Guest post by Aaron Smith
Doing fun activities as a family allows you to bond and provides you with a wealth of memories. The simple things are often the most memorable, although there’s nothing simple about exploring a state forest. State forests and parks are full of unforgettable treasures, and each one is unique. Even if you’re not able to travel safely this weekend, it’s never too early to start planning a future trip with your loved ones.
First, always abide by any restrictions and #BeOutdoorSafe.
While some state parks and forests have reopened to the public, many still have restricted access to certain facilities, are requiring social distancing, and/or have fire bans in place. The right thing for you to do before heading to state lands is to first familiarize yourself with any use restrictions. Closures and/or restrictions are listed online and can be found with a simple Google search or a visit to your state government’s website. Tips for safe and responsible recreating can be found at BeOutdoorSafe.org.
Heading out? Before you leave your home, consider packing extra water and either biodegradable soap or hand sanitizer for everyone going on the trip. If you or someone in your party isn’t feeling well, postpone the trip and consider seeking medical attention.
Before you get out of your car: look around the parking lot and trailhead. If there’s a crowd, it’ll be difficult to maintain six feet from others on the trail and you should consider finding another place to hike. If you can’t find a place to park, that’s a good sign it’s too crowded to safely recreate. And remember: never park on tall, dry grass—the undercarriage of your car is hot and can start a wildfire.
On the trail or in the park: keep yourself moving! A hike, climb, or trail run is a great idea, just remember to give yourself six feet of space from those that live outside your household. If you’re camping, distance your campsite from other guests for their safety and yours.
Activity #1: Get Familiar with Local Flora and Fauna
Learning about local plants and wildlife is fun no matter your age, and you’ll never have a better opportunity than at a state forest or park. Every state forest or park has something different. In a Florida state park, for example, you may be able to meet an alligator—from a distance, of course—or even a mermaid. Head north to one of Maine’s state forests to see some moose among the wildflowers, perhaps even a bear or two. Back down south at certain parks in Texas you can follow the trail of the buffalo or spot an antelope.
Load up on guide books and talk to the forest ranger as soon as you get to a new place. Ask about the local flora and fauna, especially state trees, birds, and flowers, and remember to dress for an adventure. Hiking boots are a must; long pants are better than shorts, and long sleeves and hats are good ideas, too.
Activity #2: Explore the unexpected
You can almost always discover an unexpected feature at a state forest or park. Some of them have breathtaking hiking paths that will take you through the forest or up the side of a mountain. Others have caves, caverns, and waterfalls, along with secret spots located under the ground.
It’s essential to stay on any marked trails—you never know what you might come across, be it a hidden pond or a fox den. And make sure to leave everything the way you find it!
ACTIVITY #3: Find Something Delicious to Enjoy
Did you know that you can enjoy local cuisine at many state parks and forests? Of course you shouldn’t eat or drink anything unless you know it’s safe, but on some state lands, recreational hunting for mushrooms and foraging for berries, roots, and other goodies is encouraged. There are even dozens of parks in New England that would love to introduce you to collecting your own maple syrup!
Activity #4: Enjoy a Camp Out with the Family
Plenty of state parks have camping facilities and sites—just make sure to have reserved a space and to double check for any restrictions or closures before you go.The entire family will be awed by the star-spangled sky, not to mention the sounds of local wildlife frolicking at night. In the daytime, you can get to know your surroundings together by biking, hiking, or swimming.
Activity #5: Learn a Thrilling New Skill
State forest and park employees love to teach their visitors new information and skills. Depending on where you go, you can sign up for an activity that you’ve never tried. The kids might get a kick out of taking archery lessons, or the family can experiment with kite-boarding or horseback riding for the first time.
Learn how you can safely enjoy the outdoors and schedule your next weekend there. What state forest do you want to visit first? What will your family do when you get there?
Aaron Smith is a writer, copy strategist, and consultant who works with several non-profits and companies like Hats.com. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, sci-fi novels, and hiking with his dogs.