We all need recreation, even in this risky time. One enjoyable thing still open to us is walking outdoors, on our own or with a bubble-buddy or two, whether for a few hours or a few days. And right now trails are uncrowded (especially with global warming conditions) in many areas.
But … in this pandemic year, with the coronavirus very much with us, you really need to consider special situations and follow rules.
State guidelines eased over the summer. Some mountain huts were reopened for daytime use, and many railheads and camping sites were reopened. Covid-19 safety guidelines, including social distancing and masks, continue to be encouraged by the CDC and state departments of health.
The Appalachian Mountain Club urges hikers to be prepared and follow state and federal safety guidelines. Organizations such as RecreateResponsibly.org, a national coalition of major outdoor retailers and organizations, created their own guidelines during the pandemic, to ensure safety while encouraging hikers to enjoy the outdoors.
Some basics to keep in mind, whether you’re off on a multi-day hike or a day hike, close to home. And check ahead for latest info.
Plan. Seek uncrowded areas, and be sure the area in which you want to hike is open. If you’re taking a day hike, seek trails that you can get to and back home from on a tank of gas. Read the rules and restrictions posted on park, forest or beach websites. Choose backup trails if your first pick is crowded, and be sure to notify whoever you left your hiking itinerary with about any changes. Restrooms are likely to be closed, so go before you leave home, and factor that issue in as you hike, to seek out appropriate areas.
Pack. Carry food, hand sanitizer, soap, toilet paper and other necessities, as park stores and facilities may be closed. Prepare for variable late-fall weather.
Practice social distancing. Trail users may want to stick to wide fire roads to make distancing easier. Stay a minimum of six feet from others, and make eye contact to let them know if you plan to step off trail, to allow them to pass safely. If you’re behind a slower hiker, let them know you want to pass so they can step aside, with a polite, “On your right (or left)!”
If you’re coming towards each other, make eye contact. Trail etiquette states the person going uphill has right of way, but not everyone knows this. If there’s confusion, communicate. And keep in mind a “thank you!” or giving a little wave. Consideration of other trail users is part of what makes hiking so special.
Wear a mask. If you’re on a narrow trail, use a face covering as you pass. The rate of Covid-19 transmission is dramatically lower outdoors, but wearing a face covering while passing others shows respect, and models good behavior. At a minimum, wear a gaiter, buff or scarf that you can pull up as needed.
Avoid high risk situations. Rescue teams may have scaled back volunteer operations during this pandemic, and you don’t want to pressure search-and-rescue and healthcare personnel. Staying out of the hospital is a good idea, for many reasons.
Leave no trace. Pack out your trash, including food waste, and dog poop bags, and take what you brought with you, back out. You may need to bring things all the way home, since there may be no trailhead trash service. Leave the land as you found it, and respect public lands and communities. For more best practices in the outdoors check out Leave No Trace.