Think back prior to the pandemic (it feels like forever, we know): Does anyone remember the reasons they visited their local national parks? Fresh air, exercise, and scenery are probably the first things that come to mind. Now, think of why a person would make a trip to a national park during the pandemic... the answer is likely to change quite a bit.

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Feelings of being trapped, isolated, and our personal lives being out of control were very real throughout most of 2020. So, why would anyone want to go to a place that's even more isolated and remote just to be alone with all of those thoughts and emotions? It seems almost counterintuitive to travel to a place where no one is around just to commune with something that can't talk back and could potentially make us feel even smaller than we already did. There are two faces to every coin, though, and on the other side of this one, there was also a great sense of calm and relief that came from a venture into the woods. Is it possible that this feeling brought us back to our prehistoric ancestors? Or, perhaps, it was the distraction of being truly alone and not just how we perceived to be alone that made us feel comforted? Let's explore it a bit more.


The Need To Feel Connected To Something

It's a fact that trips to national parks, and parks, in general, absolutely skyrocketed during 2020. And it wasn't just people's local national parks that were gaining popularity, road trips were also becoming a major staple in the lifestyles of many, as well. It wasn't just the parks that got attention, either; going as far as the backyard and rediscovering the joys of walking around our own towns, cities, or getting our hands dirty in newly-planted gardens to become one of many ways to cope with all the feelings of being homebound. Visiting a national park only elevated and enhanced those feelings: suddenly, a crowded city became a red flag, and our favorite public hobbies prior to this were given labels such as 'high-risk' and 'unsafe.' And this, alone, was enough to force us to get out and truly live in a way we had neglected prior to this.

Therefore, the conclusion could be drawn that rather than running into isolation, we were actually running to something we could connect with. When the chips are down, the one thing that remains consistent and steady is Mother Nature.

The Escapism, Sense Of Accomplishment, And Tranquility

In 2020, social media also became the enemy of many people for more reasons than one. It seemed that everywhere a person turned there was something bad going on in the world amidst the ongoing pandemic, which means that unplugging was the only natural reaction to 'shutting off' the anxiety that came with these news flashes. The only places that, logically, were safe, were the backwoods of America - the breathtaking vistas of national parks and the last remaining lands that a person could easily gain six feet from another human being.

Being in the midst of all of this nature also helps serve as a reset for our minds. Not only were we able to take a breath - a legitimate, stress-free breath - in and out, but we were able to appreciate the distractions. Birds singing, trees surrounding us rather than other people, and the constant motion of wildlife and changing of the weather. The things that went unnoticed prior to the pandemic, the views we didn't realize we could see, and the atmosphere that became so beautiful was beginning to seep in and alter the way we could see the world.

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A sense of accomplishment also played a role in how many people viewed their national parks. It wasn't just about escaping into nature; for some, it was about how far they could go and how much they could see. Reaching the top of a mountain summit became just as metaphorically addicting as it was physically. The urge to do and see more was one emotion that became almost intoxication for those who learned to commune with nature, and there were no trails too long or heights too high. The sense of childhood nostalgia that many people felt from feeling the dirt under their shoes or the bark of a tree under their fingertips was something familiar, comforting, and felt much stronger than the feelings they were running from. It quickly became about replacing one bad feeling with another, forgotten, but welcome, experience.

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