Scavenger hunt participants tour the city looking for noteworthy sites and public art displays. Photo courtesy of Experience Pittsburgh.

We all need a break in these trying times and Mother Nature is happy to oblige. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn says being outside is good health care and self-care, as long as we practice social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“During this time of significant changes to our daily routines, it’s clear that our need for and appreciation of nature is greater than ever,” Dunn says. “Outdoor activities are a great idea to relieve stress and as immunity boosters, but they should not include exposure to high-touch surfaces or other groups of people — we need to spread out.”

And this from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy:

The parks are open and usable during the Stay-at-Home order for essential activities such as running, walking and hiking. Remember to follow social distancing and other personal health recommendations from the CDC during your time in the parks. Also, as stated by Governor Wolf, please wear a mask if you leave your house. Masks help keep those wearing them from sharing illnesses. See instructions on how to make your own mask using materials you have at home:

Parks are essential. These are stressful times. Parks are a healthy way to deal with the uncertainty that may be arising due to the coronavirus. Here are four ways to safely enjoy essential outdoor activities in the parks, with social distancing:

  • Walk Your Furry Friend
  • Hike Your Favorite Trail
  • Explore the Urban Forest While Enjoying a Run
  • Get In Your Daily Steps

If you take precautions, you can participate in activities that will exercise your body and mind and give your spirits a much-needed lift. Here are some suggestions. Enjoy!

Explore Pittsburgh

Every day at 1:30 p.m., Julie Ransom of Experience Pittsburgh organizes an urban scavenger hunt through four city neighborhoods. Participants, who are tasked with finding six destinations, can tackle the eight-mile loop via car or bike. Due to the COVID-19 virus, players are limited to singles or pre-existing groups, such as families or roommates who’ve been quarantined together.

To join, sign up 24 hours in advance by emailing Ransom at with the number of adults and children, the date and preferred payment method. The cost is $35 for the first adult age 18 and older and $20 for each additional adult. Kids are free, but the hunt isn’t recommended for children under 5.

Players pick up their six clues, along with snacks and drinks, in Lawrenceville and set off on their adventure. Each time they reach public art displays or noteworthy buildings, they take a selfie and send it to Ransom, who will give them the green light to their next stop. The hunt takes about three hours to complete. There’s a special gift at the end of the road.

Ransom started Experience Pittsburgh 18 months ago as an Airbnb Experiences program. “We’re all in such a hurry; we should all take a moment to stop and look at all the beauty some of the buildings have to offer here, particularly Downtown,” she says.

Brian Demchak Hope Run/Walk Q5K

You can still take part in the St. Margaret Foundation Brian Demchak Hope Run/Walk 5K while keeping a safe social distance.

The annual event, originally scheduled for May 17 at UPMC St. Margaret, is changing course due to the coronavirus crisis. Now you can run or walk around your neighborhood any time between now and May 17 and post your photographs on social media or the St. Margaret Foundation’s Facebook page with the hashtag #hopefun5Q.

Sign up for the “Quarantine 5K” online by April 30 to get your special race shirt mailed to your home. Registration is $30 and supports local patients, doctors and nurses on the front lines of the crisis. Want to go the extra mile? Create a fundraising page and ask your friends to donate. If you raise $50, your race registration is free. Generate $100 and you’ll get a zippered, long-sleeve shirt.

For the birds

Tired of endlessly scrolling through your Twitter feed? Experience a real tweet and go birding. Head to a local park or, as an added social distancing measure, your own backyard, to spot some feathered friends. The spring migration season is in full swing, so you’re bound to see (and hear) a lot of ornithological wonders. Not sure how to make your new hobby take flight? The Audubon Society has as a free app featuring more than 800 species of North American birds.

Built for all experience levels, the app helps you identify and keep track of the birds around you while you listen to hours of audio clips of songs and calls. You can share photos of your finds and even join a local birding group.

Tom Moeller, treasure and webmaster of Three Rivers Birding Club, also recommends iBird Pro and The Warbler Guide. If you’re low-tech, pick up a copy of “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.” The basic gear you need to get started is a pair of binoculars (but do not share).

There are several good areas for birding in Pittsburgh, but make sure you don’t flock to crowded spaces. Birders should be mindful that facilities in most parks are closed, so no bathrooms are available. Garbage cans are at capacity, so take any trash you generate with you.

“In the city, Frick and Schenley Parks are very productive for woodland birds, and waterfowl can be found at Duck Hollow on the Monongahela,” Moeller says. “Of course, one can actually visit the Hays Bald Eagle nest area along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. West of the city is Wingfield Pines Conservation Area in Upper St. Clair, east would be Boyce Park in Monroeville and Plum or Audubon’s Beechwood Farms on Dorseyville Road, and north would, naturally, be North Park, which has a Bald Eagle’s nest of its own.”

Outdoor art

Jane Conaway, of Ross Township, walks across a balance beam during a bear hunt through McKnight Village.

The kids of Avonworth Heights are taking their creativity to the streets … and sidewalks. The budding artists are using asphalt as a canvas for their chalk art. In addition to drawing temporary masterpieces, they’re leaving inspirational messages to each other.

In Mt. Lebanon adults are getting in the act, too, with everything from inspiring messages about nature to exercise prompts like “Do 10 jumping jacks.”

Bear hunts and fitness stops 

Barely holding it together indoors? Folks throughout Pittsburgh are putting teddy bears in their windows so families can emerge from hibernation for a neighborhood bear hunt.

In McKnight Village in Ross Township, resident and elementary school teacher Kristen Gettens set up activities, such as hula hoops, a balance beam and sidewalk chalk, that kids could do along the way.

Photo by Beth Evans.

Ride bikes!

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, bicycle repair is a life-sustaining business. Although they aren’t selling rides, some local bike shops are open to give your old two-wheeler a tune-up. Bike Pgh has a list of proprietors that can keep you rolling through this pandemic.

Venture Outdoors

Venture Outdoors, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to Mother Nature, has plenty of ideas to get you up off the couch. Whether it’s a simple stroll, a geocaching adventure or activities that bring the great outdoors inside, you’ll discover a new appreciation for your surroundings.

Go fly a kite!

The Frick Pittsburgh offers a step-by-step guide to constructing your own kite. Get creative with your flying device, then grab your windbreaker and go outside to watch your art take flight.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.