Therapeutic Outdoor Recreation for Veterans
There are endless lists of free programs and discounts related to outdoor recreation for veterans and their families. Spending time outdoors and in nature can be of great value for veterans and service members in transition.
Outdoor Recreation is Therapeutic
A 2014 study evaluated the benefits of outdoor recreation experiences – the majority of which did not include formal counseling or therapy. Researchers found that veterans experienced significant improvements including:
- Psychological well-being
- Social functioning
- General outlook on life
A 2015 study reiterated the value of outdoor recreation identifying three themes:
- Social reconnection – group outdoor experiences fostered healthy relationships
- Life-Improving change – time outdoors can give veterans renewed sense of motivation
- Inner peace/Psychological healing – time to contemplate well-being led to self-reflection, acceptance, and discovery
- Processing and reflection – spending time outdoors contributes to psychological well-being
In 2019, the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act was introduced. If enacted, this bill will require the VA to establish a task force on providing mental health treatment to veterans through outdoor recreation.
As this bill makes its journey, there are already therapeutic outdoor recreation programs available to active duty service members, veterans and their families. Participating in such programs can restore a sense of purpose, improve physical and mental aspects of health and provide the opportunity for connecting with others and yourself.
Non-Profit Organizations Offering Therapeutic Outdoor Recreation
This Colorado based educational organization supports eligible service members and veterans in readjusting to life after deployments and service. Through wilderness courses and expeditions, veterans build resilience, learn teamwork, and practice leadership through outdoor activities like backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking. These trips are offered at no cost to qualifying service members up to twice per year.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing
In connection with Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition units, and Veterans Affairs medical centers, this nationwide fly-fishing program offers physical and emotional rehabilitation to disabled veterans.
Learn fly fishing, tying, casting, and rod building and then use these skills on a fly fishing outing through the program. To find a program in your area, use the interactive map on their website.
Strongpoint Theinert Ranch
A retreat to this New Mexico ranch involves therapeutic outdoor experiences for active duty, veterans, their families, and Gold Star families. Through hiking and camping in small groups, participants find physical and mental strength as they connect with friends, family, and themselves.
Triple B Adventures
Through “Campfire Therapy,” Triple B Adventures aims to reduce veteran suicides by restoring the bodies, minds, and souls of veterans. They do this through monthly hunting, hiking, camping, and fishing retreats for veterans in Southern California.
Veterans Community Response
This organization of firefighters, veterans, and therapists supports combat veterans as they navigate challenges of returning home after service. Veterans work with clinicians and peer mentors and participate in activities like ropes courses, kayaking, rock climbing, yoga, whitewater rafting, sweat lodges, archery, boating, and shooting.
The services offered through this organization are expanding to disaster response. This expansion provides opportunities for combat veterans in the Inland Northwest to continue their service.
This revolutionary Veteran support network is on a mission to prevent veteran isolation and support successful transitions from military service to civilian life. They accomplish this through programs like:
- Through Functional Emotional Fitness Coaching, learn to be intentional in emotional, spiritual, physical, professional, and social well-being
- Indoor Rock Climbing in North Carolina and Texas
- Every February, teams run 565 miles (run, walk, bike, climb, skate, or lift) in the Patriot Challenge to raise awareness of the challenges of transitioning service members.
Warrior Hike, Bike, and Paddle programs are long distance expeditions. These experiences help veterans in transition by providing equipment, supplies and training necessary to complete long distance outdoor expeditions at no cost to veterans.
Paddle the Mississippi River, cycle the Great American Rail Trail, or hike the Appalachian Trial to decompress, find camaraderie, and find the tools to successfully reintegrate into your community.
Additional Outdoor Discounts for Veterans
National Parks – Free Annual Pass for U.S. Military
Current U.S. military members and dependents with a CAC or Military ID are eligible for a free Annual Pass. This pass covers entrance fees at national parks, wildlife refuges, and day use fees at national forests and grasslands. Explore over 2,000 federal recreation sites and enjoy a free visit to these marvels:
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Acadia National Park
State Park Perks – Earn Free Outdoor Gear
Every state has state parks or recreational areas. Many offer discounts for entrance fees, permits, rentals, or facility reservations to service members.
Some state parks offer programs that can earn you free outdoor gear. The North Carolina State Parks Passport program is a reward program for visiting state parks. You can earn a free pair of hiking socks and $40 in gift cards – just for visiting the parks. North Carolina is home to the most populous military installation – Fort Bragg. State Parks near Fort Bragg that make great day trips include:
- Raven Rock State Park
- Jordan Lake Recreation Area
- Weymouth Woods State Park
- Morrow Mountain State Park
- Jones Lake State Park
- Lake Waccamaw State Park
Photo: Lake Waccamaw State Park in North Carolina (image by Chelsea Bostelman)
- Free Camping for Service Members and Their Families
- Mental Health and Resilience Resources for Veterans
- Free Camping for Service Members and Their Families
- Military Discounts for Those Who Love to Hunt and Fish
- Cabela’s Military Discount and Bass Pro Shop Military Discount
- National Parks Now Free for Veterans and Gold Star Families
- 8 States with Underused Outdoor Recreation Benefits for Veterans
- Military Ski Pass Discounts and Winter Gear Savings
About the author
Chelsea Bostelman is a registered nurse who stays busy with freelance writing, exploring Europe, and working on a graduate degree in nursing. She founded the Stuttgart Nurse Journal Club to provide underemployed nurses with free continuing education opportunities. A 10-year military spouse, she and her family spend their free time hiking, biking, and eating in southern Germany.