When setting goals for the year ahead, it’s common to think about ways to further invest in your mental and physical health. But whether you hope to climb every mountain or resolve to embrace quiet moments of peace and reflection, there’s no better way to start the year off on the right foot than with a First Day Hike.
Started more than two decades ago, America’s State Parks’ First Day Hike initiative offers individuals and families an opportunity to begin the new year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a hike on January 1. On this day, people from coast to coast are encouraged to head to a state park close to home to enjoy a healthy opportunity to get outside for some exercise and fresh air in the beauty of nature.
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The program aims to promote a healthy lifestyle throughout the year and encourages participants to take advantage of year-round recreation opportunities at state parks all over the country. Though national parks often draw big crowds, state parks preserve a variety of equally extraordinary environments and ecosystems, allowing people of every skill level to enjoy mountain climbing, walks on the beach, birdwatching, snowshoeing, biking, and so much more.
To make the First Day Hike experience suitable for all ages, parks offer strolls and hikes of varying distances and rigor, with each striving to create a fun experience that the whole family can enjoy.
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“Hitting the trail on New Year’s Day, or any day for that matter, is a great opportunity to pause from the commotion of daily life and soak up the mental and physical benefits of hiking,” says Wesley Trimble, communications and creative director of the American Hiking Society. “Studies show that walking in nature can improve health, including reducing depression and anxiety as well as improving memory, to name just the mental benefits. Hiking is a low barrier-to-entry activity and a great way to connect with loved ones while getting some fresh air.”
In recent years, all 50 state park systems sponsored First Day Hikes, with more than 400 hikes taking place nationwide. There are two types of hikes available:
- Ranger-led hikes: These hikes are guided, have specific start times, and many require pre-registration. For specific details and requirements, check your state’s First Day Hikes website.
- Self-guided hikes: These hikes offer a more flexible opportunity to hike at your leisure throughout the day on well-marked trails. Park staff and volunteers may be available to help guide participants but will not join you throughout your journey.
To locate a nearby hike, visit America’s State Parks’ website.
Need more inspiration? Here are just some of the guided hikes available at state parks throughout the U.S.:
- Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas: Explore the region’s historical and natural landscape on the intermediate-level Fresno Divide Trail.
- Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia: Search for songbirds and take in some of the state’s most spectacular views on the 0.8-mile Lindy Point Trail.
- Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park in Florida: Follow the half-mile, accessible boardwalk to learn about the history, wildlife, ecology, and management of the park.
- Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina: Take a 3.2-mile stroll, hike, or bike up the park’s entrance road, which is normally reserved just for vehicles.
- Lake Bemidji State Park in Minnesota: Strap on snowshoes for a hike beneath towering pine trees along the park’s Paul Bunyan State Trail.
- Natural Bridges State Beach in California: Explore tide pools or search for monarch butterflies, deer, horned owls, and frogs on one of several hiking options at this oceanfront park.
- Two Lights State Park in Maine: Watch the sunrise over the ocean before tackling a family- and dog-friendly 0.75-mile loop of the shoreline and woodland paths.
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For those residing in chilly climates, the American Hiking Society website offers helpful tips for cold-weather hiking. But whether planning a hike in snowy Minnesota or sunny California, hikers are encouraged to review Recreate Responsibly principles before heading out on their first adventure of the new year.