The Surprising Psychological Benefits of Getting Out
The Japanese have a practice called Shinrin-yoku. Translated it literally means “Forest bathing.” Those who love to camp and explore the outdoors will immediately understand it; those who get out rarely should get out more to fully understand it. The practice has performed for centuries, but understood only recently.
Plants, it turns out, emit a compound called phytoncide. Phytoncides are compounds naturally released by plants to repel insects and prevent rotting. These compounds, it turns out, are great for human health as they help to lower stress, reduce anxiety, and actually help with a number of physical ailments as well (such as helping to lower blood sugar).
Of course we can’t chalk all the benefits up to a compound emitted by plants. Some of it has to do with the greenery (the color green is restful and relaxing), the sounds of nature (think babbling brooks and chirping birds), the increased exercise (a leisurely stroll burns more calories than watching TV), and the escape from the rat race (unless you’re in a woods filled with rats).
The bottom line is that getting out, getting away, and getting fresh air is healthy for us! Here are a few places near Billings where you can enjoy an overnight camping trip without donning a hundred pound pack and trekking up the mountain.
Chippy Park Campground on the Boulder River
The Boulder River, made famous in the Robert Redford move “A River Runs Through It” is one of the most Montana places you can go. A deep valley with pine covered mountains shooting up on either side creates the quintessential backdrop to your camping experience. There are plenty of designated campgrounds along the road, but Chippy Park seems to provide enough solitude to make you feel like you’re deep in the woods.
The campground consists of 7 sites: 5 of them are designated for RV’s (although you can put a tent on them if you’d like), and there are 2 tent sites. The tent sites each have a picnic table and a firepit, and they’re just a few steps away from the Boulder River. Pull up a lawn chair, grab a brew, and bathe in the Montana Mountains.
Island Lake near the Top of the World
Camping near a river is great, but what if you want a lake? There are hundreds of them sprinkled throughout the Beartooth Mountain range. When you’re looking for a quick getaway, and to escape the heat of the summer, Island Lake is an awesome spot to take a forest bath.
As you’re driving over the top of the mountains on the Beartooth Pass, you head through Wyoming. As you cruise along at roughly 9,500 feet, there’s a turn off to the lake. Less than a mile away you’re at the campground where you can drop your boat in the water (motorboats with small trolling motors are fine, but the lake is small enough for a canoe). There’s a small store nearby called the Top of the World store where you can pick up a Wyoming fishing license if that’s your thing. Just remember to bring bear spray; you’re in grizzly country.
Palisades Campground Outside of Red Lodge
If you have been skiing at Red Lodge Mountain, you have driven right past the Palisades Campground and likely didn’t even know it. There’s a non-descript turn off before you get to Ski Run Road (where it turns to dirt and heads to the mountain) onto Palisades Campground Road. At the end of the road is a small campground with just 6 spots.
The campground is free to use. But there really aren’t any amenities. A vault toilet is there for you to use, and a designated spot to put a tent. Otherwise, you’re on your own. It’s only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but you can hike along Willow Creek, enjoy the solitude, and know that you’re 15 minutes or so from Red Lodge in case you want to pop into town for a bite to eat.
Newlan Reservoir in the Little Belt Mountains
Here in Billings we often think of the Beartooths as “the mountains.” After all, that’s what we can see from our backyards. In reality, if we drive just an hour north we will be in a whole new range that has a whole new feel to it. Actually, there are a few ranges up there, but let’s just focus on one for now: the Little Belt Mountain range. It extends from roughly Great Falls on down to White Sulphur Springs, and is a fantastic place to relax, explore, fish, and take a forest bath.
A few miles outside of White Sulphur, Highway 89 cuts north through the mountains. Newlan Creek is dammed up, and has formed Newlan Reservoir. It’s not huge, but it’s not small. Big enough to put your boat in and cruise around while you fish for some of the great big ones that have settled into the waters. You’re not high into the mountains, so the temperatures get hot (the water feels great later in the summer), but you’re outside and able to relax and reduce your stress.
Fox Creek Campground on your way to Yellowstone Park
If you live nearby, and you haven’t been to Yellowstone Park, then you certainly must go. It’s an incredible resource that we have just a couple of hours away that surprisingly few people take advantage of! But if you haven’t made reservations for a place to stay inside the park or even close to the park, you probably won’t find anything: they fill up quickly! Instead, opt for a campground not far away; a perfect one is Fox Creek Campground.
Only about 15 miles from the Cooke City/Silvergate entrance, you’re still really close to the park. But you’re far enough away that it’s overlooked by many of the tourists seeking shelter. For $20 you get a spot that’s little short of glamping. Newer picnic tables, clean bathrooms, flat sites where you can pitch your tent, and a host that watches out for you (and bears). From the entrance to the site you get a great view of Pilot Peak, and it’s just a short walk down to the stream if you have a Wyoming fishing license. Best of all, you get your forest bath before being stuck in a car as you tour through Yellowstone.
Get Your Gear; Get Outside
Whether you live near the mountains, in the mountains, or have to plan a long trip to the mountains, getting outside is one of the best things you can do for your health. So grab your ultimate hoodie, because nights at 9,500 feet get cold, even in July. Grab your hat and t-shirt for the warm days and keeping the sun off the head, and relax outside wherever you are. Your body will thank you, and you can tackle the work day so much better when you have had your forest bath.