These Maine Outdoor Activities Are Great For Beginners

What activities do you suggest for someone who is not an outdoor enthusiast but wants to?
— Aspiring outdoor person

Dear aspiring outdoor enthusiast:

First off, I think it’s great that you or someone you know is looking to spend more time outdoors. I am a firm believer in the benefits of fresh air and connection to the natural world. You (or they) won’t regret taking this step.

Speaking of steps, one of the first activities I would suggest for someone new to the outdoors is hiking (which is basically lots and lots of steps). Hiking is one of the most accessible outdoor activities. It doesn’t require a lot of skill or special equipment, and there are public trails all over Maine. You will never run out of places to go.

To start, I suggest finding good comfortable shoes (sneakers or boots) and preparing a backpack. For easy day hikes, all you need is water, snacks, a trail map, and a light source, like a headlamp. If you’re serious, I also suggest packing a first aid kit and survival gear. The Appalachian Mountain Club has an excellent list of suggested hiking gear and clothing on outdoors.org.

Derek Runnells of Dedham walks along a bog bridge April 15, at Till’s Point Preserve in the town of Penobscot. The reserve’s easy hiking trail includes several sections of bog bridges to help hikers traverse soggy areas of the forest. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

To get started, here is a list of 11 easy mountain hikes in Maine. But if you don’t like walking uphill, no worries. Here’s a list of easy, family-friendly hikes, most of which don’t involve mountains.

And for wheelchair users and people who have trouble walking over rough terrain, Maine is home to plenty of wheelchair accessible trails. Some of my favorites include the Orono Bog Walk in Bangor and Orono, the Ship Harbor Nature Trail in Acadia, and the trails at Bog Brook Cove Preserve in Cutler, Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, and Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone.

A 0.4 mile wheelchair-accessible gravel path in the Bog Brook Cove Preserve stretches from a parking area to a rocky shoreline vista near a paved beach. The 1,770-acre preserve is owned and maintained by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and is located in Cutler and Trescott Township. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Another great outdoor activity for beginners is kayaking or canoeing on “calm water,” which I define as smooth water with no big waves or currents. In Maine, this can easily be found in the state’s many ponds, lakes, and streams. Flatwater paddling is fairly easy to learn and not as technical or dangerous as sea kayaking or whitewater paddling.

One obvious obstacle to paddling is equipment. Recreational kayaks and canoes can be expensive. You will also need a paddle and a PFD (personal flotation device). Some outdoor destinations, such as outfitters and campgrounds, rent this equipment. Additionally, some land trusts and other outdoor organizations hold paddling events in which boats, paddles and PDFs are provided. I suggest checking out the events calendar at Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Old Town and Alton and runs guided paddle tours for beginners and provides equipment.

For winter, I suggest snowshoeing, which is easy to learn and will warm you up in no time. Snowshoes usually cost between $60 and $200, so they’re a bit of an investment, but they’ll make it easier to explore outdoors when the ground is covered in several layers of snow.

Basically, snowshoes help you stay above the snow – for the most part. You will still sink a little. It can’t be helped. Snowshoeing will require you to take your knees and walk with a wider stance, which might be awkward at first, but it’s a great workout, and it’s way better than just walking with boots and falling to their knees in the snow (a disaster called “post-holing”). Hiking poles with snow baskets will help you maintain your balance during your snowshoe walks. They also distribute some of the work to your arms.

For ideas of where to go, check out this list of easy snowshoe spots in Maine, and this article of additional snowshoe spots and winter hiking tips.

Joe Alex, principal of the Stillwater Montessori school in Old Town, paddles a war canoe July 18, 2015, on Pushaw Stream during a group paddle to celebrate Hirundo Wildlife Refuge’s 50th anniversary. The event was booked with 60 people paddling six war canoes. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Finally, I suggest you select one thing about nature that excites you. It can be birds, mushrooms or trees, views from mountain tops or the history of old stone walls and foundations. These things can tempt you out. For me, being active outdoors has always been less about the actual activity (hiking, paddling, snorkeling, etc.) and more about things I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel along the way.

Whatever activity you choose, start small and close to civilization, progress to more challenging adventures. A simple way to increase your security is to invite a friend or family member to join you. Also, before each outing, tell someone (who cares) exactly where you are going and when you expect to return. That way, if you don’t show up, they’ll know where to start looking.

Stay safe and check for ticks after every ride!

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