Outdoor recreational activities are a great way to move your body, connect with good people, and breathe clean air. You don’t need loads of money or years of practice to get involved, and you don’t have to worry about being “fit enough” or “good enough.”
By choosing to spend your time in the great outdoors, you’ll see positive changes in your health and wellbeing.
This article suggests 30 outdoor recreational activities that you can try in 2021. Some of them are free, but some of them will need a bit of investment. I’m sure you’ll find a few that are perfect for you!
30 Outdoor Recreational Activities for 2021
Whether you’re car camping with a bunch of buddies or ultralight thru-hiking, camping is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors. Nothing beats a hot cup of campfire coffee as the sun rises or listening to the wildlife from the warmth of your sleeping bag.
If you haven’t camped before, we have tons of resources to help get you started.
Don’t be intimidated; hiking is for absolutely everyone. You don’t need to be super fit or have loads of kit to get started, and you’ll soon find yourself addicted to the great outdoors.
You can start with some shorter, flatter walks before progressing to full-day hikes in the mountains. A good pair of shoes and a backpack full of water and snacks are all you need.
Map reading abilities are a bonus but not essential on the best-marked trails.
3. Nordic Walking
I used to think that those people I saw walking with hiking poles just had sore knees. But it turns out that Nordic walking is a full-body physical activity. Thanks to the poles, you’re sharing the movement with your arms as well as your legs.
According to the Cooper Institute, Nordic walking uses 46% more energy than regular walking! If you’re looking for an activity that’s more intense than walking but not as fierce as hill running, this could be a great one to try!
4. Wild Swimming
Wild swimming is another fantastic way to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. Do some research on local swimming holes and see what it’s like to make a splash beneath the open sky.
I recommend going with a friend first and making sure that the water you’re entering is safe. You can check the water quality online for most states through the CDC.
There are tons of fantastic free yoga videos on YouTube. If you’re just getting started, you can meet up with friends at the beach or park and pop up a video on someone’s phone to guide you.
You could also attend an outdoor yoga class in your area.
6. Beach Clean-Ups
Beach clean-ups are a fantastic way to meet like-minded people and make the world a better place. You can head to the beach with a bunch of friends and some trash bags or find an organized clean-up in your area.
Don’t forget to wear thick gardening gloves to protect your hands from any sharps. Marine life needs all the help it can get right now!
7. Sandcastle Tournaments
Before leaving the beach, you should take part in a timed sandcastle tournament with your nearest and dearest. Split into teams and set the timer for half an hour. See how creative you can get with shells for roof tiles and seaweed for a castle garden.
Don’t forget a moat to keep your enemies at bay!
It can take a while before jogging goes from painful to exhilarating, but you’ll start getting the famous “runner’s high” before you know it. You can find free training plans for “couch to 5km” online if you’re a beginner.
It’s helpful to sign up for special events that you have to train for, as this can keep you motivated to train, as you’re still finding the joy in getting sweaty and breathless. (It doesn’t suck forever, honest!)
Volleyball is an excellent choice for bigger groups. You don’t need an expensive net. Instead, you can tie a rope between a couple of trees, so you have something to aim the ball over.
Don’t play this game with a heavy leather soccer ball, though, or you’ll put everyone off!
Badminton is another fun sport you can play with just a rope rather than a net, and it’ll certainly get your blood pumping.
I have to admit, I could never really get into Frisbee, but my friends go crazy for this game. I am quite happy to eat chips on the sidelines and offer an occasional cheer of encouragement.
You won’t know whether you’re a Frisbee lover or a snack-eating spectator until you try!
11. Horseback Riding
Horseback riding can be a fantastic way to explore the trails. Riding outfits almost always welcome beginners, so you don’t need loads of experience to give it a go.
There’s something wonderful about the gentle clop of a horse’s hooves as you wander in the great outdoors. Just be honest about your weight and riding experience so your guide can select an appropriate horse for you!
12. Donkey Walking
If the idea of sitting aboard an enormous and powerful animal doesn’t do it for you, you might want to take a hike with a donkey instead. You can pop your picnic in the saddlebags, but you lead your donkey in hand.
Kids love sharing their trek with a gentle animal like the donkey, and some companies even do llama walks as well!
13. Kayaking or Canoeing
Kayaking and canoeing are great activities for the summer. Being close to the water helps keep you cool, and you can bring a picnic in your dry bags to enjoy along the river banks.
You can usually hire a kayak pretty inexpensively from a local company, and you don’t need a guide with you on most gentle waters.
Paddleboarding is another water-based activity you might want to try. People who get sore backs in a kayak might find paddleboarding to be more comfortable. You can lie down, kneel, or even stand on a paddleboard.
In my experience, they are better for splashing around in the ocean or a peaceful lake rather than covering long distances.
If you’re looking for something more sociable and exciting, river rafting is a great shout. You need several participants working together to raft effectively, so it’s a great way to connect to new friends.
Hitting the rapids is a lot of fun, but you’ll need a guide and a helmet to protect that lovely head of yours.
16. Outdoor Painting
Don’t worry if all that sounds too exhausting. Outdoor recreational activities don’t have to include crash helmets and frothing rapids. You could gather your painting supplies and head to a beautiful spot close to home.
Just remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re “good” at painting! The idea is to enjoy the fresh air on your skin and notice all the little details in the landscape as you try to recreate them on paper. You might surprise yourself with some new skills.
Cycling is my go-to recreational activity when I feel stressed. I whizz up and down the hills until I can hear my heart beating in my ears, and I always feel so much better.
I like road cycling because I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but mountain biking is another great sport for adventurous people.
You might want to go to a mountain bike center for some training before heading out alone for the first time, to ensure that you know how to distribute your weight safely on your bike.
I won’t lie: Snow sports like skiing and snowboarding can be pretty expensive. If you want to get out in the winter but can’t stretch your budget, you should definitely consider snowshoeing instead.
It’s a gentler way to enjoy the snow, and you don’t have to buy loads of gear or pay for cable car passes. Just pop on your snowshoes and hit the trails close to home. (The snowshoes distribute your weight more widely, so you don’t sink into the fresh powder.)
19. High Ropes
If you want to get your heart pumping, you could try a high ropes course or zipline. Some ziplines in the United States are hundreds of feet high and thousands of feet long, so they aren’t just for kids!
Treetop activities are perfect recreational fun for adult birthday parties, so don’t let the young people have all the fun.
20. Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is a great way to reconnect with nature. It’s just as much about enjoying nature as it is about catching anything. If you set off nice and early, you can listen as the sleepy birds wake up and the river comes to life.
If you’re on vacation, you can pick up a day fishing license at most tourist offices or fishing tackle shops. Some will even offer guiding services or tackle hire.
If hanging out at the river sounds good to you, you can go canyoning with a guide. Canyoning is a fun and varied activity in which you walk, climb, and swim your way up a river.
You’ll pull yourself up waterfalls and jump into the river from the rocks. You will have to wear a wetsuit, helmet, and life vest, but it’s all part of the fun!
22. Rock Climbing
Those who prefer to stay dry don’t have to miss out on the climbing fun. Outdoor rock climbing is a beautiful experience that blows indoor climbing out of the water.
You’ll need to hire a guide if you don’t know what you’re doing, but plenty of exciting and accessible climbs are available for newbies. Muscles you didn’t even know you had will be aching when you get home.
Going below the ground can be just as exhilarating as climbing above it. (Note for claustrophobic people: Don’t put yourself through it!) Honestly, the idea is to have fun, not prove anything to anyone.
But if you’re pretty calm in small spaces, wriggling through underground tunnels to discover sparkling crystal walls and towering rock formations can be breathtaking. Just make sure to go with a qualified guide who can keep you safe.
24. Three-Legged Soccer
The last few activities that I described cost a bit of money, so let’s go back to something nice and simple! Pretty much everyone has tried soccer at some point in their life. But three-legged soccer brings some much-needed hilarity to the game for those of us who suck at it.
You can tie together the legs of the strongest and weakest players to make it fair, and it will be the best team players who win! (It’s always lovely to see the ultra-competitive cousin falling on their butt.)
Surfing is an excellent test of your balance and upper body strength. You’d be surprised at how many climates you can do it in. From the tropical shores of Hawaii to the frozen waters of Western Iceland, surfing is a versatile sport.
If you don’t want to hire gear and a guide, you can still have a lot of fun on a far more affordable bodyboard. (You won’t look as cool, though. Sorry!)
Slacklining looks easy, but it’s tough at first. (Or maybe I’m just totally uncoordinated.) You set a line between a couple of trees and then walk across it barefoot. It’s a bit like tightrope walking, except you’re only a foot off the ground instead of dangling over a 500-foot canyon.
(That’s pretty lucky considering I fell off about 500 times in five minutes.)
I know that golf has a bit of a stuffy reputation, but it’s an excellent way to catch up with your loved ones as you walk around the course. Whether you’re heading to a full-size golf course or attacking the crazy golf with your mini clubs, it can be a great way to move your legs if you aren’t one for heavy exercise.
I have to admit, mini-golf is by far my preference!
I spent most of my life thinking that skateboarding was a really difficult sport that I could never do. Then I grabbed a longboard at a yard sale and learned how to skate pretty confidently in a couple of days.
(And I’m super clumsy!) Of course, it takes years to learn tricks and fine-tune your technique but you can absolutely take a skateboard to your local park with some friends and surprise yourself at how quickly you pick it up.
If it’s in the budget, paragliding might be one for the bucket list. This is a gentler activity than sky diving, without any of the freefall that adrenaline junkies crave so much.
Instead, you’ll be floating peacefully around the hilltops, enjoying a fantastic view. (Oh, and you’ll be strapped onto a stranger’s lap. Consider that a fair warning!)
The last recreational activity I want to recommend is gardening. That might sound a bit boring after some of the other suggestions, but gardening is a great way to get outdoors every day, and you get to eat delicious veggies at the end of it.
You don’t need loads of space to enjoy it, as you can grow food even on a balcony. If you don’t have a balcony, you can look for a local community garden to volunteer at. You’ll meet other people who like getting their hands dirty, and studies have consistently shown that working with the land is good for mental health. It’s a win-win!
I hope all these outdoor recreational activities suggestions haven’t overwhelmed you! To be clear, you do not have to go out and try every single one of them. But if one or two ideas piqued your interest, you should grab your diary right now and pencil in some dates for them.
Life is way too short to be spent doing things that don’t make you happy, so I hope you can carve out the time to enjoy some recreational fun this year!
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Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.