We’ve all been there. It’s the first beautiful day outside in ages, and we just have to get out and explore our wild spaces. Perhaps it’s been raining non-stop for days, and you know your favorite waterfall is going to be flowing nicely. Then you get to the trailhead to find it packed. Apparently, you weren’t the only person who had this idea. But, if you know how to look, you finding secret outdoor spaces is easy. And then you can go on those super popular days and avoid the crowds on hiking trails.
I’ve had this blog post in my head for a long time. But other post ideas kept coming up and I believe I’ve moved it down my calendar for more than a year. In the light of COVID-19 where we are encouraged to stay six feet away from each other, I thought it was the perfect time to write it!
Learn to read a top map
One day in my downtown at work I started day-dreaming a trip in my head. I knew I could go within an eight-hour driving radius. So I got on Google maps on my computer, put it on the terrain setting, and just started looking.
It didn’t take me long to see the canyon of Palo Duro. And I thought, “Now, that’s a cool looking place!”
Once you know how to read a topographical map, you can peruse maps of your favorite public lands and look for clues that tell you it will be a super cool spot and secret outdoor space.
For instance, if you see a river or creek on a map with a cliff, that’s a pretty good indicator there will be a waterfall there.
But also keep in mind, if you go off-trail you will need to make sure you also know how to use a compass and have some land navigation skills. You will also need to check to make sure off-trail hiking is permitted.
Explore not-so-popular public lands
When I visited Yellowstone, I was amazed at how many people there were. I had read that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited. But to me that makes sense because it’s so close to so many major metropolitan places. That’s not so true for Yellowstone.
But when people think of national parks who are not familiar with them they think the main ones. Think of the family that has done Disney so many times and they want to do something different. What about a national park? These people tend to visit the main more notable parks.
Here in Arkansas places that are on the top of people’s minds are Petit Jean State Park, the Buffalo National River, and of course Hawksbill Craig. People from Little Rock, think of Pinnacle Mountain.
Side note, I can’t tell you how many Tinder guys from Little Rock I swiped left on because they said they loved hiking but only knew of Pinnacle.
Think outside the box
If the state parks, national forests, or national parks are crowded try an Arkansas Game & Fish Wildlife Management Area, a National Fish and Wildlife Area, or Nature Conservancy or Natural Heritage Commission land. You might actually find your new favorite place to explore. I sure did with Smith Creek Preserve!
Two weekends ago I attempted to hike at Lake Catherine State Park, but I literally couldn’t find a parking spot. So I just went about 10-15 miles down the road and walked around the ponds at the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Andrew Husley Fish Hatchery. Not many people know you can do that and it’s great for watching wildlife. And I had the place all to myself.
There’s lot of secret outdoor spaces to be found if you look outside the box.
Go deeper into the backcountry
Some of the best places I have been are way down a dirt road. Most people, especially non-outdoorsy people, don’t venture too far down a dirt road. If a trail is hard to find or get too, it will attract fewer people. When you add the extra effort into the mix, a lot of people will get weeded out. And there is where you will find some of the best secret outdoor spaces.
Also, remember those people who are tired of Disney and decide to do a camping trip for their family outing are going to go to places that are easy to get to.
This is also where those map-reading skills are going to help. Get out an atlas and peruse the backroads. Go exploring, get lost and you might just find your new favorite secret spot. Just be sure you know how to read the atlas because your GPS may not pick up a signal to get you back to civilization.
Finding secret outdoor spaces
Right now in the light of COVID-19, getting outside is good for our souls! But unfortunately, if everyone does that, it makes it hard to keep that social distance. But discovering secret outdoor spaces is a great way to reap the benefits of nature and keep distance from others.
It’s also a great way to just unplug from life and rejuvenate in nature. And honing these skills of finding secret outdoor spaces can be used at any time.