Take a Nature Walk: Free Apps, Resources & Park Passes!

It’s July, the birds are chirping, the sun is out, watermelons are for sale, barbecues are smoking and somewhere someone is enjoying a picnic. It’s SUMMER, and we all deserve to enjoy ourselves while basking in the sun, especially after the prolonged winter we endured. Not only do we all deserve to spend some time relaxing in nature, but doing so comes with health benefits. For example, you can improve your mood and reduce your stress and cortisol levels by being in nature!   

So, I challenge you to incorporate time into your schedule to be outdoors, whether it be gardening, walking, hiking, biking, roller skating, swimming, exploring, bird watching or even just sitting outside. You don’t have to be a fitness enthusiast or plan elaborate outings; the important part is you make it outdoors.  

One of my favorite activities is to visit a marsh and sit while taking in the different sights, smells and sounds that inhabit my surroundings. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll take the time to write down what I’m observing to help me fully take in my surroundings. By doing so, my full attention is in the present moment, and I can momentarily stop my mind from wandering and focusing on the stressors in my life. However, this is only one example of what you can do outdoors.   

Exploring: Helpful Tips  

There are different websites and applications that can aid you in deciding where and what to do next!  

AllTrails, opens a new window

To discover places to explore near or far, check out the website and application AllTrails. On AllTrails, you can search by city, park or trail name. In addition, you can filter your search by the adventure you're seeking. Some of the options provided are as follows: hiking, mountain biking, wheelchair-friendly, dog-friendly, kid-friendly, scenic driving, camping and more. You can also rate and review different trails to help other users decide if a trail is right for them.  

Another helpful application is iNaturalist! 

iNaturalist, opens a new window 

On iNaturalist, opens a new window, you can learn more about the organisms around you. For example, have you ever encountered a plant, tree or insect on a hike or walk that you wanted to know more about? Well, on iNaturalist, you can post pictures of your findings and have other users help you identify them. In addition, if you are going to a park or trail, you can view the biodiversity found there beforehand by searching it on iNaturalist. Or you can search by certain organisms and find locations based on their biodiversity.   

iNaturalist is a useful application for learning more about the organisms we encounter, and the data recorded by users also helps scientists better understand where and when certain organisms are found! 

Besides iNaturalist and AllTrails, you can also check out some of the resources in our library system.  

San Mateo County Library (SMCL) Resources  

Park Passes 

If you are visiting a San Mateo County Park or a California State Park, come to any of the 13 libraries in our library system to check out a park pass! The County Park Pass and State Park Pass are both available at all libraries on a first come, first served basis and can be checked out for three weeks of adventure!  

Field Trips 

If you have or are a fourth grader living in East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, Half Moon Bay or the Rural Coastside Communities, San Mateo County Libraries has exciting field trips planned for you these upcoming months! If you're interested in going to either Jack London State Park, the California Railroad Museum, or Samuel P Taylor Park, then fill out the corresponding interest forms: 

Jack London State Park, opens a new window on Wednesday, July 12 

California Railroad Museum, opens a new window on Saturday, August 5 

Samuel P Taylor Park, opens a new window on Saturday, October 7 

Recommended Reads 

To enrich your outdoor adventures, I suggest checking out Super Simple Leaf Projects, Crafting With Nature and The Big Book of Nature Art! These crafts use the materials found all around us and can make an enriching experience for you and your little ones!   

In addition to our library system, the State of California and San Mateo County also supply resources for exploring the great outdoors!  

State and San Mateo County Resources  

Outdoors for All Initiative , opens a new window 

The California Department of Parks and Recreation created the Outdoors for All Initiative to provide access programs for families and children to visit and explore California State Parks. The initiative includes the state library park passes available for checkout at our libraries. In addition, other access programs are available such as the California State Park Adventure Pass, opens a new window, the Golden Bear Pass, opens a new window, the FamCamp, opens a new window and more! To read more about each access program, visit the Outdoors for All Initiative webpage 

Mariposa Program, opens a new window

The Mariposa program, opens a new window provides San Mateo County families and individuals who are recipients of Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWORKs and San Mateo County Access and Care for Everyone (ACE) with a San Mateo County annual Park Pass free of charge. To request your annual pass or learn more about the program, visit the Mariposa Program Webpage, opens a new window. 

Final Tips  

I hope that you get the courage to explore this summer and take advantage of the resources available through San Mateo County Libraries, San Mateo County, and the state!  Finally, whatever adventure you embark on this summer, remember to relax, hydrate and slather on sunscreen!