Closer to Nature

Looking to get away for a while to recharge and refresh? Immersing yourself in the quiet, natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains at North Carolina’s first certified forest therapy trail could be just what the doctor ordered to give you that healthy boost.

The Pinnacle Park trail forms a loop of approximately half a mile and is surrounded by the gently flowing water of Fisher Creek. A tranquil forest setting with wildflowers, songbirds and rhododendrons, it is only ten minutes from downtown Sylva but feels miles away from everything. The loop trail connects with other trails that lead to magnificent views of the mountains for those who want to extend their adventure after a forest bathing experience. Photos / Nick Breedlove

In Sylva, NC, there’s a different kind of outdoor wellness experience offered at Pinnacle Park.

Inspired by shinrin-yoku, the Japanese art of forest bathing, you can take a stroll along a trail less than half a mile long certified by the Association for Nature and Forest Therapy. You can do a self-guided walk with the trail’s brochure and audio guide, or get the most comprehensive experience with Dr. Mark Ellison as your guide.

A certified Nature and Forest Therapy guide, Dr. Ellison began offering guided forest therapy walks in 2013 after learning from Dr. Qing Li, who helped develop the contemporary practice in Japan. And the benefits are plentiful.

“Lower stress levels, the ability to better focus attention, enhanced creativity, and being able to cope with life,” Dr. Ellison said. “I have had a number of people go on walks with me as a way to remember a loved one and help with the healing process. It is a very relaxing and meditative experience.”

Pinnacle Park Trail

To get the most out of your walk, Dr. Ellison said, all you have to do is turn off your cell phone, clear your mind, and be open to nature’s offerings. Making it a regular part of your self-care and wellness practice isn’t difficult, either. You can start by taking 15 minutes each day just to observe nature near your home.

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Because no matter your age or experience, forest bathing offers a refreshing and refocusing retreat for anyone.

“I have guided walks for 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds,” said Dr. Ellison. “It is something that is accessible to most anyone. It does not matter if you have spent much time in nature before or not. Just be prepared to relax and experience nature with all your senses. It can be a transformational experience if you are open to it.”

➡ The Pinnacle Park trail forms a loop of approximately half a mile and is surrounded by the gently flowing water of Fisher Creek. A tranquil forest setting with wildflowers, songbirds and rhododendrons, it is only ten minutes from downtown Sylva but feels miles away from everything. The loop trail connects with other trails that lead to magnificent views of the mountains for those who want to extend their adventure after a forest bathing experience.

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WHAT HAPPENS ON A GUIDED FOREST THERAPY WALK?

Along the trail, Dr. Ellison periodically offers several invitations for you to experience nature through your senses. An invitation might look like asking you to stop for a few minutes and close your eyes. Let go of any thoughts you might have and focus on nearby and distant sounds, like the wind through the trees or the rhythm of a stream gliding over the ground. You could notice the smell of the wildflowers when they’re in bloom, or the packed earth and leaves cushioning your footsteps. At the end of the walk, you can enjoy a relaxing tea ceremony.

Visit PinnacleForestTherapy.com to schedule your own guided forest therapy walk.

 


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