Active ways to enjoy the great outdoors

Boost your fitness and try something new with our guide to the best active and adventurous ways to experience the great outdoors.

Two trail runners follow a mountain track, Getty Images

Summer is the perfect time to head outdoors for an active adventure and boost your fitness to boot.

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With gyms and indoor workout spaces off limits for much of the coronavirus pandemic, it is little surprise that activities such as running, cycling and outdoor swimming have seen a spike in interest with many of us continuing to prefer to exercise outside.

Studies have also shown that interest in nature also peaked during the pandemic, with a daily connection shown to be beneficial to mental health and wellbeing.

By making some form of daily exercise part of your routine – whether you opt to go for a gentle walk around your local park or run a more strenuous hilly route, the benefits will be long-lasting. Our walking section has hundreds of tried and tested routes for all abilities.

From wild swimming to trail running, improve your fitness and try something new with our guide to active and adventurous ways to experience the great outdoors in each season.

Fancy some new outdoor kit for your active pursuits? Have a browse of our outdoor gear reviews, from best walking boots to eco-friendly kit and swim wear.

Best ways to get fit outdoors

Walking

A woman walking in hills
Spending time walking in green spaces for exercise or relaxation can have a positive impact on mental health/Credit: Getty

For most of us, walking is the easiest way to exercise in the fresh air. Even if time is tight, most of us can find time for a short stroll.

Walking doesn’t need to be taxing – you could simply walk all or part of your route to work, to the shops, or other regular journeys you make and it will have a positive impact on your fitness. If you can, go out after breakfast every day, or walk up a hill to watch the sunset. Step counters may be a help. Wear one on your wrist to keep track of your daily activity. Many will set you a daily target automatically; 10,000 steps is a good target for many of us. 

Keep it local; if you plan to travel for every walk, they won’t happen so often. If you live in a city, you may be surprised at the green routes you can find by canals, riversides and in parks. 

Choose one day a week to do a longer walk. Make a list of walks that are no more than an hour’s journey from your home, stick it to the fridge, and work your way down the list. 

Join a walking group; to find one near you, go to walkingforhealth.org.ukramblers.org.ukwalkni.com, or for longer distances ldwa.org.uk.


Wild swimming

Woman swimming
Keepers pond on the mountain of Blorenge between Abergavenny and Blaenavon/Credit: Getty Images

Dive in to this intensely invigorating way of experiencing the countryside. The majestic mountains surrounding our many lakes, lochs and rivers form amphitheaters for a truly unique way of getting the most out of the natural environment. Growing in popularity, there are a huge amount of outdoor swimming clubs and events around the country throughout the year. Check out the Outdoor Swimming Society for tips and find a location near you with our guide to the best wild swimming spots in Britain which also offers water safety advice.

Remember that swimming in open water can be dangerous, so if you’re ensure about the water depth, current or access and exit points then don’t attempt to swim – and never swim alone.

A safer option for summer swimming is a trip to one of the UK’s beautiful and historic lidos which are dotted around country and many date back to the Victorian era.


Scrambling

A group of hikers celebrate as they reach the summit of a rocky peak viewpoint. ©Getty
A group of hikers celebrate as they reach the summit of a rocky peak viewpoint/Credit: Getty Images

More than a walk but less than a climb, scrambling is essentially an exposed walking route and requires you to use both your hands and feet to scramble up terrain.

If you want more from the mountains and a bigger challenge than a walk this is the ideal activity to get involved in. Beginners should start on Grade 1 routes with someone more experienced supervising – Plas Y Brenin in Snowdonia offers introduction courses.


Trail running

Two trail runners follow a mountain track, Getty Images
Enjoy dramatic scenery and a varied terrain during a trail run/Credit: Getty Images

Bored of the treadmill or the park path? Trail running provides an opportunity to get fit whilst taking in some stunning scenery.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxed jog or to really push yourself, this activity exposes you to all that is desirable about the countryside and is a truly refreshing way to enjoy it. Forests, hills, riversides, fields and beaches  – the whole of the outdoors is your gym and is there to be seized! Check out the Trail Running Association for guides and events.

For free running events more locally, parkrun is a fun and well-organised timed 5K weekly event that takes place all over the UK. Many of the routes take place in parks and can be a good way to test your fitness in a friendly and sociable environment.


Sea kayaking

Woman kayaking in the sea/Credit: Getty Images
Explore the UK coastline by kayak/Credit: Getty Images

Exploring the nooks and crannies of British shores, including incredible sea caves, stacks and arches is not only a thrilling experience, but also provides a unique vantage point from which to see marine wildlife.

Coastal kayaking is particularly good for reaching otherwise inaccessible areas to spot seabirds on cliff faces only accessible from the sea. Cornwall and Pembrokeshire are paradises for sea kayakers and both have a number of centres that cater for all abilities.


Off-road cycling

Family cycling in countryside
Enjoy family -friendly cycling on safe, off-road routes/Credit: Getty

Walking through a forest is nice. But speeding through it on a bike with the wind in your hair and the sweet smell of pine stimulating your senses is exhilarating. Cycling is ideal if you’re after a low-impact aerobic activity that works your heart without the impact of running.

If you fancy an exciting change to your weekend strolls, off-road cycling is the perfect alternative and allows you to explore more of the countryside in a short space of time. There’s no obligation to rush along though, it is just as enjoyable to gently roll along and absorb the sublime surroundings upon your steed.

Off-road cycling is also perfect for families as many routes are safe and easy for children of all ages to enjoy without risk of busy roads and traffic.


Night walking and stargazing

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Even at night the countryside has as much to offer as in the day. Away from urban light pollution, rural areas are sanctuaries for the stars. Stargazing is a magical experience that you can try with barely any equipment, and you might even catch a glimpse of nocturnal nightlife, which is always a rare treat.

Take a countryside walk and see what you can see in the sky at night.


Winter outdoor activities

Skiing and snowboarding

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Scotland is teeming with towering peaks and provides the perfect place to try skiing or snowboarding right here in Britain. Although restricted to certain times of the year, Scotland’s numerous ski resorts provide introductions for all abilities and open the door to a thrilling way of experiencing the thrill of powder in beautiful surroundings. There are even six ski centres in England (Pennines and Lake District) if Scotland is out of your reach – find the best spot for you with our guide to the best places to ski in Britain.