Posted on: January 10 2013

Get Healthy in the Parks—Five Events to Keep You Motivated

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Did you kick off the new year with a resolution to get more exercise? Me too. With such wide-ranging health benefits— from lowering stress to improving brain function to getting a better night’s sleep—it’s no wonder so many of us start January by putting on our workout gear. (All that carbo-loading in December helps, too!)

So join the club—but maybe not the gym. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise can have even more health benefits than indoor exercise—including significant boosts to mood, energy, and attentiveness. Why fight the crowd at the fitness center when you can enjoy your workouts in the beauty of the national parks?

Sure, few of us live close enough to go rock climbing at Yosemite or trail running at Acadia or pedaling on Grand Teton’s new multi-use bike pathways on a regular basis. But with so many national parks around the country near major cities and urban areas, you may be surprised at how close you are to the perfect trail. (You can find a park near you using the handy map on NPCA’s website.)

No matter where you live, you can sign up for a destination event to stay motivated while you train closer to home. Register for a race, plan a vacation or a long weekend somewhere exciting, and see how much it helps you stick to your exercise schedule! Here are five events at different fitness levels.

  • Want a reason to take a healthy stroll through history—this weekend? Every year at Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina, the park hosts the Race for the Grasshopper in memory of two American officers who raced each other to capture two British cannons at the end of the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. With the option to sign up for a 5K or a one-mile walk/run, it’s a great way to ease into a fitness plan while learning about the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution: http://www.nps.gov/cowp/specialevents.htm
  • Raise money as you ride to fight climate change, one of the biggest threats facing national parks. The annual Climate Ride takes place along the California coast in May, and through the Mid-Atlantic in September. Though the routes themselves are mainly outside of national parks, both rides end in parts of the park system (the Golden Gate Bridge and the National Mall, respectively), and benefit the parks. These events have already raised more than $1 million for climate causes, including NPCA: http://www.climateride.org/
  • The Towpath Marathon in Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio, is one of the few marathons that takes place in a national park. Not surprisingly, it is also touted as one of the most beautiful race courses in the country. If you’re not up for a full marathon by the race date on October 13, the park also offers a half-marathon in April, a ten-miler and 10K in June, and non-competitive weekly runs in the fall: http://towpathtrilogy.net/
  • Are you in search of a difficult challenge? Big Bend in Texas hosts a 50-mile ultramarathon every January (as well as a 25-mile race and a 10K). It’s too late to enter this month’s race, but if you start training now, perhaps you’ll be ready for next year: http://www.bigbend50.com/

Update 1/17/13: We removed one of the five events originally published as part of this list after learning the race in question was in conflict with park management. NPCA was unaware of the conflict and encourages responsible use of all national park resources. If you’re looking for more ideas for exploring parks near you, the National Park Service maintains an ongoing list of nationwide events on its website.

-Jennifer Errick, Editor, Online Communications

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