Exploring Nature: Hiking Trails That Offer Exercise and Tranquility
Have you ever noticed how much better you feel after taking a short walk outdoors?
According to research, spending just 20 minutes in nature can deliver incredible benefits to your mind and body. This is because the sights and sounds of the natural world help lower your levels of cortisol—a prominent stress hormone.
If you're looking for a great way to exercise and nurture your mental health, local hiking trails are an excellent option. Today, we're taking a closer look at the benefits of this activity, and how to find the best spots near you.
The Whole-Body Benefits of Hiking
Hiking is a type of physical activity that engages your entire body, from your inner mind to the tips of your toes. For this reason, it's considered one of the most effective forms of exercise around. Let's take a quick look at how it can improve your physical health and your mental well-being.
Looking for a great cardio workout, but tired of hitting the gym? If so, it's time to take up hiking as a recreational activity! As you climb up hills, your heart rate will naturally increase.
In addition, you may notice yourself becoming stronger over time. This is because hiking is a gentle weight-bearing exercise, helping to build muscle mass in your upper body, core, and legs. At the same time, it's friendly on your joints, putting less pressure and strain on them than other workouts, such as running.
Individuals who hike on a regular basis can enjoy many health benefits, including:
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure
- Lower risk of certain types of cancers
- Increased flexibility and range of motion
From first-time hikers to experienced pros, anyone can hit the trails. The more you practice this outdoor activity, the more competent and comfortable you will become.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
In addition to optimizing your physical health, the benefits of hiking and trekking (longer hikes that go through more difficult terrain) also extend to your mind, as well. As mentioned, hiking helps reduce the level of cortisol in your body, which tames your stress response and induces a sense of tranquillity.
You may also feel more at ease and peaceful as you meander through the hiking trails near your home. Whether you're climbing a mountain or simply strolling down a wooded path, nature has a calming effect on your nervous system. This is especially true if you take a few seconds to stop and forest bathe.
Finding the Best Hiking Trails Near You
You might think that you have to live in a bucolic, pastoral setting to find the most epic hiking spots. While those regions are home to some spectacular trails, there are plenty of other places to reap some incredible hiking benefits. Here are a few ways to uncover those hidden gems.
Parks and Recreation
If you're looking for the best hiking trails in your area, start by checking out your local parks and recreation department. Most towns and cities have at least a small team devoted to keeping local natural areas clean and safe to visit. They'll be able to point you in the direction of local paths, trails, and hikes so you can get out and explore.
There are also many different web apps designed to connect trail-seekers to the best spots in their area. Two of the most popular are AllTrails and Gaia GPS. In addition to helping you find trails, these apps also offer other helpful features, such as:
- Offline navigation
- Hike sorting and organization
- Hike tracking (e.g. speed, distance, elevation profile)
- Location sharing
Not sure which ones to download? Check out this list of the 25 best hiking apps of 2023.
Top Hiking Trails in the U.S. by Region
It would be impossible to list all of the best hiking trails in the U.S. New trails are created and expanded on a regular basis, especially as more people seek adventure and recreation in the great outdoors. However, it is helpful to know some of the top ones near you.
If you're ready to try hiking as a recreational activity, here are the top spots to visit, based on your closest region. We're limiting this list to day hikes that are accessible to first-time hikers, though most of these parks also offer longer treks.
Do you live in the northeastern part of the U.S. or plan to visit it soon? If so, here are five of the top hiking trails to explore:
- Maine: Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park: 2 miles, moderate
- New Hampshire: Artist Bluff in the White Mountains: 1.5 miles, moderate
- New York: Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Valley: 4 to 12 miles, easy to difficult
- Maryland: Turkey Point Lighthouse Trail in Elk Neck State Park: 1.9 miles, easy
- Massachusetts: Race Book Falls in Mount Everett State Reservation: 3.4 miles, easy
These trails are especially beautiful in the autumn season when the leaves on the trees are turning and the forests are awash with color.
There are lots of places to explore in the Midwest, including these five beautiful hiking trails:
- Wisconsin: Red Trail in Whitefish Dunes State Park: 1.2 miles, easy
- Michigan: Chapel Loop Trail in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: 10.2 miles, moderate
- South Dakota: The Notch Trail in Badlands National Park: 1.3 miles, moderate
- Nebraska: Saddle Rock Trail in Scotts Bluff: 3 miles, easy to moderate
- Indiana: Trail 9 in Lake Michigan and Indiana Dunes State Park: 3.8 miles, moderate
One of the top benefits of hiking and trekking is the opportunity to explore places you may have otherwise missed. If these state parks haven't been on your radar, consider this your ticket to go!
The South is culturally rich and geographically diverse. Here are a few of our favorite hiking trails in the region:
- Tennessee: Honey Creek Loop in Oneida: 5.5 miles, moderate to difficult
- Arkansas: Eagle Rock Loop in Ouachita National Forest: Varies up to 26.8 miles, moderate
- Georgia: Blood Mountain Loop in Chattahoochee National Forest: 6 miles, moderate
- North Carolina: Grandfather Trail Loop Hike in Grandfather Mountain: 1.5 miles, easy to moderate
- Kentucky: Swift Camp Creek Trail in Daniel Boone Wilderness: 7 miles, moderate
These trails are accessible almost all year round, with the exception of some winter months. The weather in the South tends to be mild through late autumn, allowing you plenty of time to enjoy.
The western part of the U.S. offers stunning vistas and world-class views. Here are some of the best spots to hike:
- Montana: Logan Pass Trail in Glacier National Park: 5.3 miles, moderate
- Wyoming: Jenny Lake Hike in Yellowstone National Park: 7.9 miles, easy to moderate
- Idaho: Scotchman Peak in Clark Fork: 8.7 miles, moderate
- New Mexico: Pueblo Loop Trail in Bandelier National Monument: 1.4 miles, easy
- Colorado: Hanging Lake Hike in Hanging Lake: 2.4 miles, moderate
From Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon National Park, there's plenty of ground to discover here. Many regions can turn chilly and snowy during the winter, though, so be sure to pack accordingly.
Discover New Hiking Trails Near You
Hiking offers a full-body workout, a chance to clear your mind, and an opportunity to connect with nature. It's no wonder that so many people are getting outdoors and taking advantage of local hiking trails in their area. While it's fascinating to learn about hiking benefits, it's best to experience them for yourself.
At Heal Nourish Grow, we're here to help you discover new ways to eat clean, move your body, and quiet your mind. Check out our online shop to explore products designed to help your best life.