Accessing The Healing Power of Nature
This blog post is part of our Discover the Northwest story series where we work with some of our favorite local explorers by asking them to go on an adventure, take over our Instagram Stories and create a blog post about the adventure life. This post was written by Lexi Baasch, a plus-sized hiker and backpacker who advocates for diverse representation in the outdoors.
Many people understand that spending time in nature feels good, not only for our body but also for our soul. When someone says “I enjoy the outdoors for my mental health” we smile, nod and agree. We get it. It makes sense.
But what if an injury or disability prevents you from participating in your favorite outdoor activity? How would you care for your mental health? These are questions I’ve been exploring the past couple months becaaaaaaaause in July … I broke my foot.
Hi. My name is Lexi and I’m a plus size hiker and backpacker - you might know me as @fatgirl.hiking on Instagram. After suffering a broken 5th metatarsal and then having surgery to drill it back together in late August, I’ve slowly but surely been on the mend. I was unable to put any weight through my foot for 8 weeks, and as a result, I rarely left my apartment.
Last year, I backpacked almost 100 miles around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail and that was hard. But this year? Getting in and out of the shower was hard. Getting in and out of bed was hard. Standing up from the toilet was hard. Everything has gotten exponentially harder. I’m on the mend and am able to walk, but am not yet good at inclines/declines or uneven ground, so basically I can walk short distances on paved paths. Its progress.
How Can Nature Be Healing?
When I’m not injured, I’m a weekend warrior, getting in as many adventures as I can. But on the weekdays? I’m an Occupational Therapist. OT’s are holistic and look at the mind, the body, and the spirit. We are experts in sensory processing and yep: Hiking is a sensory activity.
When you hike you’re seeing new sights, smelling new smells, hearing new sounds, and feeling new sensations. You might be tasting new tastes—like the Pyramid beer that you take along the way. Your muscles are working in new ways to propel your body up a trail (your sense of proprioception) and so are your heart and lungs. Your vestibular sensory system is helping to keep your head upright and stable, even when you’re walking on uneven ground or hopping from rock to rock. Hiking is a sensory activity.
Sensory input helps keep us grounded. When we are feeling anxious, sensory input gets us out of our head, and into our bodies. This is why we like to exercise, why some people use essential oils, why some people eat sour candy, or why some people fidget.
Nature is alive. It exists without rushing between seasons and stages like humans do. Trees and plants calmly live and grow without reacting to our presence. Waves rhythmically lap against the shore, over and over and over. The city is full of exciting and alerting energy that’s constantly changing, while nature provides us with this calming, consistent, rhythmic energy, which assists in calming our racing minds.
Soooo yeah, hiking is good for our heart, lungs, and muscles. But nature in general is good for our mind and our spirit. But what if you're disabled and it's hard to leave home? Or what if you’re elderly and at risk for falling? Or what if you can’t afford the gas to get to a hike or a coat warm enough to hike in the conditions?
This is why having accessible spots to experience nature is so important. Why being able to drive your car or take a bus or walk down the street to experience the healing power of nature is so vital. And why everyone should have access to outdoor spaces, not just those that can afford it. Not just those that can fit into clothes offered at outdoor retailers. And not just those that have physically capable bodies. Everyone deserves access to these healing spaces.
So I compiled a list from Pyramid’s followers of nature spots in and around Seattle that you would feel comfortable taking your grandma. I was wanting places accessible by car, paved walking paths, lots of benches to rest at, and obviously, nature all around. And Pyramid’s Instagram followers pulled through!
The list I compiled is below, but before we get to that, I challenge you to get the most out of your city nature experience by putting away your phone and practicing being present. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds. Smell the smells. Open your eyes and gaze at the living things around you and notice the tiny details. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the grass or the water. Ignite your senses and see what it does for you.
With that being said - here’s our list. Cheers!
Accessible Parks In & Around Seattle
I visited this location for a social distanced picnic with friends because you want to know what's also really really good for our mind and spirit? Connecting with other people. Obviously we are in the middle of a pandemic and connecting with friends doesn’t look the same, but with masks, sanitizer, sunshine, snacks, and a cooler full of beer, we made it happen.
Carkeek has ocean views accessible by car but if you want to go down to the beach, there is a walkway with stairs over the train tracks.
Snoqualmie falls was less than 45 minutes from my apartment in North Seattle, has stairs and ramps, parking is close, and its obviously incredibly beautiful.
Seward park is a place I had never been before but it was sooo pretty. The main portion of the park had a lot of parking spaces blocked off (probably to discourage crowding due to Covid) and there were cars circling looking for parking, so I decided to pick one of the parking lots along Lake Washington Blvd closest to Seward Park. Paths were paved, there were plenty of benches, and obviously beautiful scenery. The distance from my car to this spot was probably 50 feet of walking. So accessible!
Leschi was just a 9 minute drive up Lake Washington Blvd from Seward Park and there were several parks between the two. Sitting here at Leschi, there was a larger park area behind me with what looked like paved paths and people playing fetch with their dogs. I chose to sit on a bench with the views of the water and views of Downtown Bellevue across the pond. Paths were paved, plenty of benches, views were gorgeous.
This was another spot in Seattle I had never been. Lots of parking, lots, lots of trails, paved and unpaved. I picked a mostly empty parking lot, walked for a little bit, and then picked a bench and sat. So calming and refreshing to be amongst the trees, especially this time of year.
Volunteer Park has so much to look at and so much to explore. Paths were paved but there were some unpaved paths as well. I was surrounded by nature, but also views of the city. I did not do much exploring here as I was feeling fatigued but I know I need to come back and explore more.
Kerry Park probably has one of the best views of the cityscape. It is accessible - you can drive right up, park on the curb, and basically see this view from your car. It might not be my go-to spot for nature, but it is definitely a go-to spot to show friends and family visiting Seattle.
Discovery Park is definitely one of my go-tos for nature. Most of the paths that I’ve explored are unpaved and they encourage you to hike from a parking lot to the Lighthouse, so maybe this is not the most accessible place (the Lighthouse is just around the corner from where I took this picture).
However, you are able to park at the West Point Lighthouse with a free permit from the Visitors Center if you have children or have a disability and this section is ADA accessible.
Even More Parks
Here are more suggestions of accessible parks in Seattle that were recommended to me but that I did not make it to. Check them out and let us know what you think!
And here are some spots a little out of Seattle:
If you’re in Seattle, I hope you get a chance to explore these parks! And if you’re not in Seattle, I hope you consider spending some time in nature at one of your neighborhood parks. Many times, we get stuck in this idea that when we do something outdoorsy, it has to be “epic” whether that be a weekend camping trip or a long day hike. I challenge you to reframe the way you think about being outdoorsy. You can be outdoorsy on a Tuesday afternoon at the park down the street and it can feel just as refreshing.