When you ask people what first drew them to camping, you’re likely to hear “getting out in nature” pretty early on in the conversation. And it’s true that camping is one of the very best ways to reconnect with the natural world around us.
But for RVers — especially when you’re traveling in a luxurious motorhome or fifth-wheel travel trailer — it can be really easy to ditch all those fun outdoor activities you’d had planned in favor of cuddling up on the couch and binge-watching your favorite TV shows. (Hey, it happens to all of us, even when we have the best intentions!)
If getting outside is one of the main motivators for RVers to hit the road in the first place, we don’t want to see them waste those beautiful days and destinations on a humdrum indoor activity. Having a plan for what to do once you get outside can make it a whole lot easier to strap up your boots and get out there — so we’ve put together this guide full of fun things to do outside while you’re camping.
Getting Outside: The Best Motivation for a Road Trip
When you’re playing road trip planner, it can be difficult to narrow down where to go from the vast array of options. Just opening your favorite road atlas and pointing to a random page could yield amazing adventures… but more often, we’re stuck with analysis paralysis while we scour our scads of bucket list destinations.
But if you organize your travel around outdoor adventures, it becomes a whole lot simpler. You can plan road trip stops based on the local outdoor travel opportunities and map out exciting adventure days ahead of time.
You could amplify your tour of America’s national parks by adding in epic outdoor adventures from hiking to mountain biking to rock climbing, or choose some specific activity, like SCUBA diving, and create an epic road trip itinerary specifically geared toward getting you to the very best spots to enjoy the sport. Either way, you’ll combine the excitement of travel with the thrill of taking to the outdoors personally in one way or another… which is the very best kind of adventuring we know of.
Family Outdoor Activities for All Ages
Many campers are traveling with children and families, which can make the prospect of getting active seem a little more daunting.
But kids love spending time outside — and doing so is great for their health and education. They’ll stay active and learn more about the world around them, all while enjoying themselves!
Here are some of our favorite outdoor activities for kids and adults alike.
When it comes to outdoor recreational activities, one of the most classic is also the simplest: just get outside and start walking!
Although there’s all sorts of gear and equipment you can purchase to make your hiking trips easier — some of which may actually prove helpful depending on the level of the trails you’re taking on — at its most basic level, hiking really is just taking a long walk through the woods. (Or mountains. Or along the beach, even.) The most important thing you need is a solid, comfortable pair of shoes, though an excellent companion will make the experience that much better.
If you’ll be hiking for more than a couple of hours, or you’re planning on making it a major part of your vacations in general, investing in a pair of hiking boots is a good idea. They’ll offer ankle support and water resistance, and many brands are well-made enough to last you for years. Steep inclines may be made a lot easier by the addition of hiking poles, especially if you’re bringing along a tent and multiple days’ rations. (More on that in our discussion on backpacking below!)
While your local park or recreational area will likely offer sound suggestions for how to prepare for your hiking trip, always ensure you have more than enough water for everyone in your party — and bring along some snacks and sun protection, too. The wilderness can be a dangerous place, even if you’re not staying for very long, so preparing yourself ahead of time is key to enjoying all outdoor activities!
2. Horseback Riding
Want all the fun and exploration of hiking with a little bit less leg work — at least on your part?
Horseback riding is an amazing way to experience the great outdoors. It’s hard not to feel connected to nature when you’re literally straddling an animal!
And although it may seem like the lazy way out, horseback riding actually engages a surprising number of muscles in both the core and lower body. If you’re not a regular rider, you’ll definitely feel those muscles the next day… some of which you might not even have been aware of before!
Guided trail rides are available all over the country and lead beginner riders through beautiful, scenic landscapes on well-broken, safe horses. If you’re a little bit more advanced, you might try to find a ranch that offers a more exciting option, like cantering bareback along a beach.
3. Mountain Biking
Want a ride with fewer hooves and more tires? Mountain biking is a thrilling adventure through the trails, combining speed, grace, and power into one unforgettable experience. Just make sure you don’t attempt to hit the trails with any old cruiser. Mountain bikes are specifically made for rugged landscapes, with wider, grippier tires and extra-springy shocks. And always make sure you wear a helmet!
Wondering what to do outside? Sometimes, it’s as simple as just sitting back and looking — especially if you’re out in the middle of the wilderness where the night sky is an epic blanket of stars.
Living in our constantly-connected world, it can be difficult to find the time to look skyward. We’re much more inclined to put our attention squarely on whichever screen currently has us in its clutches. But a road trip is the perfect time to put away those devices, go outside, and crane your neck a little bit. Simply looking up can be one of the best outdoor educational activities; kids can learn to recognize and name different constellations and think about all of the different types of star systems those tiny pinpricks of light represent.
When winter arrives, it doesn’t mean there are no more outdoor things to do. On the contrary: that blanket of fresh-fallen snow opens up a whole new world of outdoor activities!
Along with being just plain fun no matter how you slice it, snow sports like skiing are also one of our best suggestions for outdoor activities for couples. Think about it: the ride is thrilling, there’s beautiful scenery, and when it’s all said and done, you can cozy up together next to the fire, clutching a cup of something warm and wonderful. No wonder so many people ditch the classic beach vacation to take a winter trek to a ski resort! (Psst: here are a few mountains that allow RV parking!)
Like the idea of skiing, but want to have less control, fall more often, and get side-eye from the fancy resort dwellers?
In all seriousness, snowboarding is its whole own kind of snow-sliding fun, a thrilling and parsimonious option for the adventurous winter wanderer. Just keep in mind that you won’t have poles to propel you and that stopping isn’t as simple as a slice of “pizza.” Of course, when in doubt, you can always fall on your butt — that’ll definitely put the brakes on!
Your favorite hiking trails are that much more alluring in winter: a dusting of snow makes a beautiful landscape even more majestic and mysterious.
But if you want to access those once-in-a-lifetime views without slipping and falling, tacking snowshoes onto your boots is a good idea. That way, you’ll have the traction you need to stop thinking about your footing and focus on the good stuff: the epic winter wonderland you’re wandering through.
Fun Summer Activities for Your Warm-Weather Venture
Summer is undoubtedly the season most closely associated with road trips and camping — and for good reason. There are some kinds of outdoor fun that simply require warm weather!
So if you’ve got an epic cross-country RV trip planned for this coming summer (or even just a weekend getaway), here are some of the best outdoor activities to enjoy while the sun is shining.
8. Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Looking for a watery workout? Stand-up paddleboarding is way harder than it looks, but just as calming and serene as it seems once you get the hang of it. And although you could technically go in fall or spring, we recommend summer for beginners, because it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to be falling in at least once or twice.
Along with simply paddling down the waterway, you can also fish, picnic, or even do yoga on a stand-up paddleboard. (Yes, really.) The sky’s the limit! Er… maybe the sea is, in this instance?
9. Kayaking or Canoeing
It’s hard to think of a day better spent than one where you while away the hours on the water in a kayak or canoe. Whether it’s an alpine lake or a lazy southern river, you can sit back and take in all the beauty that nature has to offer while being calmly rocked by the water — and getting an epic arm workout in, too. (Better yet: get a two-person kayak and convince the person behind you to do most of the physical labor. If your partner’s unconvinced, bring your camera — you’re too busy getting the perfect pictures to row!)
Seriously, paddling yourself around can be downright strenuous, so don’t forget to bring along some water and snacks!
10. Whitewater Rafting
If you want to bring your water-based adventures to the next level, head to a river where things get a little bit choppy. Whitewater rafting (and canoeing, and kayaking) is one of the most popular adventure sports in America, and for good reason. Can you imagine anything more simultaneously relaxing and thrilling?
Do keep in mind, however, that whitewater rivers are that way in part because they’re studded with old river rocks, which add excitement to your navigation scheme — but can also present a hazard should anybody fall out of the boat. Always wear a helmet and strap yourself in as directed by your guide, and never attempt to cross whitewater sections on your own unless you really know what you’re doing.
11. Fly Fishing
What’s better than an outdoor adventure that also gets you a free dinner? Although we’ve outlined a bunch of different water-related activities above, fly fishing gives you the chance to experience a whole new relationship to the river, which becomes a source of both solace and sustenance — if you’re lucky, at least. Plus, fly tying is its own multifaceted pastime, with some hobbyists spending countless hours (and cash) on wrapping up bundles of beautiful bird feathers to serve as fish fascinators.
No fly-fishable rivers in your area or near your next destination? There are tons of other types of fishing to try your hand at, all of which offer a unique combination of concentration and excitement. Deep-ocean fishing on a charter boat can be a thrilling adventure, or you might simply sit on the dock at a bay with a line dropped in. In the Florida gulf, scalloping and shrimping are common activities (when those critters are in season, of course). Do be sure that no matter what kind of fishing you take on, you have all the proper permits and licensing, just as you’d need for hunting!
An Adventurous List of Outdoor Activities to Try
Looking for some adventure activities that are a little bit quicker-paced? Ready to spike your heart rate al little?
For the most intrepid travelers, the wilderness is all about getting wild. Here are our best suggestions for those of you with a touch of the thrill-seeking gene.
You can think of it like hiking on steroids, or like camping with all the comforts pared away. But no matter how you conceptualize it, backpacking is a one-of-a-kind adventure activity that’s sure to make you feel reconnected with nature — and test your survival and self-reliance abilities.
Unfamiliar? How it works is pretty simple on the surface: you load all the things you need, including food, water, and shelter, into a backpack. Then you set out into the wilderness to find a spot to set up camp and enjoy the kind of solace you just can’t get anywhere else these days. However, there are some important rules to keep in mind as far as choosing an appropriate campsite, and it’s very important to be bear aware if you’re in an area where our furry friends frequent. Along with keeping your food far away from your tent, you’ll also want to secure it in a bear-proof box or hang a bear bag. Carrying bear spray is a good idea, too. And even before you step foot on the trail, choosing the best (i.e., lightest) gear and materials will go a long way toward ensuring your comfort. Find more details on backpacking for beginners here.
13. SCUBA Diving
Want to see what there is to see under the sea?
Since we’re air-breathing mammals, that prospect carries some difficulties… Unless, of course, you carry your air along with you!
SCUBA diving is one of the most exciting adventure sports on earth, allowing us to interact with a whole world that’s usually hidden beneath the waves. Of course, it does take some time (and money) to achieve your certification, and learning about the safety rules involved is super important. After all, we can’t breathe underwater — at least not without that equipment. Knowing what you’re doing is essential to your survival!
Fortunately, there are many different diving certification boards out there to help you get yourself ready to take to the open water. PADI, NAUI, and SSI are a few of the most common, but there are a host of others as well, and they’re all focused on making sure you stay safe underwater (and keeping the native life you’ll see while you’re there safe, too!).
If you’re brave enough to breathe under the deep and comfortable in your swimming abilities, SCUBA diving is an amazing opportunity to see the great outdoors from a completely new perspective. Plus, kids as young as 10 can get certified, so it can be an amazing adventure for the whole family!
14. Rock Climbing
We’re not suggesting you make like Alex Honnold and attempt to scale a 7,500-foot mountain without ropes. (In fact, we highly suggest you do not attempt to do so.)
But rock climbing with ropes is both relatively safe and incredibly thrilling, and finding new places to climb is an amazing way to plan your travels.
Not quite convinced enough of your footing to take on an outdoor rock face? Try out the sport at an indoor climbing gym first, where you’ll have the benefit of padded floors (and lots of people on standby to help should you accidentally hurt yourself). Once you feel more comfortable with climbing as a category, then you can get out and try it on one of America’s many beautiful, climbable formations — Devils Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming is a very common climbing destination.
Just like the old song says, what goes up must come down — and if you’re considering trying out climbing, you might also be interested in using those ropes to rappel yourself back down the mountain.
For many adventurers, rappelling is its whole own separate sport: you hike to the top of the mountain and rappel down, as opposed to climbing up first. Some climbers also rappel in order to check out a potential climb before committing to doing it from the bottom. Either way, it’s a whole lot of fun! Just make sure you’ve got quality gear, including fresh ropes, a helmet, and a sturdy harness. When something’s literally clipping you to a wall and saving you from falling to your death, it’s worth double-checking… and investing in the good stuff.
16. Hot Air Ballooning
For many of us, getting outside is all about taking in the beautiful scenery. To be sure, hiking is great and SCUBA diving is epic, but there’s another amazing view you can’t get any other way: taking to the skies!
A hot air balloon ride is a unique way to see the landscape from above, without the impediment of plane glass between you and the view. (Plus, they don’t go nearly as high as commercial airplanes, which means you’ll get a better detailed picture of what’s below you.)
Think ballooning sounds nice, but not sure where to go to get on one? Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts one of the most-celebrated hot air balloon festivals in the world each fall, and there are similar events or private tour companies in Napa, New England, and elsewhere. Do be aware that most flights take place pretty darn early in the morning, though; at the International Balloon Fiesta, guests are advised to arrive at the park gates no later than 5:30 a.m. Better get that alarm clock ready!
It’s surprising how different things look from the other side of the dirt, and how much life can actually sustain a cave’s isolation and darkness. And if you’re curious to learn more about these unique habitats, you’re in luck. The United States is home to some incredible cave formations, including Mammoth Cave National Park — which is the largest cave system discovered so far on Earth, not just in the country!
We’ve also got Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, the famed Ruby Falls in Tennessee, and dozens more to choose from, scattered primarily across the southeast, southwest, and Great Plains regions. Perhaps the most satisfying part is your very first view of the incredible subterranean formations after having just descended from a totally-average-looking landscape. It’s definitely worth the trip!
Nature and Health: Getting Outside is More Than Just Fun
While we’re pretty sure this list of outdoor activities is motivating on its own, just in case you need more incentive to get outside, listen up. Not only is experiencing the great outdoors good for your smile and your soul, but it’s also an effective way to ward off physical ailments.
On one level, this is obvious enough: most outdoor activities require physical exercise, which we all know is important for the health of our bodies. But did you know that studies have shown that just being outside has positive health benefits, even if you’re not doing anything particularly cardiovascularly challenging?
For instance, one University of Michigan study showed that just walking outside improved participants’ short-term memory. Another found that spending time outdoors was correlated with lower levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that’s related to stress and which can have inflammatory and anti-immune properties when left circulating for too long in the body.
Plus, the sun is a natural source of vitamin D, which is important for our health and our mood. (In fact, many cite a lack of vitamin D as the cause of Seasonal Affect Disorder, or SAD, which some people experience during the darker wither months.)
Not to mention, of course, the fact that your camping trip will likely put you in these serene vistas with some of your favorite people by your side, which always makes any pleasant experience that much better. You’ll get the chance to reconnect with both nature and your family, all while reaping the psychological and physical benefits of being outside.
…and did we mention your Instagram is going to look absolutely freaking epic?
How Do I Find Hiking Near Me?
“I’m excited to plan my road trip,” you might be thinking, “but there’s lots of time left between now and the moment I get to ditch work and hit the highway. What kind of outdoor adventure opportunities can I find in my area right now?”
Fortunately, we live in a country where it’s hard not to find something amazing and beautiful to explore on foot. No matter what state you live in, chances are there’s an incredible local park or recreation area that’s got hiking trails just waiting for you to discover them.
To find an adventure near you, start by Googling around, using your zip code to narrow down the outdoorsy opportunities in your area. You can also reach out to your local parks and recreation board to learn more about what kind of fun outdoor activities are popular and accessible where you live.
And keep in mind that there’s a whole lot more out there than just hiking to discover. You might find mountain biking, kayaking, or canoeing opportunities, depending on the particular makeup of the landscape you live in. Another great resource to check out: MeetUp, where other adventuresome, outdoorsy people like you are probably gathering to get into some epic adventures. New friends and outdoor fun… for free! What more can you ask for?
No matter what you do, just make sure you do find time to get outside and enjoy this beautiful planet of ours. There’s so much to see and do, it’s impossible to experience it all in just one lifetime… so you’d better get started quick!
Now what are you waiting for? Close the laptop, put down your cell phone, and get out there. The great outdoors are waiting — and there are so many wonderful ways to explore them!
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