Extension Logo
Extension Logo
University of Minnesota Extension

Nature-based activities to do while practicing social distancing

You’re trying to do the right thing and maintain an appropriate social distance for the benefit of all during a time of concern about infectious disease. But are you also feeling stressed, worried about cooped-up kids, and wanting to maintain your health through exercise? Here are some ideas.

Get into nature

Drive, bike, walk or run directly from your house to the forest or prairie, assuming there’s no gathering. If you see people who want to chat, let them know you are taking time for yourself in nature while protecting the health of others. While you’re out in nature, you could enjoy a number of activities.

  • Go for a hike. Data shows pretty clearly that time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits, including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.
  • Forest bathe. If you are not familiar with forest bathing, now is a great time to try it. It’s a mixture of meditation, yoga and hiking, paying close attention to your surroundings while enjoying a slow and mindful hike. Want to avoid benches or other places where people may join you? Take a small blanket or stadium chair (things are still soggy in the woods) and create your own small sanctuary. 
  • Observe and record nature. iNaturalist is a great way to learn about and engage with the natural world. This app allows you to share your knowledge, learn from others and inventory what you see. You’ll have the best user experience if you create an account. You can iNat anything that ever lived: trees, plants, birds, insects, worms, fungus, pine cones, animal tracks and more. If you can identify it, you can make the world smarter. If you don’t know what it is, you can ask for a suggestion—iNaturalist will offer a list of things it could be. Pick your best guess at a correct identification and upload your report to the iNaturalist social network. A real person will confirm your identification or offer another suggestion.
    There are many great iNaturalist videos to get you familiar with this wonderful tool, such as: 

Nature-based activities within your home and yard

For many city residents, getting away to a forest, park or prairieland isn’t easy. If staying local is your only option, you can still minimize cabin fever while also enjoying nature’s benefits. 

  • iNat your yard. iNaturalist offers a great feature where you can create a project, like your yard, and iNat everything you find. These iNat reports and identifications can then persist in your iNat account so you can have a running total of all the living organisms on your property. Setting Up Your Backyard Project in iNaturalist shows how to set-up an iNaturalist project. 
  • Observe nature. Find a window and watch what happens. Currently, many bird species are migrating to their summer breeding grounds. This is a great time to see some unexpected birds, which you can then track in your iNat project. If you’re new to birds the Merlin Bird app is a great free resource. You can take pictures (if they stay in one place long enough) and it’ll help you ID them much like iNaturalist. If you can’t get a good photo, it also has a feature that uses visual cues to help you narrow down the choices. You don’t need to know bird names. It also has bird songs, so you can identify birds by sound if you crack open your window.
  • Read books. Tired of Netflix and the news? The Extension Forestry team created this great list of forestry themed books for your reading enjoyment. Many can be downloaded digitally. 
  • Become a citizen scientist. Explore the African savanna or discover new galaxies (literally!) through the Zooniverse online platform.

Woodland owners retreat to your forest oasis

If you’re healthy and can retreat to your forested acreage, you’re lucky. Here are a few activities you could do this time of year.

  • Clear your roads and trails. Winter always takes a toll and it may not be over yet, but spring has caused the snow to melt in much of Minnesota.
  • Walk the boundary. It’s always good practice to walk your boundary occasionally. Take this extra time to inspect your property line.
  • Create an iNaturalist project and track your property’s biodiversity. It’s amazing how many things call the forest home, and it’s easy to track them using the iNaturalist project feature. Check out the video Setting Up Your Backyard Project in iNaturalist for guidance if this is new to you.
  • Report invasives. As always, if you find evidence of a troublesome invasive species like woody invasives, emerald ash borer or squill (all possibly identifiable this time of year) report it to GLEDN app or EDDMapS.
  • Relax and read. Check out our forest-focused reading list and notice this one is just for you: Woodland Stewardship: A Practical Guide for Midwestern Landowners. The online edition has tons of great forestry activities at the end of each chapter.

Nature can help us manage stress and get fresh air and exercise to maintain our health and improve our immune systems. There’s sound science about the benefits of nature.

Angie Gupta is an Extension forestry educator based in Rochester, MN. Her work focuses on landowner outreach and invasive species management.

Page survey

© 2023 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.