Have you been watching “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” Ken Burns’ latest documentary chronicling the history of our national parks? Has it inspired you to visit beautiful majestic mountains, windswept prairies, and vermillion canyons? If you haven't seen it, it is certain to be repeated or you can catch it on PBS. Whatever your inspiration - the smell of fresh air, a post card from Yosemite, or just a yen - Fall is a great time to get up and out for day hikes.
The documentary lasts 12 hours, long enough for most Americans to hop in a car or board a bus to reach a park, hike around, and be home for the final credits. Most of our major cities have extensive park systems with great walking trails and room to roam. New York's Central Park has 843 acres, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park 1,017, Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Park 1,754, and Philadelphia's Fairmount and LA's Griffith weigh in at more than 4,000 acres. Suburban areas have extensive “greenway” corridors where old railroad tracks and canals have been rehabilitated into trails. A chain of 1,000 acres known as the Emerald Necklace, links the parks around Boston and Brookline, MA.
After you've chosen your destination, checked trail information, and weather, you don’t need much more than a pair of good shoes and outerwear. Be sure to pack fruit—remember that your body turns fruit into energy quicker than candy or energy bars. The FruitGuys likes to gently remind hikers that when it comes to fruit peels, don’t forget to “pack it in - pack it out.” And, of course, don’t forget to bring water. It is generally unsafe to drink from trail creeks so bring enough water for your body type and weather conditions.
When you get to the trailhead, take a moment to do a few warm-ups. Stretch your calves, thighs, and spine. Loosen your shoulders and neck so you’re ready for bird watching and sky gazing. When you return, do a few cool-down stretches to help remove lactic acid (which causes muscle cramps) and soreness so that afterwards you’ll have only good memories of your invigorating hike. Whenever you seize the opportunity to take a walk in nature, you're certain to come away with something.
“In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks.” John Muir, naturalist.
- Heidi Lewis