Join the Party: the USA’s National Parks Service Turns 100!
Japanese have long known about the benefits of nature, to our health and overall well-being. In fact, they have a word Shinrinyoku (forest bathing) to refer to getting back to nature, or more closely going deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful. Reconnecting with nature can lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation and even a stronger immune system.
Yet, according to National Geographic, visits to parks are down. In fact, so are visits to the backyard. One survey found only 10 percent of American teens spend time outside every day. And, according to research by the Harvard School of Public Health, American adults spend less time outdoors than they do inside vehicles—less than 5 percent of their day.
Researchers at Chiba University discovered a 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology: comparing forest bathers to city walkers, they sent 84 subjects to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: overall they showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate.
If you plan to be in the US this summer why not do your health a favor, and take part in the USA’s National Parks Service (NPS) 100th birthday and find a national park for some deep forest bathing? Founded in August 1916, the NPS has grown to include 59 parks (and counting) that cater to hikers, climbers, skiers and more and this month there are concerts, events and even free entry. Here are our favourite five:
Wrangell St. Elias, Alaska
Bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Switzerland combined, this little known park has North America’s highest concentration of glaciers and encompasses nine of the 16 tallest mountains in the U.S. (including an active volcano).
Singer-songwriter John Dever immortalized Shenandoah in his 1971 song Take me Home, Country Roads. With over 500 miles of trails, Shenandoah is hiker-central. Located just 2 hours from Washington/Baltimore, the 200,000 acre park has cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas and quiet wooded hollows.
Olympic National Park, Washington
On Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest this park has no roads, allowing for pure silence. Renowned for its three distinct ecosystems: temperate rain forest, subalpine forest and wildflower meadow, it is surrounded by the rugged Pacific shore.
From towering sequoia trees, granite cliffs, lakes and tranquil backcountry, Yosemite has something for everyone. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and contains many marvels, including Ribbon Falls, which is nine times larger than Niagra Falls and El Capitan, the largest granite block in the world.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park offers glacier-carved peaks and valleys all the way to the Canadian border. With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, hikers, cyclists and campers often share their journey with wildlife ranging from mountain goats to grizzly bears.