Welcome to nature: These groups are helping make the outdoors more inclusive

Not everyone feels safe or welcome in the outdoors, but a growing number of organizations are working to change that

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro

The outdoors are for everyone—but for many people, especially those from marginalized and underrepresented communities, spending time in nature can feel daunting and uncomfortable.

To combat this, a growing number of organizations are actively working to create safe and welcoming outdoor spaces for people of all backgrounds, cultures, and identities. Here are some of the groups that are working to change the narrative and open doors for a more inclusive outdoors.

Venture Out Project

The Venture Out Project provides a safe and fun space for queer, trans, and LGBTQ+ people to experience the outdoors. Based in Massachusetts, the organization offers queer day hikes and overnight adventures for adults, youth, and families. It also conducts transgender inclusion workshops for educators, businesses, adventure professionals, and other groups.

“My hope is that we change the outdoor industry enough to make it more safe, fun, and affirming for all kinds of people, but especially for trans and queer people,” founder Perry Cohen said in the video REI Presents: Venture Out.

Ana Seiler, Venture Out Project’s marketing and partnerships coordinator, didn’t grow up as an outdoorsy person but became interested in hiking while in college. “I was afraid of things, like doing things outside by myself,” she says. “For someone with a feminine presenting body, that fear is part of our culture.” She took a few solo hikes during her senior year and loved it but lacked some of the skills she needed to feel comfortable in the outdoors. “It’s tough to access outdoor spaces when you don’t have the knowledge or equipment,” she says.

After she graduated, Ana moved to Western Massachusetts and found The Venture Out Project. She joined the group for a day hike up Mount Tom and joined the organization’s staff soon after. “I could feel the pull of the community that I had been secluded from my whole life,” Ana says. “I didn’t know LGBTQ people growing up that I saw myself in. The world opened up to me in a bunch of new ways with The Venture Out Project.”

Though challenged by the pandemic over the past 2 years, The Venture Out Project is once again leading trips throughout the U.S.

a group of people in hiking gear pose for a group photo outside
Outdoor Afro hosts community-based events and nationwide programs promoting diversity in the outdoors. | Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro

Outdoor Afro

Founded in 2009 by Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro is a nationwide organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. With more than 100 volunteer leaders located in 56 cities across the U.S., Outdoor Afro connects more than 40,000 people to nature each year. 

Outdoor Afro regularly hosts meet-ups where participants can enjoy activities like skiing, hiking, camping, bird watching, paddling, and biking. Events are hosted by volunteer leaders who participate in the organization’s annual Outdoor Afro Leadership Training and then work to create outdoor experiences for themselves, their families, and their community.

In addition to community-based events, Outdoor Afro hosts several nationwide programs, including a Juneteenth reflection, scholarships to assist Black youth in learning how to swim, and a celebration of Black History Month.

Latino Outdoors

Latino Outdoors is an organization that focuses on expanding and amplifying the Latinx experience in the outdoors. Founded in 2013 as an online blog and networking platform by José González, the organization has grown into an international volunteer movement, allowing individuals to host outings, provide mentoring experiences, and partner with other organizations around the world. Through leadership and mentorship, Latino Outdoors shares cultural connections and narratives that are uniquely Latinx.

Since its founding, Latino Outdoors has hosted more than 500 Latinx-led outings, launched a storytelling and communications program called Yo Cuento, and supports its growing network of volunteers worldwide with training and leadership opportunities.

“We invite interested members of the Latinx communities and allies to engage with Latino Outdoors regardless of where they live by being guest contributors to our Yo Cuento blog and connecting with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter,” the organization shares.

Diversify Vanlife

Diversify Vanlife was founded in 2019 by Noami Grevemberg and Ola Kalejaye as a safe space for underrepresented travelers in the nomadic and road travel community. “I desperately needed a space where I could connect with other travelers and outdoorists like myself, a space where our voices could be elevated, a space free from the whitewashed narrative typically depicted in the media,” shares Noami on the organization’s website.

Resources on the Diversify Vanlife platform include narratives from those who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S, and those with disabilities; tools for people interested or actively engaging in nomadic travel; podcast episodes; and a database of BIPOC creators and entrepreneurs.

Man using crutches hikes a mountain
Unlikely Hikers is for adventurers of all abilities. | Photo: Shutterstock

Unlikely Hikers

Those who struggle with feeling welcome in the outdoors may find themselves at home with Unlikely Hikers, a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating community for underrepresented outdoor enthusiasts. “Unlikely Hikers is for adventurers who are plus-size and fat, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary, disabled, neurodivergent, and beyond,” says the group. “Regardless of who you are, where you do or don’t fit in, we all have a story about finding ourselves outside.”

Unlikely Hikers is an active Instagram-based community working on expanding its group hike offerings to new locations through an Ambassador Program and group hiking chapters. 

Black Folks Camp Too

Founded by Earl B. Hunter Jr., a former executive in the RV industry, Black Folks Camp Too aims to make it easy, fun, and safe for Black people to go camping. Hunter had the idea to start the organization after taking a 3-month camping trip with his son. They traveled through 20 states and came across only one other Black family camping.

One of the organization’s most recognizable initiatives is the Unity Blaze, a campfire icon printed on flags, patches, and more. Campgrounds, businesses, and individuals displaying the Unity Blaze are signaling that they offer a safe and welcoming space where everyone is treated equally. 

three people pose in the snow
The Oath offers free 2-hour workshops. | Photo courtesy of the Outdoorist Oath.

The Outdoorist Oath

Founded by well-known outdoor inclusivity leaders Teresa Baker (founder of the In Solidarity Project), José González (founder of Latino Outdoors), and Pattie Gonia (Instagram personality and queer environmentalist), The Oath (for short) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to educate and unite outdoor communities with a shared commitment to take action for the planet, inclusion, and adventure. 

The Oath offers free 2-hour workshops that provide an educational foundation for anyone interested in “creating a healthier and better outdoors.” The workshop creates a framework for individuals to explore topics like climate change and environmental justice, inclusivity in outdoor spaces, and connection to nature.

“The Oath and its founders believe individual outdoorists hold the power, privilege, and opportunity to collectively shape the future of the outdoors,” shares the organization.

“Often we don’t know where to start when it comes to allyship or we are afraid we’ll do the wrong thing,” says Pattie Gonia. “Our aim is to provide a starting line and be safe space-makers for people to access free education on allyship in the pieces that make up our industry and our environment—planet, inclusion, and adventure—however that’s defined by you.”

Want to learn even more about organizations working to make the outdoors more inclusive for everyone? Check out these groups: