America’s 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands are truly the backyard of our nation. Seven in ten Americans live within a two-hour drive of these public lands, so they’re easily accessible for a whopping 231 million of us. Of course, for many of us, our local National Forest is even closer than that, making it a prime destination for choosing to OptOutside this year.
Created in 2015 by REI, OptOutside encourages Americans to spend Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, outside in nature instead of shopping at a mall, watching television or going to the movies. Here at the NFF, we’ll be closed that Friday, and we’ll be foregoing Black Friday deals to OptOutside on our National Forests.
Considering joining the movement? Here’s a few ways you and your family can OptOutside on a National Forest or Grassland this Black Friday.
Have a fourth grader in your family? Take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Families with fourth graders get a free pass to all public lands managed by the Federal Government. It’s easy to get a pass, just visit www.everykidinapark.gov and follow the prompts. Even better? Fourth graders with a valid pass can visit their local Forest Service office to get a free (yes free!) permit to cut a Christmas tree from a National Forest on those forests that offer Christmas tree cutting opportunities. So, your Black Friday can be spent making family memories and getting geared up for the Holidays. That’s a lot better than spending the day dragging the kids around the mall.
Don’t have a fourth grader but still want to get a Christmas tree? Most tree permits are less than $10 and easy to get from your local Forest Service office. Your tree may be a bit more “natural” than the ones you get from local retailers, but the time spent with your family searching for the perfect tree will more than make up for any imperfections your “wild” tree may have. The fact that they’re about a quarter of the cost is a nice bonus too.
Start small or go big! Nervous about going for a hike or a bike ride? Have elderly grandparents visiting and concerned they can’t go very far? National Forests have more than 150,000 miles of trails, so you’re sure to find one nearby that the whole family can enjoy. Consider visiting a lake or river where the kids can play near the water and grandpa can rest on a bench or picnic table.
Not sure where to go? Call your local ranger office the few days prior to Thanksgiving for suggestions. If you’re looking for a challenge, consider tackling that peak you’ve wanted to summit all summer but never made the time for. With all the food you ate the day before, you should have plenty of energy to burn on your way to the top. Plus leftover turkey sandwiches taste even better if you’ve hauled them halfway up a mountain.
Book a lodge or hotel near a National Forest and make a weekend out of your adventure. With hundreds (if not thousands) of hotels and lodges located in or near National Forests, there’s no shortage of places to stay and play. A simple google search will provide loads of lodging options for your adventure.
Plan a contest or treasure hunt with your family. Challenge family members to a photo contest. With phones and cameras as ubiquitous as they are these days, there’s a good chance you can round up a few for your family to get out and snap some shots. Try making short videos or see how many different types of wildlife you can capture on (digital) film. Not into taking photos?
Consider geo-caching. This fun activity gives treasure hunters a reason to hit the woods. Spend a few minutes on the internet finding a geo-cache near you (a box filled with trinkets hidden in the woods that is paired with lat/long coordinates so it can be found by you and your family) and head out to see if you can locate it.
Go day camping. Check with you local Forest Service office to see if there are any campgrounds you can visit and go camping for the day! You don’t need to set up your tent, but you can (if conditions permit) have a fire, roast marshmallows and hotdogs and simply relax under a canopy of trees. Bring a Frisbee or bocce ball set and play campground Frisbee golf or have a bocce tournament. Or just relax and read a book by the fire.
Expunge all the election demons from your system. Did your candidate win? Shout your joy to the trees and the rivers. Did your candidate lose? Share your disappointment with the mountains and the wildlife. Seriously, feel free to yell at the top of your lungs about anything. It feels really good sometimes. Trust us.
With 154 National Forests and 20 Grasslands in 46 states, there’s likely a forest or grassland near you. So this Black Friday, skip the mall and OptOutside! We’d love to hear your plans or see your photos. Share on our Facebook page or use the #ItsAllYours hashtag and let all of our Friends of the Forest know what you’re up to.
And finally, if you’re concerned about missing out on all the Black Friday deals, remember that Cyber Monday is just around the corner. No doubt your boss will be ok with you doing a little shopping on the clock. Just tell them you were outside on Friday, celebrating your public lands heritage.
See you on the trail!