Unplug With Loved Ones in National Parks

May 17, 2017Tim GibbinsNPF Blog
Two people sitting on a rock at the edge of an alpine lake surrounded by mountains

There’s a growing body of research that suggests what you already know: Nature is good for you. Studies show it provides everything from improved memory function and stress reduction, to improved concentration and greater happiness overall. However, we struggle to take full advantage of our time outdoors despite the benefits, as we spend a lot of time behind a screen, even while outside.

When visiting national parks, we might use downtime to watch movies, update our status, or post pictures. None of that is bad, but collectively, it adds up to more screen time. Snapping a photograph might prompt you to glance at your work email, and suddenly, your head is in the office instead of on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Don’t let this happen to you. Here are a few reasons to unplug with your family in the national parks, and a couple of ideas for how to make it happen.

Creative Exercise

When you unplug on vacation you’ll discover more time in the day. Instead of sitting around camp scrolling websites, you can go on a hike. Turn off your phone and stick it in the glovebox. You’ll find ways to entertain yourself, whether it’s playing “I Spy,” “20 Questions,” or simply exploring all day until you’re worn out. Unplugging gets creative juices flowing and can fill your time with games from your imagination.

Everyone needs time to get goofy outdoors. See if you can balance across a fallen log. Pinpoint one droplet of water and watch it cascade down the falls. Lay in a field and scout shapes in the clouds. When you let go of the digital world, you’ll find the real world is filled with splendor.

Learn a Landscape

two children looking at a spouting geyser

Your phone’s GPS is a wiz at navigation. Plug in the destination and the work is done for you. While the A to B mentality is easy, it removes the landscape from the equation. Pick up a map at the park entrance or visitor’s center and look at the big picture to discover your destination. You can even make a game of it with your kids. Have them find the names of rivers, point out the mountains, and get them interested in reading a map. Thos skill is invaluable for hikers because a phone is no match for a map in the backcountry, especially where cell phone service is unreliable.

Relieve Stress

You don’t check your phone 24/7 because you need to; it’s a habit. Turning off your emails, texts, and social media notifications gives a sense of freedom. No longer will you be pulled in many directions at once. Instead, you’ll be in the present moment and enjoying your vacation. You’ll hear rivers flowing, feel the breeze on your skin, and scan the hillsides for wildlife. There are alarm clocks with nature noises for a reason. The sounds are relaxing because it feels like home. Our bodies and minds were built for the natural world, and connecting with nature is often the best way to recharge your soul.

Communicate More

Male and female couple cuddling on wall looking out to the San Francisco Bay

Rather than using your phone or tablet, look across the campfire and see your fellow adventurers looking back at you. Dig deep and share a story. Tell a highlight from your day in the park, crack a joke you heard a long time ago, or share a story from when you were a kid. Encourage them to do the same. You don’t need to be a pro, or have a polished campfire story, anything sincere will do. And don’t worry if your story goes awry, the campfire is mankind’s oldest form of entertainment.

Develop Confidence

The benefits of unplugging are countless, but they all lead in a singular direction. Once you hone your skills reading a map, telling stories, jumping over creeks, and playing imaginative games, you’ll feel more confident. Instead of allowing devices to distract and entertain, you’re empowered to take an active role in your weekend. This is the kind of confidence that fuels the soul, reboots your energy, and is essential for kids and adults alike. Children need the outdoors to play. Experiences like watching a hawk swoop, spotting wildlife on the trail, or seeing a shooting star sparks a kid’s imagination and helps them and you see that if you look around, there’s beauty everywhere.


Think you can go a full four days completely offline? Take the #100HoursUnplugged challenge  from O.A.R.S. – a proud supporter of the National Park Foundation and our mission to protect America’s treasured places, connect all people with parks, and inspire the next generation of park stewards.

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