You Don’t Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

Hi there! You ever feel that by Thursdays you need to just crave a breath of fresh air. By Thursdays I am always ready for another trip into the mountains, which is why today I want to think out loud about what national parks have to offer us.

2016 marks the centennial of the foundation of the National Parks and Forest in the United States. Many national parks are located in the Pacific Northwest, including Mount Rainer National Park, Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, and the Northern Cascades National Park. 


Even though the podiatrist gave Ryan clearance to run and hike as his chipped foot bone heals, we decided instead of hiking to drive out further than usual and explore the Northern Cascades National Park. We took a short and easy walk along the river, enjoyed views of the mountains, and enjoyed the serene beauty of one of the many national parks. 

And yes, the weather was chilly enough to bundle into layers of technical shirts and our favorite fleece Patagonias. Don’t worry, though, that snow is fake (although there is still snow in the mountains here!). 

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

Ryan and I are fairly dedicated hikers (we have a whole closet dedicated to just hiking and backpacking), but there’s no reason to think that you can only enjoy a national park if you are hiking or camping.  National parks provide time out in pure nature in beautiful locations – which offers numerous to mental and physical health. 

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

You can disconnect from technology and bond as a family. 

A majority of people are glued to their laptops, smartphones, and iPads throughout the whole day. While technology is part of work for many of us, national parks offer a time to leave your phone in the car and engage with the world around us. That’s not to mention how healthy unplugging is for relationships. National parks let you interact with your family and friends in person, rather than through the medium or, worse, with the distraction of, phones. 

Research indicates that group hiking mitigates stress levels and anxiety. Less stress, as we all know, means better sleep, improved moods, and quicker recover during hard training periods. So why not head out to a national park on your rest day and lower your cortisol levels with family time in nature?

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

Panoramic views (and Instagram-worthy photos) abound. 

National parks are so picturesque that they seem unreal, as if they were paintings. But these aren’t paintings – they’re tangible mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and forest! The sublime beauty of nature is simultaneously humbling and inspiring, and these offer quite the change of view from man-made cityscapes and miles of congested traffic (which, unfortunately, you will likely encounter when traveling to/from a national park near Seattle).

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

Getting dirty benefits your mental health.

No, get your mind out of the gutter – I mean literally dirty, as in dirt on your hands, feet, and legs. Some research posits that dirt to skin contact actually increases your serotonin levels  thanks to healthy germs such as Mycobacterium vaccae. In addition to any beneficial bacteria you may pick up, there’s something utterly grounding and relaxing about being in contact with the earth. Fresh air and vitamin D improve your mental well-being also – as many of us know from how much better we feel after an outdoor run.

National parks raise your environmental awareness.

One of the reasons Ryan and I try to eat less meat is because high meat consumption (especially beef) strains our natural resources (for the same reason, I don’t use almond milk anymore). The more we’ve ventured into nature of the past year, the more Ryan and I have become aware of how much care and sustaining of the environment matters. That’s not to mention that, as a Catholic, I believe that just treatment of the earth is a moral issue. 

Our government has deliberately preserved national parks for the last 100 years because without preservation, the wilderness and mountains would fall prey to the materialistic consumption of humanity. The national parks, in their (mostly) untouched naturalness, remind us just how beautiful, giving, and fragile our planet is.

You can read about environmental issues online or see photos on social media; yet the firsthand, awe-striking encounter with nature in all its force – both noble and frightening – is what brings about the realization of how precious our earth is.

You Don't Need to Hike to Enjoy the National Parks

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

[Tweet “Why you should visit #nationalparks even if you don’t hike #optoutside #outsideisfree via @thisrunrecipes”]

Which National Parks have you visited? Which was your favorite?
Finish this sentence: by Thursday, you’re craving…


Sign Up for My Newsletter for More Running Tips

* indicates required

Share this post

27 Responses

  1. All your pictures always make me want to get outside and explore! Preferably somewhere on the west coast:) By Thursday I am usually craving wine and a long run. Also, something easy for dinner because I no longer have any energy to cook!

  2. As always, so stunning. My husband has been to several national parks, but I’ve only been to a few.
    Crazy thought–pokemon go in National Parks. Guess that negates the whole “unplug” thing.

    1. Thank you! You need to catch up with him on that 🙂 ooooh pokemon go would not be good in practice in National Parks, it’d be great to get people out there but I’d be so worried about them trampling preserved nature or walking off cliffs/into geyers (because people already do that, sadly). Hope you’re having fun at BlogFest!

  3. You always have the most beautiful pics! Hiking in Glacier National Park last summer was honestly one of my favorite vacations ever. Glacier is so stunning, and I definitely got some of the best sleep of my life after hiking those trails during the day! I totally agree about how hiking is beneficial because it forces you to unplug–we had no cell service in Glacier, so we were forced to really take in the scenery and connect. By Thursday I’m craving a nap!

    1. Thank you! Glacier National Park sounds so fun to visit – it’s high on my list! Hiking is so relaxing yet tiring that it does help with getting a good night’s sleep. Oh yes to naps – or even just sleeping in a bit by Thursday!

    1. Oh that sounds awesome! Mountains are the best way to beat the heat and stay active. Colorado has some super beautiful parks – your photos are always stunning!

  4. By Thursday I’m also craving the hours and hours I can spend outdoors after being cooped up in a high rise office in NYC all week. Brett and I have a bucket list of all the parks we want to visit – we’re planning a short honeymoon going back to Maine and up to Acadia, and eventually want to get out West to the Pacific NW parks, California’s, Glacier, Bryce Canyon… I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon and the parks in the New England/NY area thus far.

    1. I bet that outdoor time is so rejuvenating after all that time in a big city office. Your honeymoon to Acadia sounds so fun. Ryan and I honeymooned at a state park in Indiana, so not as pretty but definitely fun to be out in nature. California’s National Parks are high on my list also!

  5. I don’t actually know if I’ve been to national parks in the US but I have been to many provincial parks in Canada! Hard to choose a favourite – but anything in Prince Edward Island and in British Columbia have been beautiful. I can’t go a weekend without spending time in nature!

  6. We have only ever done easy hikes, ones not requiring packs (although occasionally wear backpacks to haul stuff with us).

    But we do enjoy the national parks! Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Red Rocks (not national), Valley of Fire (also not national) I’m sure there are some more. And there are quite a few that are on my list of places to see!

    1. There’s so much to do in National Parks, no matter what the level of hiking! That’s what’s so great about them, they’re open for everyone at every activity level. There are just so many to see!

  7. For a split second I thought I saw a giraffe in the last photo in this post! Top left hand corner. Ha ha! I’m a geek. By Thursdays I am craving… let’s see… oh Laura, I’m not sure! I think I’m always craving some alone time with a good book on a sunny patio somewhere.

    1. It’s all that PNW moss – so colorful! 🙂 A good book on a sunny patio sounds good. Especially the sunny part – we’ve had so much cloud cover this summer!

  8. Yosemite and Joshua Tree are 2 of my favorite parks! There are so many more that I’d love to go to. I’m jealous of your west coast mountains and parks though, the east coast doesn’t have the same splendor. Hopefully I’ll get to journey out west sometime in the next year and go on my first backpacking trip!

    1. My husband and I are going to Yosemite this winter after I run the California International Marathon and we’re so excited – so many people say it’s their favorite! I hope you do get to go out West for backpacking – are you planning on doing any particular trail/range?

      1. Thant sounds like fun! Good luck with your marathon! I couldn’t imagine running a marathon and then going hiking. I haven’t had much time to plan anything out because my hubby and I are in a transitional phase at the moment but I really like the idea of Yosemite/California or Grand Teton/Montana areas.

  9. To echo what others have said, your pictures just make me want to get outside….now! 🙂 Not only outside, but away from the city. On our recent adventure out to Little Si, it was like I could feel my insides relax as we got further from the city…and as you know, Little Si is not even that far of a drive. Oh….seriously, if only there was more time…sometimes I think I could almost stop running for more hiking. In reality that could not really happen because that would give me too much free time during the week. 🙂

    1. You can balance running and hiking and have the best of both worlds! 🙂 It is great how easy it is to hike where we live – only an hour or so to many great hikes!

  10. I don’t really wanna pick a favorite, but it is pretty hard to beat Glacier. This Thursday I am craving a weekend backpacking trip…but I think it might be displaced by responsible adulting, ugh.

    1. I really need to visit Glacier – every photo of it is breathtaking! Backpacking trips are such a great way to relax – and, you know, get away from adulting things like laundry and other housework 🙂

  11. I don’t know how I missed this post yesterday! I don’t even know which national parks I have been to (how sad is that?) we don’t really have hiking like that here but I do enjoy the fresh air for a run and enjoy heading down to the beach (does that count as my park?)

  12. Great post! I grew up in New England, so the Cape Cod National Seashore and Acadia National Park are two of my favorites, and two parks that we frequented many times when I was little! I can’t wait to travel more and check out some of the bigger parks out west!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *