21 Easy Ways to Enjoy Your Local Trails

Posted 09/10/21 by Heather Irish in America's Trails, Trail Use, Health and Wellness

Graphic by RTC

Whether you are joining the #TrailMoments 21-Day Challenge running from Sept. 13 to Oct. 3, 2021, or looking to create a new healthy habit outside, we’ve created a list of easy-to-do actions you can take immediately on your nearest trail.

1Schedule your weekly trail time.

If you don’t schedule it, chances are it won’t happen. Erick Cedeno is the founder of Bicycle Nomad and shares cycling stories to inspire others. As a new father, he explains how important it is to make time to recharge your energy so that you can “be a better human.”

For him, cycling gives him an opportunity to recharge so that he can be more present for his loved ones. “[We] need more rail-trails. It’s the only time where I’m able to ride stress-free. I let my guard down and I find my zen moment when I’m on these trails.”

2Find a new trail.

Brownstein family | Courtesy Dan Brownstein
Brownstein family | Courtesy Dan Brownstein

Now that you’ve scheduled your trail time this week, it’s time to explore new trails in your region. You can search for trails using TrailLinkRTC’s free trail-finder website and app. Next, find inspiration from father and son trail adventurers, Dan and Saul Brownstein. Saul has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair to explore accessible trails across New Jersey and surrounding states.

“We have never met a trail we did not like. When you are on a community trail, you get to experience the local area,” said Dan. “There is always so much to see, whether it is nature, residential, industrial … or the diverse people on the trail biking, running, walking or rollerblading.” Read more.

3Collect your thoughts.

MaShanta Ashmon enjoying Michigan's Clinton River Park Trail | Photo by Rachel Walker
MaShanta Ashmon enjoying Michigan's Clinton River Park Trail | Photo by Rachel Walker

When MaShanta Ashmon experienced a family  tragedy, she turned to her local trails. The Michigan teacher and mother started biking as she grieved her mother’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis and death.

"I started bike riding during the pandemic and while my mom was battling cancer,” said MaShanta. “Eventually my mom lost her battle to cancer, and the trail became my peace." Read more.

Finding a spot alongside a local trail can give you respite from a busy and overwhelming moment in your life.

4Move your body.

Vincent Viars completing his first 5K trail run | Courtesy Vincent Viars
Vincent Viars completing his first 5K trail run | Courtesy Vincent Viars

Vincent Viars reconnected with his body and nature on his local rail-trail system in West Virginia. He found himself overweight and living a sedentary life while close family members struggled with serious medical issues. He started running to improve his own health, but chest discomfort led him to seek medical care, and he found his left main artery was 90% blocked.

“This is where I’m going to get emotional, because I feel like running saved my life,” said Vincent. “… If I hadn’t gotten into exercise … [t]here’s no doubt I would have had a heart attack.” Read more.

5Explore a trail on wheels.

However you roll, rail-trails can be a great option for exploring your community and new places—away from the hustle and bustle of the street. Rail-trails are excellent for wheelchair use, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding—you name it. They are paths on former railroad corridors, which means that they’re typically flat or gently sloping, and available across the country in urban and rural areas.

Miranda Webster is an associate producer for REI’s Miranda in the Wild YouTube series. She often enjoys rail-trails with her dog, family and friends.

“…there are literally thousands of miles of rail-trails all over the country,” said Miranda. “So, whether you are mountain biking, hiking, walking your dog, or riding your bike, I hope that you’re able to find a trail near you where you can enjoy it as much as I have through my entire life.” Read more.

Ayesha McGowan | Courtesy Liv Cycling
Ayesha McGowan | Courtesy Liv Cycling

6Make your trail trip fun.

Ayesha Mcgowen is a pro road cyclist and an advocate for better representation for People of Color in the bike industry. In a recent interview, she shared how cycling changed her life and how she’s inspiring others to enjoy outside activities.

She said, “If you want to go for a walk, find a place that you want to see. If you are doing some kind of working out or fitness, you can make it fun for yourself!” Learn more.

7Connect with others on the trail.

A trail can become even more enjoyable with a friend or family member. Ian Mackay is the founder of the nonprofit Ian’s Ride, which focuses on creating a more accessible outdoors. He has been enjoying his local trails with his grandpa.

“He had a small mobility scooter and decided to start joining me on my daily trail excursions,” said Ian. “… I could show him the things I noticed on my daily rides, we could talk about his woodworking projects, but most importantly, we were together. I also loved that my power wheelchair was a little faster than his scooter and would tease him about leaving him in the dust if he got snarky.” Read more.

8Explore local trails.

Jeff Jenkins is a travel blogger and creator of Chubby Diaries—"an online community for plus-size travelers.” He helps his community feel comfortable traveling and highlighting places to explore, including their close-to-home trails.

Now, I'm showing people how to discover their own backyards, from their local cities to national parks, trails and the great outdoors,” said Jeff. Read more.

Jeff reminds us that you don’t have to travel far to go on a new trail adventure.

9Birdwatch on the trail.

Amy on Ohio's Camp Chase Trail with Sawtooth Sunflowers | Photo by Amy Collins-Warfield
Amy on Ohio's Camp Chase Trail with Sawtooth Sunflowers | Photo by Amy Collins-Warfield

In 2020, Amy Collins-Warfield used biking on Ohio trails to manage pandemic stress and found solace in nature and birding.

“I am coping ... by pursuing the three hobbies I love best: birdwatching, bicycling and being outside,” she said. “…These activities have brought me peace of mind, renewed my spirit and rekindled my sense of adventure.” Read more.

10Use the trail for a short trip.

Jorge Brito and son on the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia | Courtesy Jorge Brito
Jorge Brito and son on the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia | Courtesy Jorge Brito

Whether you choose to walk or use your preferred choice of wheels, you can use a local trail for a short trip to run errands, commute to school or work, or recreate.

Jorge Brito, manager of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s (RTC's) Trailblazer Society, has added smaller bike trips to his routine so that his young son can enjoy the experience with him.

“The moment I realized our son could fit into a bike seat … I dug out an old commuter bike from my garage and had it set up at the local bike shop,” said Jorge. “Now I can access our local trail with our son jabbering away from the bike seat. His newest word is “bye,” and it is pretty funny to hear “bye, bye, bye, bye” as you ride along past others on trails.” Read more.

11Appreciate trailside nature.

Darlene with her family  | Courtesy Darlene Maxfield
Darlene with her family | Courtesy Darlene Maxfield

Darlene Maxfield and her family have a deep appreciation of exploring nature through trails. In October 2020, they cycled 150 miles in five days via trails in Pennsylvania. Her son, who has disabilities, also enjoys these adventures.

“One simply cannot deeply appreciate the beauty of this nation as much as you can from being on a trail, in the serene quietness of nature,” said Darlene. Read more.

12Pay trail kindness forward.

Silvia Ascarelli organizing summer bike games | Photo by Ariane Rimawi
Silvia Ascarelli organizing summer bike games | Photo by Ariane Rimawi

When the pandemic hit Silvia Ascarelli’s New Jersey community, she taught children in her neighborhood how to cycle and organized biking games to get them outside and active.

"I am most impressed with Shahreen, who has gone from fearful to (almost) fearless [after learning to ride a bike],” said Silvia, when recounting how she taught her neighbor to cycle. “She talks of that feeling of freedom, the extra energy after a bike ride. And she keeps asking whether we can get somewhere by bike." Read more.

13Visit a local business near your trail.

Lake Geneva-based Treadhead Cycling club riders | Photo by Anamaria Spiteri
Lake Geneva-based Treadhead Cycling club riders | Photo by Anamaria Spiteri

After she was furloughed from her job in 2020, Anamaria Spiteri started biking on her local trails to boost her endorphins. While exploring the area, she learned that a local business was sponsoring a bike group.

“These biking adventures soon led me to seek out others doing the same, and I was thrilled to learn that a local bike and coffee shop supported a local bike group.” Read more.

Trails often run near local businesses. Next time you’re out on your trail, visit a nearby business.

14Try a new trail activity.

Triple Tree, Drinking Horse and the M trails, on the land of Apsáalooke, Salish-Kootenai, Northern Cheyenne, Niitsitapi, Shoshone-Bannock and many other Nations | Photo by Vasu Sojitra
Triple Tree, Drinking Horse and the M trails, on the land of Apsáalooke, Salish-Kootenai, Northern Cheyenne, Niitsitapi, Shoshone-Bannock and many other Nations | Photo by Vasu Sojitra

Professional skier Vasu Sojitra lives in rural Montana and is no stranger to enjoying trails during colder weather. Whether it be skating, running or pursuing other athletic activities, he has fun exploring new ways to experience the outdoors.

“These shorter trails have helped me stay physically fit, able to connect with our natural world, and most importantly helped me understand myself,” he said. Read more.

15Research your trail’s history.

Ed riding the Chief Ladiga Trail | Courtesy Ed Coleman
Ed riding the Chief Ladiga Trail | Courtesy Ed Coleman

Ed and Jenn Coleman moved to Alabama just as the pandemic was announced. They took to the trails there to connect with their new community and its history.

“ ... [W]e planned a trip to ride the Chief Ladiga Trail,” said Ed. “The 33-mile trail is a gem of Alabama, offering its visitors a variety of beautiful landscapes, connections to the past, and access to shops and other trail-friendly stops. Early in our ride, at the old Jacksonville Terminal, we learned about the trail's namesake, Chief Ladiga. We discovered that he was a Muscogee chief who sold his land to speculators that would later become Jacksonville.” Read more.

Trails often have rich histories, originating with indigenous tribes and involving the complicated connections of historical figures and moments. It’s worth researching and reflecting on next time you visit a trail.

16Meditate alongside the trail.

The Mom Squad on the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia | Courtesy Brandi Horton
The Mom Squad on the W&OD Trail in Northern Virginia | Courtesy Brandi Horton

When the pandemic hit, Brandi Horton, vice president of communications at RTC, found herself juggling childcare for her three boys—including a baby and nine-year-old son with disabilities—alongside a full-time job. She recharged by connecting with other moms for some self-care on the trail.

“When the weight of it all is crushing, those [trail] moments outside have given us freedom and time to breathe,” said Brandi. Read more.

Studies have shown the power of meditation and breathing techniques to regulate our nervous systems and reduce our stress. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, visit a local trail and spend a few minutes simply listening to the sounds around you and focusing on your breathe—exhaling longer than you inhale to release the stress hormone cortisol from your body. Remember, there’s no perfect way to meditate. Allow thoughts to freely enter and exit your mind.

17Stretch off the trail.

Hollie S. on Snake River Canyon Trail in Idaho | Courtesy Hollie S.
Hollie S. on Snake River Canyon Trail in Idaho | Courtesy Hollie S.

Hollie Sick didn’t grow up as a runner. As a military spouse who often juggles uncertainty and change, running has provided an opportunity to create some consistency and community in her life.

“It doesn’t matter what other life events I have going on; I know I can go out, get a run in and feel like I have some sort of routine,” said Hollie. “ … As a military spouse, not much is routine, but I do know I can count on my workout time on the trails as my “me time.” Read more.

Whether you walk, jog, run or simply stretch, getting some regular fresh air on or near a trail is a great way to recharge and take stock of what you need in that moment.

18Take trail photos.

“That first time I rode on the rail-trail, I fell madly in love with it and cycling,” said Shawn Gossman, host of the YouTube series Hiking with Shawn. “I also found my first hiking trail while riding the trail.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Shawn remembers feeling depressed and living an unhealthy lifestyle. He started with a small change, buying a bike and exploring his local trail in southern Illinois. He would take photos and videos and share them with friends and family, which turned into a popular YouTube channel. Read more.

19Visit a park.

Acadia National Park | Courtesy Marjorie Turner Hollman
Acadia National Park | Courtesy Marjorie Turner Hollman

Many rail-trails and other paths connect to or run near local, state or even national parks. You can use our trail-finder website and app, TrailLink, to search for a trail near you that provides access to these recreational assets.

Marjorie Turner Hollman, an author of a series of accessible trail guidebooks, enjoyed a trip to a less-visited part of Maine’s Acadia National Park. “ … [W]e pedaled to our hearts’ content along the carriage roads, and then followed the one-way road along the shoreline, taking in stunning views of Acadia National Park across Frenchmen’s Bay on Mt. Desert Island.” Read more.

20Greet a fellow trail user.

Thresa Giles, Albert Grant and Thresa's daughter | Courtesy Thresa Giles and Albert Grant
Thresa Giles, Albert Grant and Thresa's daughter | Courtesy Thresa Giles and Albert Grant

When Thresa Giles and Albert Grant decided to take up biking during the pandemic, they enjoyed connecting with others along the trail.

“We became known as 'the riding couple' on the weekends,” said Thresa. “From horn blowing to friendly waves, strangers would see us and comment about our rides and dedication.” Read more.

Bring a smile to a fellow trail user next time you’re on the trail. One small action can brighten another person’s day.

21Enjoy a trailside picnic.

The Majors family on a bike tour | Photo courtesy Dale Majors
The Majors family on a bike tour | Photo courtesy Dale Majors

Dale Majors  knows a thing or two about planning long-distance bike tours with six young kids. He recently completed a 600-mile bike trip on the trails with his family. What was one of his secrets? Food!

“Snack often,” advised Dale. “Seriously. The No. 1 rule I have for bike touring is to stay nourished. Eat before you're hungry and drink before you're thirsty. Kids need reminding, but they also need good snack options and places to store their snacks.” Read more.

 On your next outing, pack some grub and enjoy a picnic off the side of your favorite trail.

Share Your Trail Moment

Have you recently discovered trails, or are you a long-time trail enthusiast? Either way, we hope you’ll share your “Trail Moments”—and the stories of how trails have impacted your life during COVID-19. Take the survey below, or share using #TrailMoments on social media.

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