Each year, people leave cities and towns to enjoy the natural, unspoiled landscape of national parks. Whether you stick to a well-beaten path or venture further afield, you can always get more out of the great outdoors.
Read up on flora and fauna
Much of the attraction of the outdoors comes from being immersed in a richly detailed and endlessly varied world. Walking in the forest’s shade, for instance, your attention may be caught by a strange rock formation, a shrub in full flower, a fluttering butterfly or a brightly coloured bird darting from tree to tree.
It is always worth reading up on the natural history of the area you plan to visit so that you can recognise and identify the things around you. Field guides are available for many national parks and wilderness regions, describing landforms, flora and fauna, as well as showing the main walking tracks and camping areas. Familiarity with a region’s characteristics also has a purely utilitarian side. In mountainous country, for example, a basic knowledge of gorge formations and escarpments can help you find your way. Standing high on a ridge, you should also be able to see the effects of wind, rain, creeks and rivers — the forces that have shaped the landscape for millennia.
Plants are the most easily observed living things. Their incredible variety and the ingenious adaptations they have made to their environment are sources of endless fascination. Even the most casual observer can gain satisfaction from being able to put a name to a particular species.
Check in with an expert
Field guides and plant identification books are helpful in familiarising yourself with trees, shrubs, ferns and small flowering plants but nothing beats learning from an expert. So try to accompany someone who has a sound knowledge of botany and wide experience in the field; national parks rangers sometimes run short workshops for hikers. After a while, you will become familiar with a range of species and develop an appreciation of the diversity of the habitats in which they grow, from coastal sand dunes to lush rainforests and alpine meadows.
Taking the time to learn more about your wilderness environment can help you to make the most of your camping experience. A little preparation can lead to a lot more fun!