Cooped up and bored indoors—yet simultaneously stumped over what will bust you from this rut? We feel you, which is why we compiled a list of go-to outdoor activities that will get you out of the house and provide much-needed doses of sunlight, fresh air, and feel-good vibes.
Not only can heading outside inject excitement into a blah-feeling day, it can also deliver serious health benefits: Exposure to greenspace is linked to a whole slew of physical perks, including reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of 143 studies published in the journal Environmental Research. Separate research supports the outdoors for your mental health too. Time in nature can decrease mental distress while boosting happiness, subjective well-being, cognitive functioning, memory, attention, imagination, and creativity, a 2019 review in the journal Science Advances concluded.
In short, there’s a lot to gain from stepping out of your home. And with a handy list of outdoor activities at your fingertips, you can soak up all the awesomeness of nature without spinning your wheels—or wasting precious free time—brainstorming ideas about how to get outside regularly.
We tapped nature-loving folks for a wide-ranging roundup of fun things to do in the great outdoors. From ideas for mini work breaks in the fresh air to al fresco fitness plans, here are some pretty amazing things to do outside. Let this article be your outdoor activities inspiration guide!
1. Lace up for a mindful nature walk.
Feeling on edge or unfocused? Slip on your sneakers, head outside, and get in some steps. Not only is walking an excellent form of low-impact exercise, but intentionally strolling through a natural setting can help you chill out. When people with chronic stress walked outdoors for 40 minutes, they decreased their cortisol levels more than those who did likewise on a treadmill or who watched nature programming on TV for the same amount of time, a 2020 study published in Environment and Behavior found. They also experienced more of a mood improvement afterward.
To make the most of your stroll, tune into the present moment, including what you see and hear around you, Ronna Schneberger, an ANFT forest therapy guide and trainer in Alberta, Canada, tells SELF. She points to a concept called the attention restoration theory, which states that fascinating properties of nature—such as falling water or a snaking trail—can invoke involuntary attention or the act of simply noticing something without deliberately concentrating on it. This allows our direct attention—what we use to intentionally focus—to rest and recover. So by tuning into what you’re experiencing outdoors, you can then improve your ability to hone in on a task later on.
This can come in clutch during the middle of a busy work day when your brain is feeling fried. “Taking a walk at lunch or sitting [outside] and just taking it all in, even for 15 minutes, can make a world of a difference,” Schneberger says.
2. Gaze at the night sky.
Stargazing is one of those underrated outdoor activities that actually has a lot to offer: It’s free, accessible, and can be incredibly calming, Mason McCord, founder of Sleeping Rainbow Adventures Tours in Torrey, Utah, tells SELF. He first got into stargazing as a guide in Zion National Park, and it’s now one of his favorite ways to spend time outside.
For an optimal experience, try to get as far away from city lights as possible and turn off all sources of manmade light, like car headlamps. Bring a yoga mat or blanket so you can comfortably lay on the ground. Give your eyes time to adjust to the dark, and then take in the sky above you.
If you want to make the experience a little more active, you can do some prep work first. Download a stargazing app—McCord uses Star Walk 2—to get a little more information on what you’re looking at and learn about upcoming astronomical events, like eclipses and meteor showers
3. Chase fireflies.
Remember how magical the outdoors felt when you were little? Recreate some of that wonder on a summer night by catching fireflies in a jar and briefly observing them before setting them free. Katie Pierson, a certified personal trainer in Montana, recently did this with her two kids while vacationing in South Dakota. She tells SELF the experience was like a mini science class combined with good old fashioned entertainment. “Who knew bugs can be so fun?” she says. Plus this is one of those enjoyable outdoor activities that can help instill a love of nature in your kids. To boot, it’s entirely free!
4. Dust off your bike and go for a ride.
If you want to blend low-impact exercise with quality time outdoors, make biking one of your go-to outdoor activities. Rose Conry, a registered nurse in Denver and outdoor trip leader, tells SELF she enjoys biking because it allows her to see things from a different perspective and it can also serve double duty as a social activity if she rides with friends or family members. Biking is also a convenient and eco-friendly way to get to work and run errands, she adds.
Itching to hit the biking trails yourself? Consider finding a cycling group in your area so that you can connect with and learn from experienced riders, as SELF previously reported. Check out USA Cycling’s club search tool to find groups near you.
5. Plan an outdoor adventure date.
Injecting an element of surprise into your next date night can help rekindle a sense of romance, Boston-based licensed mental health counselor Samantha Burns, MA, LMHC, and author of Done with Dating: 7 Steps to Finding Your Person, tells SELF. And one way to do so is by planning an outdoor thrill-seeking date, like a zip-line and ropes course or an amusement park. “Make sure to cheer your partner on and support them if they find it challenging or scary,” Burns says. Along the way, look for opportunities for physical touch, she adds. Think hand-holding, kissing, high-fives, and hugs.
Another option: water sports! If you live near a body of water—like an ocean, lake, reservoir, or river—consider renting a stand-up paddleboard and taking it for a spin. Not only does this activity allow you to chat and continue to get to know your partner, but exercise releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter known as the happy hormone. And as Burns puts it: “Now you can associate your partner with this invigorated mood.”
6. Play in your backyard.
With just a little preplanning and a willingness to let loose, you can beat the heat and have a grand old time right at home—no travel to a National Park or other far-flung location required!
One such way to do so? Take a cue from Pierson and let your yard host a slip-and-slide—yep, the classic activity where you slither and glide on a slick tarp. Pierson bought her slide at the grocery store for $15, and set it up in the lawn with a hose, where it’s already gotten a lot of use for kids and adults alike.
Trust us: This is one of those classic outdoor activities that’s a blast for the whole family no matter your age! It can feel refreshing on a hot day and also pretty exhilarating to zip down the slide. Here’s a highly rated option (Amazon, $40) to test it out yourself.
7. Pitch a tent and fire up some s’mores.
When it comes to outdoor activities that really immerse you in nature, camping is hard to beat. “I like that peace and quiet that comes from camping and tending the fire and just being in a beautiful place where it’s all around,” McCord says. Instead of frequenting campgrounds, McCord prefers dispersed camping on land that’s in a national forest or managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which tends to be more secluded. “I just like going out to a more middle-of-nowhere spot,” he says. “You have the whole place to yourself—it’s more of an extension of the solitude, the meditative nature of nature.” Totally new to it? Check out our guide for camping for beginners and consider this raved-about camping gear for your next trip.
8. Play a round of mini golf or disc golf.
Scope an outdoor mini golf or disc golf (a specific type of frisbee game) course in your area and take your partner next time date night rolls around. Either activity “is a great way to create opportunities for flirtatious competition,” Burns says. “You can up the ante by making some bets, such as [where] to go on another date, or who pays for the ice cream afterward!” Even in a non-date setting, opting for a round of mini or disc golf can be a fun way to play in the outdoors.
9. Float down a river.
For super-adventurous folks, whitewater rafting may make the list of ideal outdoor activities. But for people seeking chill time on the water? A gentle river float may be just the ticket. On warm summer days, Pierson and her family grab life jackets and tie a whole bunch of inner tubes together and then float on them down a river. They’ll get out at a certain location and have a picnic. In many places, you can also rent tubes and get more guidance on the ideal places to float—search “lazy river tubing near me” to discover options.
10. Sneak in a quick meditation.
For a rejuvenating work day break, consider heading outside for a meditation session—here’s a 10-minute guided one to try. During a recent shift, Conry slipped outside during lunch for some outdoor respite. After she finished eating, she popped in her earphones and did a simple guided meditation to help ground herself.
Though Conry says there can be more distractions when you meditate outdoors versus indoors, sometimes the natural sights and noises around you can actually enhance your experience. Case in point: One time she was meditating outdoors when she noticed hawks flying in the sky above. Watching them helped her fully engage in the present moment, which is often a goal of meditation.
11. Kick around a hacky sack.
Playing outdoors as an adult can be as simple as picking up a hacky sack—the small, weighted ball that you kick around in a group. The activity, which Conry is a fan of, doesn’t require that much space and is an easy way to pass the time if you’re hanging with a bunch of people. Plus you don’t really need any special skills or experience to have fun with it. “I’m not good at it, but it doesn't really matter,” Conry says. Add this to your list of easy, fun, and low-cost outdoor activities.
12. Go fishing.
Another outdoor recreation idea for folks who live near water: fishing. Regardless of whether you catch anything, it can be a fun and relaxing experience. There’s “something about just being out there in nature and the feel of the cold water rushing by you and the sound of the river,” Pierson explains. Fishing can also be a great way to find a sliver of solitude, especially if you go in the early morning when few other folks are out, she adds.