Picture yourself walking through the forest, the desert, the mountains, or wherever your happy place is. You walk for a while, immersed in your own thoughts, and then finally pause to notice where you are. You’re alone, away from the busyness that is human society, and surrounded by the natural beauty of this area. The only sounds you hear are the local birds, the wind, maybe a stream. The only air you breathe in is clean and smells of rain, sun, dirt, plants. You are now experiencing this ecosystem in its purest form. And how did you get here? One foot after another down a trail.
On June 5th, the United States celebrates National Trails Day! This annual event occurs the first Saturday of June and was originally founded by the American Hiking Society in order to appreciate and care for our nation’s trails. Exploring trails on foot, horseback, or bicycle provides travelers with an up close and intimate connection with the natural ecosystems of this diverse country. Trails are also important because they allow people to have outdoor experiences while also preserving the natural state of the environment. By concentrating foot traffic to a single pathway, we keep the surrounding areas intact. This National Trails Day, Solimar International is honoring the occasion by highlighting the importance of trails, and detailing some of our favorites.
Most of us understand that spending time outside in nature is beneficial for our health, but how exactly? It turns out that spending time in nature can reduce anxiety, fight depression, lower blood pressure, mitigate inflammation, increase longevity, and more! Furthermore, spending time outside gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves on the local flora and fauna, learn geological history, and understand the stories of indegenous people who have lived as part of these ecosystems. Especially during this past year of COVID-19, many more people have been appreciating the endless benefits that come from immersing oneself in the natural world. Today, National Trails Day is even more important as we come out of a year of lockdowns and back to the busy world that we’re used to. We are so glad that this past year has allowed more and more people to enjoy the trails and natural spaces of our country, but now it’s time to make sure we’re all doing our part to protect these invaluable places.
While it has been great to see people getting outside and appreciating trails in all different ways like never before, we have also seen some negative consequences. Naturally, as the number of human visitors increases in natural areas, the amount of environmental degradation unfortunately also increases. At Solimar International, we strongly believe that everyone should have equal access and opportunity to explore the outdoors, but in order to protect these ecosystems there are important steps to be taken. It is necessary to educate ourselves on the protocols of respecting an area before embarking into the outdoors. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics provides insight into how trails are damaged over time and how you can help maintain them. The biggest takeaway is to follow trail closure signs, do not leave marked trails, and do not follow ‘social trails’. Social trails are unofficial trails that hikers create, and it can take an ecosystem 10-30 years to recover from this damage. An impactful way to celebrate this day is to sign the National Trails Day Pledge. You can also support the Transit to Trails Act which would remove transportation barriers to trails for communities who struggle with accessing the outdoors by telling your congress members to co-sponsor the act.
Now comes the fun part. We have chosen several of our favorite trails in the United States to highlight, hopefully inspiring you to get out and find your own favorite!
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
Sounds iconic, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the adventurous quest to the West Coast that was first completed between 1803 and 1806. It runs through 16 states and 4,900 miles of breathtaking scenery, rich history, and unique local cultures. It also passes through 15 tribal reservations, each of which has their own deep history dating back much later than the Lewis and Clark expedition. Commonly, people will drive or float sections of the trail or just stick to day hikes in areas such as Makoshika State Park in Montana, Lake Manawa in Iowa, Painted Rocks State Park in Montana, and many other unique places along the trail.
Use the new Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience website to explore the entire trail and all of its attractions. This geotourism project is aimed at connecting communities, businesses, and people along the trail. It also provides the public with an easy to use resource to dive into the many different amenities and experiences available throughout these communities. After a long day of hiking in one of the beautiful natural areas in these regions, you can use the website to find restaurants and hotels! Check out the Native women owned Brigham Fish Market or the permaculture farmstay vacation rentals at ABC Acres to get an idea of the variety of experiences available through the geotourism website.
The Trail of the Ancients
This impressive trail is now also a scenic byway that runs through the American Southwest. It creates a loop through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico and passes through 24 Native American Tribe homelands, 6 national parks, and many more wilderness areas. From the fossils of the prehistoric age, to the impressive cities built by Native Americans, to the early Mornon settlements, this area’s history is nothing if not rich.While this whole trail is driveable, there are an endless amount of hiking and biking trails along it. Some of our favorites include hiking to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, exploring the abundant archeological sites of the Canyon of the Ancients, and mountain biking Phil’s World Trail System near Cortez, CO.
Trails of the Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada is one of the best known mountain ranges in the US, and for good reason. These towering peaks spring up from low deserts, creating a one of a kind landscape. The diverse trails of the region offer activities for everyone, whether you’re scaling a fourteener or taking a meditative stroll through the woods. The Sierra Nevada Geotourism website is a great place to start looking for the perfect trail for you. Try horseback riding through the Alabama Hills, exploring the forests and streams of the John Muir Wilderness, or hiking to one of the largest trees in the world, the Boole Tree.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the calming and stabilizing effect that nature provides. When everything else is turned upside down, remember that you can always find peace by getting outside. Accessing trails provides both mental and physical health benefits, while also teaching us about local ecosystems and history. To say thank you to this vast system, we encourage you to take the time to enjoy some trails and also learn more about how you can do your part to preserve them. Wherever you might be, we hope that this National Trails Day inspires you to explore, appreciate, and help preserve the trails that you love, or exploring a new one. And, of course, take a minute to say thank you to your local trail maintenance workers, parks, and organizations who make sure our trails stay healthy! Happy National Trails Day!