Outdoor clubs: An antidote to loneliness, political divisions, and more

Solitude in nature is precious—just you, the birds, and the trees—there’s nothing else like it. But, sometimes, the fellowship that comes from sharing the outdoors brings another kind of benefit.

Unfortunately, busy schedules and competing demands make it challenging to connect with others. Cue in clubs to the rescue! By coordinating logistics, pooling knowledge, and convening those of shared interests, clubs can open up new worlds of experiences.

Why outdoor clubs matter

Clubs used to be a mainstay of American culture. They served an important role in building and strengthening community connections. Some even say that democracy relies on clubs to function well. The renowned Harvard professor Robert Putnam is among them. In his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” he showed how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors, to the detriment of our society.

Clubs also offer an antidote to one of society’s biggest challenges: loneliness. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says loneliness has become an epidemic in America.

In his 2020 book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” Murthy writes that “loneliness ran like a dark thread through many of the more obvious issues that people brought to my attention, like addiction, violence, anxiety, and depression.”

Various theories explain why we’ve become so lonely, and complex policy solutions may be necessary. But in the meantime, simply joining a club can help us feel more connected.

people snowshoeing while it snows
Northstar Trail Travelers - Snowshoe hike
Huellas Latina - park hike
Grandson with grandmother at park
NorthStar Trail Travelers - Enjoying multi-generational hike
Group of 10 people posing with their bicycles in the snow
Twin Cities Bicycling Club - Fat biking ride
walkers practicing social distancing at food break
NorthStar Trail Travelers - Group cookout
Group of Nordic skiers going up a small hill
North Star Ski Touring Club
Group of about 30 people posing in bicycle helmets and jerseys.
Twin Cities Bicycling Club - All club ride

Types of outdoor clubs in Minnesota

Minnesota has many clubs to choose from, each catering to specific activities, geographies, interests, ages, schedules, and cultural backgrounds.

They run the gambit from well-established clubs, such as the Minnesota Rovers—one of the oldest and most active outing clubs in the Upper Midwest—to informal clubs led by one volunteer who posts outings on social media platforms like Meetup.com.

Some clubs connect people with shared cultural backgrounds. The Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota is named in honor of an African-American world cycling champion. The club promotes safe and fun cycling geared towards the African-American communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Some clubs enhance the outing experience by offering rewards. The North Star Trail Travelers, a club that organizes hiking events at Minnesota State Parks, offers participants a record book that gets stamped at each event. Members earn a pin, patch, and certificate upon reaching certain milestones. At the end of the hike, NSTT volunteers cook up a camp meal that all participants share.

Some clubs categorize their outings by challenge level. The Twin Cities Bicycling Club offers six categories of rides. Their most strenuous rides (A-rating) clock in at an average speed of 17 mph and cover 40+ miles of challenging terrain. Meanwhile, their relaxed rides (C/E3 rating) cover 5-10 miles on flat terrain in about an hour.

You may need to try out several clubs before finding one that fits you. Keep your expectations modest while you dip your toe in. If the first club doesn’t click, try another one. With any luck, you’ll find the right fit that connects you with nature and community.

List of Outdoor Clubs