across the country and are indescribably thankful for their help in building and protecting a nationwide network of trails.

Family walking on trail

Support Trails

Your generous contribution will support Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s work to build, maintain, defend and connect trail corridors across the nation. That means even more trails for you to enjoy in your area!

6Visit a Charming Trail Town

Dotty’s Café in Hartsburg along the Katy Trail| Photo by Danielle Taylor

Trails can be amazing kick-starters for ma and pa shops, restaurants and small businesses. Just ask the communities surrounding the Virginia Creeper Trail, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania or Katy Trail in Missouri. And when these small businesses start popping up along a route, it makes for some great excursions. Why not take the opportunity to #OptOutside and blend some great physical activity with a visit to your favorite (or an as-of-yet unknown) tourist town or hotspots along a trail—for some good eats, good shopping or just good times!

7Take Your First Steps (or Pedals) Toward Health

The Great Divide Trail | Photo courtesy OldDogNewTrick | CC by 2.0

During the typically chillier days of late fall and winter, it’s not always easy to take steps toward a healthier you—but luckily trails are there to help! When it comes to being physically active, trails provide a wide range of outdoor activities to keep us motivated year-round. Each activity has unique pluses, and whether you choose a low- to moderate-impact exercise like walking, lung-strengthening running, aerobically charged and groovy inline skating or calorie-crushing cross-country skiing through winter wonderlands, the end results are always the same: a fitter you and time well spent on the trail!

8Transport Yourself—Literally—to your Desired Destination

Seattle's first downtown protected bike lane, opened in September 2014| Photo courtesy Seattle Department of Transportation| CC by 2.0

Trails are super fun—but that’s only the beginning. In America, where traffic and pedestrian and bike safety are hot button topics, trails get us where we need to go and keep us separated from vehicle traffic. These safe, free routes are critical resources for short trips, work commutes and longer regional excursions. If you’re already a “trail transporter,” keep up the great work! And if you’ve been thinking about trying out your heels, wheels (or hoofs) to get places, #OptOutside day is a great time to start.

Thanks for celebrating trails and choosing to #OptOutside

We were completely overwhelmed by the amount of love you showed trails by entering our photo contest and choosing to #OptOutside. We received more than 1,000 amazing photos, and here are some of the best.

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