For Black Americans, reconnecting with the outdoors opens one up to opportunities for mindfulness, introspection and peace of mind because to nature, skin color is not a gatekeeper or political statement, it’s simply a matter of how fast you sunburn.
Though Black people have been avid outdoors enthusiasts both historically and culturally (Black cowboys made up 25% of cattle industry workers in the 19th century), there's no denying the trauma of lynchings that are forever linked to outdoor spaces.
But now, many are reclaiming the narrative. Here's a list of Black hiking groups in the U.S. who want to reopen the American outdoors for underrepresented groups.
Black Girl’s Trekkin’
Tiffany Tharpe and Michelle Race started the LA-based group Black Girls Trekkin’ hiking group in November 2017 specifically to bring Black female representation to the area's hiking trails.
“I just thought that if I was young and growing up and interested in getting outside I’d want to see familiar faces being seen in the outdoors,” Tharpe says.
But their interest isn't rooted only in increasing representation in leisure activities – the founders also hope that more inclusivity in hiking will ultimately encourage environmental conservation in future generations.
“It’s important because those kids growing up will be the ones fighting for the protection of the environment when they’re older but may not feel inclined to if they don’t see themselves in the outdoors,” Tharpe says.
Hiking and outdoor destinations can sometimes feel exclusive, and many Black people feel as though they are intruding on white spaces when they head outside. White occupied does not mean white-owned, however, and from the start Feaster’s mission has been to create a safe space for Black people to experience the outdoors equally.
“Seeing someone that looks like you doing something new gives you a sense of empowerment that you can do the same if not better. I am here as a reminder that the outdoors is a place for all,” she says.
NJ-based group HIKEOLUTION was established in January 2017 by founder Keyana Jones with a mission to “hike for a solution, evolution, and revolution.” What started out as a serendipitous third date for the female-founder has since expanded and evolved into a community of almost 1000 Black hikers and allies.
Jones believes that hiking and outdoorsmanship are a natural fit for Black people, and have been throughout history.
“The great Harriet Tubman, one of my favorite ancestors, was technically a hiker,” she says. “We rarely hear her story told from that perspective. I feel that firstly, it's extremely important to access the outdoors because hiking heals. The restorative properties that nature affords us are unmatched. Black people, as spiritually intuitive beings, thrive in nature.”
Black Girls Hike RVA
Black Girls Hike RVA founders Nicole Boyd and Narshara Tucker both grew up equating the outdoors with “happiness, love, and sanctuary” through social cookouts, playing sports, hiking or simply working in the garden.
The duo specifically empower Black women to get into the outdoors not only for the mental and physical benefits, but to strengthen families, who can continue to pass the positive correlation between the outdoors and Black families down to future generations.
Black Girls Hike Buffalo
“Hiking has many benefits, including decreasing risks for heart diseases, stress and anxiety [...] which African Americans are at greater risk to develop,” says Bulluck.
The group mainly hikes in Buffalo and the surrounding area, but also hosts an annual out-of-state hiking trip to experience different trails all across the US. They recently returned from a group hiking trip to Atlanta where they summited Stone Mountain not once, but twice!
Abundant Life Adventure Club
Husband and wife duo Claude and Dr. Kim Walker began the Nashville-based hiking group Abundant Life Adventure Club in 2019 to “make it easy” for Black people to get outdoors by guiding them on hiking, biking and kayaking adventures start-to-finish, with a specific emphasis on the physical health benefits.
“Various chronic diseases are affecting Black people at disproportional rates,” says Dr. Walker. “[and] Black people especially need the transformative benefits of outdoor activities. As health professionals, we know in order to make active lifestyles sustainable that we needed to get active outside of the gym, find our tribe, and add some fun variety. Outdoor recreation is the perfect solution.”
With nearly 80 leaders in 30 states dotted around the country, Outdoor Afro declares its "changing the face of conservation" by bringing thousands of Black people – including Oprah – to the outdoors. Their trips range from intense hiking trails to family-friendly nature outings. What began as a blog in 2009 by founder Rue Mapp has grown into national non-profit organization.
"Everyone needs nature. It's a human experience. You’re healthier and happier when you are grounded with a connection to nature," says Yanira Castro, Outdoor Afro, Communications Director via an email. "Outdoor Afro is here to help people get their nature swagger back. In order to continue to visit these beautiful lands that we love, all people need to be connected to them. You won’t visit or want to save places you’ve never visited before."
Black Girls Hike LA
After moving to LA from Chicago, Black Girls Hike LA founder Lauren Fitzpatrick started hitting the trails to experience more nature and less concrete, but soon found that “hiking while Black” was not straightforward as she thought.
“I went on my first hike alone and I can remember the sense of unease being the only Black girl on the trail as I approached a wooded area ... I turned around and went home,” she says.
Shortly after that uncomfortable experience, Fitzpatrick started Black Girls Hike LA. Now the group's MeetUp.com site now has almost 1000 members.
Fitzpatrick believes Black representation in American hiking culture is important for a variety of reasons, and has profound benefits beyond just getting into shape.
“The outdoors brings balance through physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being, yet black people remain underrepresented and constrained from the benefits.”