Outdoor recreation in the Pennsylvania Wilds isn’t limited to just highly physical activities like running, backpacking, mountain biking, or tent camping. If you’re looking for a low-impact way of getting some fresh air and daily exercise, there are plenty of ways to enjoy outdoor rec without breaking a sweat (or the bank).
Breathe in deep and take in that clean, fresh PA Wilds air. Smell the pine needles, damp moss, rich dirt, corn fields, and wildflowers. Use your other senses too! Listen to the bird calls, bubbling streams, chittering of chipmunks, children laughing on a playground, rain hitting the tree canopy, and sometimes… absolute silence. Feel the rough bark of an oak tree, the soft cushion of leaves and pine needles under your feet, sunshine warming your face, and a gentle breeze raising goosebumps on your arms. Outdoor recreation can be relaxing and peaceful. Going outside and spending some time outdoors is a simple low-impact activity that nearly everyone can do. Being mindful and enjoying the fresh air is also good for you! Studies have shown that even 15 minutes of being outdoors can lower stress levels, improve focus, strengthen immunity, and benefit your mood.
Image: A pink sunrise, captured by PA Wilds Are Calling blog contributor Kalie Schmader
Watching and identifying birds is a great way to enjoy the outdoors regardless of your physical fitness… you’re not chasing the birds, after all! Find a nice bench or picnic table, pack a camping chair, or just sit on your porch. Maybe at first you’ll only be able to identify a crow or a blue jay, but there are plenty of resources to help you. Find free birding guides at your library or online, such as at the Audubon website. This low-impact outdoor recreation activity also has a dedicated fanbase! There are Audubon bird watching groups throughout the PA Wilds, some of which hold regular events or workshops. Investing in a pair of binoculars will help you identify birds even from a long distance. Still struggling or have vision difficulties? Remember, you can also listen to bird calls and identify each species by its unique song.
Image: A grey catbird, photo by Will Stuart of the Audubon Society
Take your sketchpad or easel outdoors for some fresh inspiration! Creating art outside can also be tied in with many other forms of outdoor recreation: hiking, camping, fishing. Just take some art supplies with you and, when you need a break from the physical activity, take a moment to capture those special memories as a painting or drawing. Bringing your artwork outside can bring a new perspective and inspire ideas that never would have occurred to you while creating art in a studio. Trying your hand at watercolors? Bring a container with you and use water from a lake or stream to infuse some nature into your painting. Just be sure not to dump your dirty watercolor water afterwards, as it’s a form of litter. Remember to follow the Leave No Trace principles and pack everything that you brought along with you back out when you leave.
Image: One of Julie Mader’s Paint the PA Wilds Watercolor Kits, available at ShopThePAWilds.com
Stretches, yoga, Tai Chi, and other gentle exercises are wonderful low-impact forms of outdoor recreation. Many yoga groups intentionally offer classes outdoors during nice weather, taking advantage of the health benefits of fresh air and sunshine available in the PA Wilds. Don’t have a yoga class nearby? Grab some friends and do some simple poses or stretches on public land, like a state park or forest. Jenny Garrison’s Yoga with Trees book guides readers on how to incorporate nature into their yoga poses and be inspired by the outside world. After your yoga or Tai Chi, cool down with a walk around the park or have a meditation session on the bank of a nearby stream.
Image: Deep Green Journey outfitter leading a yoga session in the forest
Ready for a hike without steep climbs or rocky paths? There are many accessible trails, paved paths, and riverwalks throughout the PA Wilds region. Rail trail systems offer a great solution for those who want to walk outdoors but need a relatively flat surface. Because these trails were created on what were once railways, the grade is usually fairly level due to the fact that trains used to have to traverse those same pathways. Places like the Pine Creek Rail Trail or the Clarion-Little Toby Trail cut through thick forests and over rivers, offering great views of nature without strenuous hiking. In towns like Lock Haven, Clearfield and Williamsport, you’ll also find riverwalks that are close to downtown but still give you a peaceful vista of the water while you walk a paved path. These paved riverwalks are typically wheelchair accessible. Need an even more accessible trail? Inside of Cook Forest State Park, there is a Sensory Trail that even has railing and braille descriptions for those with visual impairments.
Image: The Pine Creek Rail Trail, with bicyclists, bird watchers, and riders on a horse-drawn wagon
Pack a lunch and head outdoors! Most state parks and some forests have picnic tables or even pavilions where you can set up your own outdoor meal. Planning a lunch outside is a great activity that can be incorporated into our outdoor recreation plans, regardless of the age of physical fitness of your group. A picnic lunch can provide a quick but unique break during a busy workday or encourage your family and friends to slow down during a day of adventures. It’s also a helpful way of making sure that no family member or part of the group feels left out. The kids can splash in the water or adventurers can bike around the area, while those who don’t want to break a sweat can still catch some fresh air while helping to prepare the picnic lunch nearby. Eating together outdoors combines the mental and physical health benefits of gathering with loved ones along with also enjoying nature. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines and pack all of your trash out with you when you leave, or place it in a designated trash receptacle if there is one. Don’t want to haul all of the picnic supplies with you? Spring Creek Picnics in Bellefonte even can do all of the work for you!
Image: Spring Creek Picnics
Throughout the year, many state parks and communities hold outdoor events and festivals for the whole family. Reconnect with your community, learn something new, and have some fun! This includes guided hikes, educational courses, seminars with nature experts, quirky festivals, crafty creative activities, games for kids, trail rides, and much more. Keep an eye on the PA Wilds event calendar, both for community or organization events along with events specifically offered by Pennsylvania state parks and forests. No matter what you’re interested in or what time of the year it is, there is sure to be something happening that you can get involved in!
Image: Lock Haven Jams summertime festival
Where will you rest your head after all of these adventures outdoors? If you’re traveling away from home or just want a relaxing getaway, consider renting a cabin or going glamping in the PA Wilds. If you’re hesitant to go tent camping and sleep on the ground, rest assured that a cabin or glamping experience can provide all the amenities you desire while still being close to nature. Build a fire, enjoy your favorite beverage, relax in a hot tub, cuddle on a porch swing, and enjoy the outdoors with a sense of luxury.
Image: Wilds Cooperative of PA member In the Sticks Cabins in Benezette, in the Elk Country landscape of the PA Wilds region
Check out the PA Wilds activity pages here.