How to do a 30 Day Nature Challenge

The unexpected benefits of making a commitment to get outside, every day.

Feeling cooped up? Do a 30 Day Nature Challenge!

My love of the great outdoors began when I was a child.

Bike riding and fireflies in June, testing the ice on a minuscule pond in January. Sunday drives on rural lanes, picnics and hikes in the woods, hide-and-go seek in the corn fields. We didn’t fish and had one fairly miserable (according to my dad) camping trip, but other than that, my childhood was a string of outdoor adventures.

During the school year, mom would wake me up at five in the morning and we’d run past spring flowers, summer soybeans, falling leaves, and banks of snow. My brother and I brought home snakes and turtles, and there was always a shoe box or a plastic bin just the right size.

It was an idyllic Midwestern childhood, and it instilled a lifelong desire to be outside.

Yet somehow I’d forgotten, or didn’t realize how necessary fresh air and a walk in the woods are to my psyche. I’d get my fix in bursts: sixteen days of camping on a thirty-five day trip, for example. I didn’t make it a priority in my daily life.

Now I have.

One day I took a walk on the Prairie Trail, a 26.6 mile path that connects Kane County, Illinois, and Wisconsin through McHenry County. There’s an entrance about a quarter mile from my home, so you’d think I’d be out there every day, or at least a few times a week, yet that Friday was only the second or third time I’d stepped foot on it this year.

Bubbling creek along the Prairie Trail
Day 1: Prairie Trail

“This is ridiculous,” I thought. As much as I love being outside, and I couldn’t step away from the computer at least once a day?

I decided that day would be the first of a 30 Day Nature Challenge.

Every day, for the rest of the month, I would go outside. I wouldn’t just take a walk around the neighborhood (at least I have done that a few times). I would explore the abundance of prairies, woods, and fens in my county.

Flowers at Lake in the Hills Fen in McHenry County, Illinois
Day 2: Lake in the Hills Fen

I’ve been following the McHenry County Conservation District‘s social media channels for awhile, so I knew there were plenty of places for hiking and biking. I put them in a spreadsheet, plotted the driving distance, and began checking them off, day by day.

A boardwalk through Boger Bog
Day 9: Boger Bog

Some days I was the only one out there. Others, I would see men and women walking dogs, children fishing, and once, a group of stand-up paddle boarders. I saw butterflies and dragon flies and killed dozens of mosquitoes. I walked 120 miles.

Dufields Pond, a popular fishing spot in McHenry County
Day 10: Dufields Pond

My clothes are looser and I feel physically better than I have in over a year.

My mind and my soul are also healthier. Happier.

I started to feel anxious and overwhelmed yesterday. That happens on a fairly regular basis, and my normal response would be to push through it.

Instead, I went for a hike.

Small waterfall in Fox Bluff Conservation Area
Day 4: Fox Bluff

As soon as I got in the car, my heart rate slowed and my mind eased. And that’s when I knew without a doubt that my thirty day challenge would be a lifetime commitment.

I realized that this was the first time I’d made a consistent effort to claim my time. To carve out a portion of the day that’s just for me. To truly invest in my body and my soul.

Marsh in Stickney Run Conservation Area
Day 8: Stickney Run

And I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve seen returns on that investment.

In addition to the mental and physical benefits, it’s also been fun to explore my home. We’d lived in this county for a little over a year, and until this challenge I didn’t realize there was a gorgeous nature preserve 2.3 miles away. Or that there were five more within six miles.

I drove through towns and villages and discovered the history of the region. (One unexpected find: a pit toilet’s roof made of terra cotta tiles from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.)

I’ve truly been a Local Tourist.

Related: being a Local Tourist in McHenry County

Gorgeous pond with lily pads and picturesque bridge at Fel-Pro RRR
Day 5: Fel-Pro RRR

This challenge introduced me to beauty around me that I didn’t know existed. It inspired me to explore my home like a tourist, and now when I need an escape I know I don’t have to go far.

On a personal level, by completing this challenge, I grew more confident, happier, and more creative. It inspired me to continue to challenge myself, and to continue to find – to make – time every day for me.

Taking on this challenge was the best thing I could have done for myself.

How to do a 30 Day Nature Challenge

Are you ready to take your own 30 Day Nature Challenge?

Here’s how you do it:

Go outside. Every day for 30 days. Find trees, or flowers, or wild grasses.

Do not check Facebook. Do not check email. Don’t text or talk on the phone.

Be present.

Breathe.

You don’t have to go outside for long. In the beginning, my hikes/walks lasted about thirty minutes. Towards the end I’d walk for about an hour.

I found that it took about twenty minutes for my brain to calm down enough so I could appreciate the beauty around me. Then my mind would wander, I’d have my Aha! moments, and I could breathe.

Your journey will be different. The important thing is to pay attention to how you feel and how you’re reacting. I recommend keeping a journal. It could be as simple as writing “Great walk” or “It was hard, but I did it anyway.” Or, it could be a full-on exposition. Whatever works for you.

What to you do when it rains? I had the opportunity to watch the radar and run out in between cells. If your schedule doesn’t allow for that kind of flexibility, you could find a conservatory, watch a nature show, or just close your eyes and meditate while thinking of the birds and the bees.

(Not those birds and bees!)

Pleasant Valley Conservation Area in McHenry County
Day 7: Pleasant Valley

I’m hoping that you’ll be moved to try your own 30 Day Nature Challenge wherever you live. If you do, please let me know! I’d love to follow your journey and cheer you along.

Here’s to making health, both mental and physical, a priority. Here’s to getting outside.

Pin this to remind yourself to take your own 30 Day Nature Challenge!

Want to feel better, both mentally and physically? Take a 30 Day Nature Challenge in your own backyard!