The Beauty of Hiking

Guilford first-year Olivia Herron’s mother, Brigitte Herron, is pictured standing in front of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Olivia Herron

Guilford first-year Olivia Herron’s mother, Brigitte Herron, is pictured standing in front of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

With COVID restrictions loosening and spring just around the corner, students are looking for a safe way to spend time outdoors with friends. An article from the Cleveland Clinic mentioned that hiking in a less crowded area is a COVID-friendly way to get fresh air.

As you’re hiking up a trail with a friend or pet, you can hear the leaves and small branches rustling from the people ahead of you. As you keep walking, you approach a mini waterfall, where families tread through the waterfall to feel nature’s cold water on their overheated skin. As you reach the top of the mountain, you can feel a sense of relaxation from the gentle breeze. 

According to the National Park Service, “hiking is proven to have many health benefits, ranging from physical exercise you get when out on the trail, to emotional or mental relief that comes from being in nature.” 

Findings from a 2018 Stanford University study shows that being outside in nature can help you feel better and improve your mental health. Spending meaningful time in nature relieves stress, lowers anxiety and may minimize the risk of depression.

“The first time I went for a casual hike was at the state park in the town I grew up in and we went there all the time,” said Tony VanWinkle, an Environmental and Sustainability Studies professor at Guilford, recalling his first casual hike at the state park in the town he grew up in. “We went there all the time,” said VanWinkle, who has spent most of his life in Tennessee. 

“Another place in my home region, called Big South Fork, is a national river and recreational area just because I was interested in exploring it and they had more trail systems for long distance hikes,” he said.

“I enjoy hiking very much because I feel energized and I think that it’s very calming while being equally challenged,” said first-year Olivia Herron. “I often hike with my mother and hiking with someone is always my favorite part because it keeps me engaged and it feels nice to share the hiking experience with another person,” 

Senior Luis Lopez shared how he was introduced to hiking. 

“When I moved here, my family and I were thinking of what we should do over the weekend and my uncle had mentioned hiking,” Lopez said. “He’s been living here longer and since my family and I have never been hiking, we decided to give it a shot.”

VanWinkle said hiking has had a positive effect on his mental and physical health.

“Physically getting out and moving is better than not…unless there is absolutely some reason that I have to be inside, I would rather be outside,” VanWinkle said. “For my mental health, being outside and getting sunlight is essential. I wouldn’t survive without it.”

Like many others, Guilford students and faculty connect hiking to warm memories. 

“Hiking has been a big part of my life…. (I would go) with my children when they were younger,” VanWinkle said. “When they were young, taking them on hikes was great; we did this a lot. 

“Connecting with my kids that way was great. It was nice being able to share that love of both hiking itself and the love of nature more generally.” 

“The best memory that I can think of would be when my mother, godmother and I went hiking in Utah and went to about three different national parks in a week,” Herron said. “It was especially memorable because I took a picture of my mom standing in front of the Great Salt Lake, and it was oddly inspiring.”

“My best memory was the first time I went hiking, which was at Hanging Rock State Park,” said Lopez. “That same day, my cousins and I tried to compete on who would reach the top without stopping, which led to myself tripping on a rock. After the hike, we noticed some picnic tables with a grill and decided to cook dinner here. My family enjoyed that day and it’s the reason why I go…(hiking) today.”