The Virtual Outdoors

Here are the best ways to beat the quarantine blues at home—and prepare to get back out there when things open up again.


photo by Natasha Buffo

We are movers. We travel, climb, ride, hike, and even power through yoga. We always have a bag packed for somewhere (even if it’s just the climbing gym). We feel most ourselves when we’re immersed in nature, and we normally don’t spend extended periods of time being cooped up at home. Since that’s all changed, we offer the following options to help you reconnect with your passions and the great outdoors— until you actually can get out again.

Explore Our Public Lands

Need a mental health break? Thanks to Google Earth you can now explore 31 national parks from the comfort of your couch. Drop into the heart of Denali, take in sweeping views of the Grand Canyon, visit waterfalls pouring over granite cliffs in Yosemite, tour Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, wander beaches and cliffs along the sea in Acadia, or get up-close and personal with alligators in Everglades, all while following government guidelines to stay home. For those of us missing the parks right in our backyard, these innovative virtual tours also include a few Colorado faves. Peer down the steep canyon walls to the river in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, explore Mesa Verde’s countless famous ancient cliff dwellings, climb Rocky Mountain’s Longs Peak, and revel in views of the divide from Trail Ridge Road. Another great option comes from the Bureau of Land Management through #ArmchairAdventures, a virtual trip including stunning images from Bureau of Land Management-managed #publiclands. Follow along via @BLMNational on Twitter and Facebook and @mypubliclands on Instagram.

Bring the Outside In

Many film festivals have come up with creative solutions to counter canceled screenings while still distributing their jaw-dropping content. Put your phone down, grab some snacks, find a comfy seat, and dive in for a dose of art, inspiration, motivation, and hope. Here are a few favorites:

Get stoked on wild winters to come with the Backcountry Film Festival from the Winter Wildlands Alliance. Stream it for free from your couch of back patio, and show your gratitude by donating (through a button on the page) to hosts that had to cancel their screenings (and become a WWA member).

Bringing together the outdoor community since 1979, Telluride Mountainfilm isn’t letting anything get in the way of its 42nd annual celebration. Instead, it will put this beloved festival online. Stay up-to-date as the festival irons out the details of this new experince by joining the mailing list and following on social media.

This year, the organizers of the Banff Film Festival World Tour have put over 100 adventure films online for us to watch right now. Check out the entire list, with brief explanations of each film and a link for where to watch here.

Sharpen Your Skills

IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide Mark Smiley is offering fun, concise, and easy to understand online mountaineering skills courses—from anchors to backcountry skiing to climbing Denali. “Inside sucks,” Smiley writes on his website. “I want to help ease the pain of not being able to go outside by offering all my online mountaineering skills courses for 40% off!” Use coupon code: STUCKINSIDE40 and once you finish your first course during lockdown, you can get another one for 60% off. Recognizing the economic impact of this crisis, Smiley has also started offering need-based course scholarships. Learn more at: mtnsense.com or contact Smiley through his Instagram feed @smileysproject or website.

Tow The Starting Line

In the wake of massive race cancellations for spring and summer, Run the Edge, an organization co-founded by Olympian Adam Goucher has launched a new series of free virtual races called the “Un-canceled Project.” Participants can complete up to 5 different races, ranging from 5K to Ultras, that you run on your own each week. There will be an inspirational weekly theme that reflects the best sides of humanity. A dedicated Facebook Community also offers a series of optional activities and reflections.

Explore the Great Indoors

Legendary outdoor survivalist Bear Grylls has released a series of indoor adventure ideas aimed at helping keep kids engaged, entertained, and growing while schools are closed. Grylls highlights the importance of adapting to these times, “The people who really thrive in life are those who, when the storms come, they don’t panic, they keep focused, they keep moving forward and they adapt to their new world.” In this vein, the Great Indoors project features 100 missions and tasks including an origami challenge, making hot air balloons, developing coding skills, problem-solving, learning about the impact of habitat loss, designing your own virtual campsite, practicing mindfulness, and honing photography skills.

Camp In

Adventure United is a non profit that makes sure people of all ability levels and backgounds can get out and enjoy the outdoors. In light of stay-at-home orders, the group created Adventure at Home, a three-day virtual campout with daily Zoom campfire gatherings and encouragement to get outside.

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