Ideas For An Active Thanksgiving

Here are seven simple ideas to be active in the great outdoors this Thanksgiving.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

Yes, the 5- to 7-pound holiday weight gain may be a myth (it’s actually closer to 1 pound), but no one can deny the need to get outside for fresh air and to work off some of that good food. Here are seven simple ideas to be active in the great outdoors this Thanksgiving.


Trot Then Feast

Turkey Trots are a tradition for many families looking to keep up their fitness routine through the holiday season. It is arguably the largest and most continuous themed race in the United States to date, surpassing Fourth of July themed races for the top spot. The first trot was hosted by the YMCA back in 1896 in Buffalo, N.Y., where only four out of six racers finished the 8K race. The YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot continues to take place today with a cap at 14,000 runners per year. Races around the country now vary in distance from 5K to 10K and often feature a kids’ race. Some races are held the morning of Thanksgiving, while others are held the weekend before or after. Find a race (in person or virtual) near you by searching “turkey trot” and your desired location on or


Play Ball

Football on Thanksgiving isn’t just for the NFL. In fact, the first nonprofessional Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia, Pa., on Thanksgiving Day of 1869. Since then, family and friends have gathered on Thanksgiving for a little rivalry, smack talk and memorable moments passing the pigskin. In fact, my family has been participating in a Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl with the neighborhood for over 30 years now. It’s a great way to work up a sweat, work up an appetite and get some vitamin D. So, grab those Patrick Mahomes, Derrick Henry and Aaron Donald jerseys (or personal sweatshirts, like my family) and unite this Thanksgiving on the backyard gridiron for a good, old-fashioned game of football. Just remember, no fowl play (pun intended)!


Go {Fish}

If you live in a milder climate, find some water like a nearby pond, stream or lake and go catch em’ up. Fish will bite year round if you have the right bait to lure them in. The weather is perfect for a few hours on the water casting a line, and it’s a great way to relax and work off some Thanksgiving pecan pie. The kids will love the time outdoors, too.




#OptOutside On Black Friday

Instead of hitting the mall, #OptOutside on Black Friday for a much-needed recharge, whether you steal some alone time for yourself or join in with a friend or family member. Outdoors retailer REI has made it its mission to get people to spend time in the fresh air by staying closed the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other companies and organizations have followed suit, including Outdoor Research and the National Park Service,  choosing to raise awareness and money in pursuit of being active. The campaign began in 2015 and has grown throughout the outdoors industry, with some state parks offering free admission for the day among other ways to encourage people to spend this day in the great outdoors. Look for an outdoor Black Friday Bootcamp or yoga session, as many gyms and yoga studios have joined in on the fun. Opt To Act (a side project of #OptOutside) encourages people to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving cleaning parks and other actions to help make the world a better place. No matter how you choose to spend your time outside, don’t forget to use the hashtag #OptOutside when posting photos on social media.


Play In A Winter Wonderland

If you happen to be spending the holidays in the mountains or have snow in the backyard, embrace the weather with some outdoor play. Build a snowman or a snow fort for protection while you have an epic snowball fight. Make your first snow angels of the season. Grab the snowshoes for a trek through the snow or the skis to hit the slopes for some pre- or post-feast calorie burning. If there is not enough snow for snow play, find a local outdoor rink and skate away to your favorite holiday tunes.


Cut Down Your Christmas Tree In The Forest

For many, the start of the Christmas season begins with putting up the Christmas tree. Add a little fun and outdoor time to this timeless tradition by heading to the forest to cut down your own tree. Make a day of it with time to enjoy the forest, whether you build a snowman, hunt for animal tracks or just listen to trickling water. Check out this article for seven simple tips for cutting down a live tree. To see whether your local national forest allows tree cutting, head to Next, select your region and the national forest closest to you. Once the specific page for the forest loads, look under Passes & Permits to find Christmas tree cutting info specific to that area.


Check Out The Lights

Light displays continue to get more elaborate year to year, and large displays pop up beginning around Thanksgiving across the country. In major cities, botanical gardens, zoos and other entities offer holiday light shows that you can meander through. Extravagant Clark Griswold-type personal displays can be found in towns across the country, with many raising money for charitable causes from Make-A-Wish and Toys for Tots to Wounded Vets and The Salvation Army. Grab your hats, scarves and gloves for a walk in a winter wonderland. Stroll down Candy Cane Lane or Reindeer Road and finish the night off with some leftover pie and hot cocoa around a fire.

One last idea:

Hike Off That Pie
Burn a few hundred calories by hitting the trails after a day of feasting. Catch the sunset (if you eat earlier) or enjoy clearer night skies this time of year if you choose to hike after a slice of pie. Head to the hills or just enjoy a stroll through a forest preserve. As a pre-hike activity, make some pinecone bird feeders and hang them on your walk, so the birds can enjoy a yummy Thanksgiving dinner, too. Your hike doesn’t have to be epic or even long. It’s a great time to chat about what everyone is thankful for. This reflection is especially important to focus on during these hectic times.

Related Articles

Always be ready to go with the Go Out{side} Email Newsletter

Don’t miss out on new Go Out{side} news, tips and tricks.