Trailblazing for Wellness: Hiking the Mountain Trail for Mental Health

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woman on mountain trail
Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Wednesday March 27, 2024

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People sometimes take nature’s healing powers for granted. However, hitting the mountain trail is an excellent way to become more attuned to your thoughts and emotions and feel better physically.

When work and family stress bog you down, it’s crucial to step back from your responsibilities and do something kind and loving for yourself. If you’ve never considered yourself a mountaineer, you’ll likely find yourself addicted to hiking and climbing to improve your mental health.

Here’s what the science says about the therapeutic benefits of being in nature and why you should listen when the mountains are calling you. 

Woman jumping on mountain

Studies Link Nature to Happiness

Have you ever felt physically and mentally better after taking a walk outside? Numerous studies have pointed to the impressive mental health benefits of spending time in nature. According to researchers, people report greater happiness and lower stress levels after 120 minutes of outdoor activity. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 41% of U.K. adults aged 25–39 posted nature photography to social media from April to June 2020 — the height of social distancing and lockdown restrictions. The findings indicate the profound healing effects of nature on people’s psyche. 

Even teens from Finland — the happiest country on Earth — report greater life satisfaction when spending time in natural space. They often carry these experiences into adulthood, too.  

Nature induces calmness, joy, creativity and concentration, among other positive emotions. It’s little wonder so many mental health professionals prescribe nature as part of patients’ treatment plans for depression and anxiety. 

What’s So Appealing About the Mountains?

Every person has a particular landscape they enjoy spending time in the most. Some people like the cyclical sound of ocean waves on the beach. Others prefer hitting the mountain trail. 

Mountain activities like skiing and hiking release endorphins — those delicious feel-good hormones. The summits represent omnipresence — a sense of something being much bigger than you. Likewise, climbing mountains is a metaphor for life, teaching us to reach for a goal or work toward overcoming something dark, scary or overwhelming.

Some studies suggest addiction to mountaineering correlates with needing emotional regulation, greater levels of physical sensations and thrill-seeking. These serene landscapes are also just beautiful sights to behold, resulting in a restorative mind-body state. 

Woman sitting on mountain

Preparing for Your Journey

Preparation is vital for a safe and enjoyable trek through the mountains. After picking your route, you’ll want to build stamina for a backpacking trip by walking and visiting your local gym for at least a month in advance. Step-ups on a sturdy 16-18-foot-high object are also a good place to start — add 5 pounds weekly until you can do 700 steps in 30 minutes.

Other suggestions for a successful journey include:

  • Determining the logistics — time, distance, inclines, start and end points, difficulty level and the season
  • Investing in a lightweight, waterproof and durable backpack — you’ll weigh it down with the essentials
  • Purchasing the appropriate gear, including hiking boots with fitted orthotics
  • Making sure to have appropriate clothing for the season and dress in layers
  • Including a first-aid kit for emergencies
  • Bringing a reusable 1-liter water bottle — purification tablets are essential for turning natural water into a potable drinking source

New mountaineers will want to avoid getting injured or lost during their travels. Consider venturing upward with an expert tour guide if you’ve never gone before or have little experience. 

Hitting the Mountain Trail to Self-Discovery

Embarking on the mountain trail is an opportunity to discover more about yourself and attain peace within the natural world. Here are three ways to enhance the journey for your mental well-being.


The best way to get the most out of your wellness hike is to disconnect from the real world. You’re not meeting work deadlines, answering emails, posting photos on social media or focusing on household obligations when walking a mountain trail. Instead, you want to take this time to give your needs your full attention.

This particular quiet time may be rare for you, so use it to get into your own head, release negative thoughts and concerns, and take a deep breath. You’ll be most thankful when you have less anxiety, greater clarity and can sleep better. 

Woman walking on a mountain trail


Consider bringing a journal with you on your hike. Journaling allows you to process your emotions, work through your thoughts and feelings, and explore new ideas about yourself. On a mountain trek, journaling is an excellent way to process how you feel in nature.

Take breaks to jot down some notes. For example, you might describe noises and smells, and sketch things you see along the way. Check in with yourself and determine if time spent outdoors is improving your outlook. You can then revisit your entries when you arrive home and reflect on your adventure and accomplishments.

Grow Awareness

Mindfulness exercises like meditation allow you to grow awareness of your feelings and physical sensations — this is particularly important during your trek along the mountain trail. Do you feel a wave of relief being active outside? If so, hiking may be a conducive strategy for improving your mental health in the future. 

Take a load off your feet and pay attention to your surroundings. What sorts of birds do you see and hear? Is there a crackling of branches in the wind? 

You may notice your mind wanders less when you’re outside or how your body feels a particular way after exertion. This awareness allows you to stay present rather than lose yourself in your emotions or worries. Mindfulness exercises are also a teaching moment when you’re no longer on the mountain and need a momentary break from stress.

Gaining New Perspective From the Top

Whether you want to heal your depression and anxiety or prove to yourself you can do anything you set your mind to, hitting the mountain trail has beneficial mental health outcomes. Take time to immerse yourself in nature and walk away with a renewed view from the top. Your mind and spirit could use the break.

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