5 Simple Outdoor Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Creative, frugal, and romantic: the ideal date descriptives we aspire for on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, many-a-couple will get sucked down the whirlpool of cliche, costly, and cheesy, made inevitable by checking off the flowers-chocolate-Hallmark card-and-dinner list. I can hear you sighing over your own predictability. But it’s not too late to bring some fresh air to your date plans–literally.

Check out these five outdoor adventure styled dates that will help you achieve that personal, romantic, and wallet-friendly Valentine’s Day you’ve been dreaming of (and, don’t worry, you don’t have to be an Eagle Scout or a Dawn Wall climber to enjoy any of these activities).



Before you quip that this date idea is just as cliche as a candlelight dinner, let me explain: there’s the “really-easy-obvious” way to do stargazing, and then there’s the “super-awesome-sweet-and-snuggly” way to do stargazing. This method is still fairly simple, but involves some important prep-time to make this date unique.

This is your new Stargazing Gameplan:

  1. Find the ideal stargazing spot. If you live in the mountains, this may be in your backyard or a 20 minute drive away. But if you live in the city or a valley, you will need to determine the closest drive to the area with the least amount of smog and light pollution.
  2. Know the best time to go out–just because the sun went down doesn’t mean it’s primetime for stargazing yet. Find out at this site when the moon will rise on February 14th, and whether or not the phase will be outshining the stars.
  3. BLANKETS. BLANKETS BLANKETS. Is stargazing in February possible without at least one blanket?
  4. Take advantage of that quiet-back-porch or nighttime-windy-road ambience and max it out by making a soft, sweet playlist of you and your date’s favorite music to play in the background.
  5. Get a little nerdy; Google up some astronomy. So instead of saying, “Hm, I wonder if that’s a constellation,” you’ll actually know. Better yet, get an actual book on constellations so you can carry it along with you. There’s also a constellation app available for all you app people.
  6. Get a little more nerdy. Ever wonder why a constellation or a star has its name? Ancient cultures created mythologies for the celestial map, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks. Learn a few of these stories before your night out (check out Perseus & Andromeda, or Orion) and exchange them with your date. 
  7. Don’t forget to prepare some hot drinks!

Bonus style points: Stargazing from the bed of a pickup truck, on top of a water tower, or in a boat at the middle of a lake.

Build a Quinzhee


For those of you living in a place with snow (the struggle is REAL in California this winter), you are in the ideal position to make that romantic snow fort–or Quinzhee–happen. A Quinzhee is basically like an Igloo, except much easier to make. Depending on where you live, this could take place near your house or during a weekend in the backcountry–and all you need are two snow shovels.

The simplified steps of building a Quinzhee:

  1. Shovel a ton of snow into a huge pile.
  2. Pack down the snow mountain as much as you can.
  3. Let the snow settle for a few hours, during which lunch and a snowball fight are recommended.
  4. Carve out a cave in the mound of settled snow.

This video will further explain how to properly make a Quinzhee.

Bonus style points: Prepare soup or chili beforehand to bring as a warm celebration meal to eat inside the Quinzhee. And hot drinks.

Hug a Tree


Do you have a serious nature lover in your life? Better yet, are you BOTH serious nature lovers? Why not do some nature lovin’ for your Valentine’s date? Why worry about buying the right color of roses when you can’t go wrong with shrinking your carbon footprint?

Five ways to make your inner hippies happy:

  1. Instead of driving to the store to buy a Valentine’s Day card, make your own homemade note out of materials you already have at home.
  2. Pick up trash at a local park or beach, or volunteer your time to clean up a hiking trail.
  3. Plant a tree, or start a garden.
  4. Be doubly environmentally and socially conscious by not purchasing flower bouquets. Instead, cut from your own garden, buy a pot of organic flowers, or hike to a meadow (but remember to practice Leave No Trace by letting the wildflowers stay where they are!).
  5. Bike or walk to your date spot.

Bonus style points: Make that dinner date at a Vegan cafe or restaurant.

Like-a-Hipster-in-a-Museum Day Hike


They slowly peruse the walls of art, with their trendy clothes and a camera slung about their neck–those hipsters. We might judge them a little for their show, but maybe we can learn a few style points from them…in this case, meshing their methods with a day hike to make it unique, different…and perhaps a little hipster?

How to day hike like a hipster in a museum:

Step 1: Choose a moderate hike with a comfortable length for you and your significant other. This hike isn’t going to be training you for Mt. Everest; it’s about spending time with your loved one more than conquering that mound of dirt or taking care of your calorie count.

Step 2: Keep the frame in mind that you’re treating this hike like you’re walking through a museum; take your time. If you or your partner sees something of interest on the trail–animal tracks, wildflowers, a hidden view, a funky lookin’ tree, etc.–stop and look at it, explore it (keeping LNT practices in mind), have an existential crisis about it–whatever it is. Take a picture or two.

Step 3: Bring a disposable camera and use all of the exposures–after the hike, get the film developed and see how your pics turned out. Other options include using a Polaroid camera, or just your phone, so long as the challenge is that you won’t look at the pictures until after the end of the hike.

Step 4: Pack a sack lunch or snack with a blanket to share at the top of the hike. You can be as thrifty or extravagant as you want with this one, but remember you get bonus hipster points for bringing an offbeat bottled drink.

Step 5: Don’t forget the Valentine’s notes–something homemade or handwritten, perhaps, or some of those Valentine’s you’d give to someone in third grade; whatever speaks to your hipster-at-heart best.

Adventure in the Concrete Jungle


Clearly, you don’t need a week-long backpacking trip in the wilderness to plan a romantic outdoorsy excursion with your significant other. But what if you just can’t escape the city or suburbia? Here are a few ideas of how to adventure in that concrete jungle: 

  1. Pack a picnic lunch, some books, and/or a frisbee, and enjoy at the neighborhood park. Bonus style points for bringing a hammock.
  2. Plan a date at the climbing gym (maybe this one isn’t “outside,” per se, but it’s pretty darn adventurous for being indoors). Not sure about climbing? Gyms provide challenges for all levels of climbers, as well as technique classes you can sign up for with your date. Belaying also helps practice trust and communication with your partner. 
  3. Bike ride option A: ride together to a favorite cafe or dinner date spot.
  4. Bike ride option B: ride to a local department store for a spontaneous shopping spree, under an agreed dollar limit. Buy a LEGO set or puzzle to build/solve together after the ride back. Or pick out a random CD based on the cover art to listen to as you sit around a space heater. Or find a comic book to read together next to the fireplace. Or maybe buy some cheap t-shirts to draw all over and make each other wear for the rest of the day. So many options…
  5. Stoke up a bonfire in a fire pit on your patio. Complete the picture with a string of twinkle lights and fixings for s’mores.

Sense that inspiration smile creeping on your face? Now that you have all these fun ideas, you can throw out that old flowers-chocolate-Hallmark card-dinner checklist for a plan much more adventurous. And who says you need to be in a relationship to do any of these? Get together with a group of your single friends and have some fun–and make sure to exchange those corny-cute third-grade Valentine’s with them, too.

Backpacking: a different paradigm

There’s a big difference between backpacking and hiking.

Hiking–dayhiking–is essentially sightseeing that gives you a sweat. Great fun, refreshing and perhaps challenging at times–and you go home at the end of the day and have a nice meal and sleep in your bed.

Backpacking, on the other hand, is hiking and camping all rolled into one and then some. You put everything you are going to live on for the next few days or weeks on your back and start trodding a landscape where there is no one.552

So as you are in the environment you are walking through, you become a part of it. When you roll out your sleeping bag under the sky, that patch of ground and wild brush becomes your temporary home. All you have is the most essential provisions to live in this place. And you begin to realize that this nature you have stepped into is not under your control, and all it will give you is brutal honesty–the honesty that what you see in this wilderness is what you get, and you must make the best of it in the way you know how.

When you’re backpacking, you realize that mother nature, as beautiful as she is, could kill you whenever she well pleased.

So you let the humility of your situation sink in–because as often as not, the animals and sky and trees are going to let you live (though you still might have freezing feet at night), and we have invented portable water purifying systems. Because you are permitted to live and adventure as you have hoped, gratitude and awe and perhaps respect begins to well up a subtle fondness, and then love, for the place you are in. This is when you begin to understand how something can be beautiful and terrible at the same time.

Hiking is a good way to find adventure. Backpacking will change your life.

Photography: In the mountains, there you feel free

“In the mountains, there you feel free. I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.” –T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Last fall/winter semester, I went on some awesome backpacking and hiking adventures in Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I took a lot of pictures of trees and big rocks and stuff…but seriously, it’s so amazing that trees and big rocks and stuff can be so magical and full of life. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures I edited up–you can click on them for bigger sizes. :)

Portable Landscape: Listening Tree

If you know what a “portable landscape” is, you’re probably very artsy. I guess I’m pretty artsy, but it still sounds weird when I try to explain it.

Basically it’s like a place that you’ve made…that you can pick up and move…so it’s not an installation. However, apparently “place” is a very broad term. My professor showed us a picture of a student’s portable landscape made out of a pair of pants with plants growing out of it. Cool story…anyways…I think I’m just gonna call it “three-dimensional art” like normal people do.  

The purpose of the piece was to create a place where I felt at peace or close to God–a place where I felt free. I fused two of such places together: nature and music. For now, I’ve titled it “Listening Tree.”

There may or may not have been music paraphernalia harmed in the making of this project….But I think they like their home a lot better now than when they were trapped inside my CD rack. I used strips of album cover artwork from music that has impacted me artistically, emotionally, and spiritually in both the past and present. Specifically featured appearances are made by Underoath: They’re Only Chasing Safety; ShowbreadNo Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical and Nervosa; Oh SleeperSon of the Morning; Secret & Whisper: Great White Whale; Burden of a Day: Blessed Be Our Ever After; Flyleaf: Flyleaf; Superchic[k]: Beauty From Pain; Chasing Victory: Fiends; As Cities Burn: Come Now Sleep; and The Devil Wears Prada: With Roots and Branches Below.

Other inspirations and influences include: Ansel Adams, Yosemite, Olafur Arnalds, Sigur Ros, Bon Iver, my solo hike in the woods, Family Force 5, the swing under the magnolia tree by my friends’ apartment, and my study abroad term in the mountains. And We Are Ansel…to anyone who is a fan of that band, yes I was thinking of the song “Look at the Tree!” the whole time.