Growing up, family camping trips involved hiking through the densely vegetated woods of Pennsylvania. With four kids on the trail, these were unhurried excursions full of breaks for goofy photo opps, floating twigs downstream, catching butterflies, and lifting logs to look for salamanders.
Adulthood hikes tend to look a bit different, and not just because I'm a Coloradan now. The pace is speedy and purposeful; a smartwatch chimes with each passing mile; and often, my body is present but my thoughts are not.
So how to get back to mindfully enjoying time in nature? I've come up with a few ways to enjoy a hike more fully, and they all involve pausing. Try these seven ways to be a happy kid on the trail again.
1. Flex Your Artistic Skills
Pack colored pencils, paints, and brushes or simply a pen and notebook and park yourself on a rock or stump to sketch what you see. No need for fancy materials, and no need to feel self-conscious—there's nobody to impress. Making art is a great way to connect with nature by observing it on a deeper level. Over time, you'll have a collection of keepsake outdoor drawings from all the places you've walked through.
2. Write Away
Fresh air fuels creative thoughts, so bring along a small notepad and pen and jot them down as they come to you. Look around and write some notes about what you see. Write poetry if the mood strikes, or even a short story. Let out the words on the page and follow where they take you.
3. Capture the Moment
You've probably used your phone camera while hiking before, but this time, don't just snap away quickly to get a shot for your social media story. Pause often and seek out the tiny details that might get overlooked: a vivid green tuft of moss, a delicate mushroom at the base of a tree, crystal dew drops hanging in a spiderweb...or just to take some silly photos with friends. Another option: Consider bringing a film camera so you get to experience it all over again after having the photos developed. All are guaranteed to enhance a hike.
4. Be a Citizen Scientist
If you're willing to do a little more planning, research the area you'll be hiking in to learn which types of plants and animals are around. Keep an eye out and record sightings. Bring binoculars and scan the treetops for birds; admire the variety of flowers along the trail; peek under rocks and logs (and gently place them back again) to see the life hiding underneath. Using a nature app (I use Natural Atlas) is a great way to identify the flora and fauna you spot along the way.
5. Sit, Listen, Meditate
When you close your eyes and listen carefully, you'll soon realize that there's actually quite a bit going on around you. Hear the birds calling out to each other, the wind rustling leaves, insects buzzing. Breathe in the scent of sun-baked pines and sweet wildflowers. Taking this time to soak in the sounds of nature can help you really take a break from the typical noise of everyday life.
6. Enjoy a Picnic
Swapping out that granola bar in favor of packing a more elaborate lunch every once in a while will make the experience feel more special—and your meal will taste even better in the fresh air after hiking out to a beautiful spot in nature. On a hot day of wandering the trails, cold drinks and fresh fruit are extra refreshing. And on chilly days, there's nothing like a thermos of hot soup with a tasty sandwich.
7. Play a Game
What better way to be a kid again than to play like one. Play hide-and-seek among the trees, scratch out a game of tic-tac-toe in the dirt, or see how many times you can skip a rock across the water. Interacting with nature in a childlike way is a liberating break from everyday life and a reminder that getting outside doesn't have to be serious business. Give yourself permission to enjoy nature free of inhibitions.
READ MORE: Why 'Soft Hiking' Is the Best Hiking