I love testing my own personal limits in as many amazing places as I can. Unfortunately not many have the time or financial resources to be constantly globetrotting the world chasing their next life changing adventure, myself included. Not to worry, I’ve got the perfect solution for those times in between and it involves just getting out there, wherever you are.
Throw a dart at a map of the western United States. No matter where you land, there will be an adventure waiting for you that involves putting on your best walking or hiking shoes. And these mini-adventures can be just as glorious, given the proper perspective.
When I go for a walk, my heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen to my muscles and organs: including my brain. Research has shown that during and after even mild exercise, people do much better on memory and attention tests. Hiking is a powerful cardio and strengthening exercise that can lower your risk of heart disease and improve your blood pressure and bone density. If you’re endlessly searching for adventure like I am, it’s the most fun you can have almost anywhere, at almost any skill level, with very little investment. It is minimalist adventure to the core.
I first started walking for the mental health benefits. After a strenuous hike with a friend or my dog, I find my mood improves tremendously. Those who specialize in music therapy say that listening to fast music motivates us to move faster. Grocery stores have done studies to determine how to get people through the store at the right pace for maximum shopping value. If you just let your thoughts naturally set your pace, you will find yourself speeding up and slowing down. You can also actively change the pace of your thoughts by deliberately walking faster or slowing down. A pretty fun exercise (pun intended) once you start to give attention to it.
Taking a hike on the slightly uneven surface of a trail provides a natural way to engage your core and hone your balance skills. You don’t get the same peace of mind walking on a treadmill or riding a spin bike. Its time to get outside.
If you're looking for a place to start, here are four of my favorite western hikes:
- IDAHO - Okay so this first one is technically a "race event", but many attend with the lofty goal of simply hiking to the finish. The Race to Robie Creek half marathon in Boise, Idaho is one of the most intense hikes from the first mile all the way to the peak at the 8.5-mile mark at the Adalpe Summit. The elevation gain from 2,500 feet to 4,700 feet will test your heart, lungs, and fitness level. The downhill section of the race is almost as intense. It is proud to be known as “the toughest half marathon in the Northwest.” While the views and scenery are not great, they aren't meant to be, and the feeling of accomplishment should you make it to the end is undeniable.
- ARIZONA - Piestewa Peak Summit Trail is a challenging hike, but the view of the Valley of the Sun is indescribably dramatic. It is only a 1,200-foot gain in elevation from the trailhead to the summit, but even experienced hikers are breathing heavy most of the way up. The summit is the 2nd highest in peak in Phoenix and it is conveniently located right in the middle of the valley.
- OREGON - Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the tallest year-round waterfalls in the United States. The hike to the top of the falls is a 2.4-mile round trip with an 870-foot gain in elevation. Difficulty is only moderate so beginning hikers are welcome, and the viewpoint from picturesque Benson Bridge is definitely worth the hike.
- HAWAII - The Waimea Canyon Trail on Kauai was the best part of our trip to Hawaii. It’s steep, crosses a creek and is often muddy. It can take about 2.5 hours if you go all the way to the falls where the views are nothing short of breathtaking.
Perhaps you’re already an avid hiker and all of this is old hat to you. Why not take it up a notch and try making a bucket list of hiking adventures? My personal list includes hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, the many options at Yellowstone Park with its abundant wildlife and geysers, and hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park in Utah.
Are you ready? Good. It’s time to lace up those shoes, strap on your favorite hip pack and fill your water bottle. A new adventure is calling and this one is good for the mind, body, and soul.
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