Getting outside and getting exercise in the fresh air is one of the important things we can teach our children. The best way to show how to do this is to lead by example. Scheduling time each day to spend actively outdoors is a great way to encourage our kids to do the same, be healthy and be active.
One of the easiest ways to get exercise out in nature is to walk or run. It doesn’t take any fancy equipment—just some shoes, and there are an infinite number of places to explore, right in your hometown or across the country. Become a tourist in your hometown! Use Google to discover parks or places you might not have already explored, or since National Kids to Parks Day is this weekend, check out some of these lesser known but still super cool National Parks with your family and get active and get moving.
1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Akron, OH: In CVNP, there is an awesome train that you can ride back to your car after checking out the old locks used in the Ohio and Erie Canal. There’s also a great farmer’s market along the paved Towpath Trail that is an awesome stop for a healthy snack or an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. Check out Ohio’s unique wetlands along the Cuyahoga River and soak up some of the area’s great history in the process. This trail extends from Akron to Cleveland, so if you are planning a trip to the area, there’s plenty of places to get started checking it out.
2. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mosca, CO: Great Sand Dunes features 30 square miles of flowing sand and the tallest dunes in North America — Star Dune, the highest, is 750 feet — but within its 150,000 acres, you’ll also find grasslands, wetlands, forested trails, alpine lakes and the 13,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The biggest “crowds” come in late spring to swim in Medano Creek, a short-lived snowmelt stream that flows across the sand. Come summer and fall, those with a taste for adventure (and a high-clearance 4WD vehicle) can enjoy high-country hikes and fall foliage via the primitive Medano Pass Road.
3.Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, FL: Not really a dry destination at all, this national park is famous for its inaccessibility and an abundance of turtles. You can only visit this park by a ferry or a biplane, but it is well worth the effort, and there won’t likely be big crowds!
4. African Burial Ground, Lower Manhattan, NY: A graveyard of former slaves, this national monument does not charge admission and proves you can enjoy our national parks even in the heart of the city.
5. Capitol Reef National Park, Hite, UT: With famous neighbors including Bryce, Zion and Arches national parks, it’s not surprising that some visitors to south eastern Utah completely miss Capitol Reef. That’s too bad because within its 400 square miles stand the white reef-like domes that give the park its name, the monoliths of Cathedral Valley and the 100-mile-long geological wrinkle known as Waterpocket Fold. The park is also home to the largest fruit orchard (2,600 trees) in the National Park system, so after a day in the outdoors, head to the Gifford Historic Farmhouse in the Fruita Historic District for fresh-baked pies of peach, pear, cherry, apple and apricot.
6. Aniakchak, Alaska: Located 450 miles SW of Anchorage and accessible only via airtaxi from King Salmon or by power boat, this rugged piece of the American frontier includes a volcano for exploring. This might not be the best park to visit for folks that aren’t veteran hikers, but the terrain and solitude in this National Park are well worth the effort. Be careful to watch out for bears on your visit!
Whether you visit one of these six national parks and monuments or just check out the neighborhood city park near you, getting outside for a walk is a great way to explore the wealth of outdoor experiences that are available to us if we only use our imaginations. Don't forget to bring your Ten Essentials if you're planning a day hike to explore beyond the visitor's centers and main roads in Great Sand Dunes, Capitol Reef or Aniakchak, and maybe let your teen take over some of the planning!