Tips for Hiking in the Time of COVID-19
Hiking is one outdoor activity that can be done with proper phyiscal distance. But because COVID-19 remains a major health risk, experts advise everyone to engage common sense and to remain vigilant — even if it’s just to enjoy a soul-lifting hike in a state park or other greenspace.
Editor’s note: The following tips were originally published this past spring, when city, county, state and national parks were beginning to reopen, but they remain relevant to our current situation in fall 2020.
If you want to head out for a hike, it’s best to check with the particular destination you are planning to visit prior to embarking. It also is wise to have an alternative destination or two in mind in the event your original plan has to be aborted because of crowding or park conditions, advised Tor Bell, field programs director for the conservation group Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
Bell also stressed that park visitors should only “recreate with immediate household members, because we don’t want this to become another vector for spreading the disease.”
“Because of the coronavirus, around the country there is a real push to send the message to recreate responsibly,” he said this past spring.
Bell suggested hikers keep in mind the essentials before hitting the trail. That means equipping yourself with navigation gear, such as a map and compass; a flashlight with extra batteries; sun protection; a first aid kit; a knife; a lighter or matches; portable shelter, such as a light bivy sack; and extra food, water and clothes.
Bell added that park staff also might be dealing with resource shortages like the rest of us, which means hikers should come prepared with extra hygiene-related supplies and remember that “if you’re going to pack it in, [then] pack it back out.”
“Visitors should come prepared with their own handwashing supplies and toilet paper as some parks may have limited restroom facilities,” said Anna Gill, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Jessi Loerch, spokesperson for the Washington Trails Association and editor of the organization’s magazine, stressed that observing social-distancing guidelines while enjoying nature is a must.
“We’re encouraging folks to go places they can get to and from on a single tank of gas,” she said this past spring. “Also, when choosing a hike this time of year, remember that trails at lower elevations are more likely to be snow-free.”
Bell suggested that hikers should consider exploring lesser-known trails that are less likely to attract crowds, to be thoughtful about “the community you’re entering” and to also respect park staff and regulations — including how to recreate responsibly during COVID-19. He also reminded hikers to be thoughtful about stepping off a trail and to avoid cutting new trails because that creates “a lot of trail-maintenance” issues for already overtaxed park employees and volunteers.
Hikers also should keep tabs on weather and park conditions before heading out for a trek through nature — with snow, water, mud, downed trees and bad roads all potential issues. Bell advised park visitors to be mindful of the demands placed on park search-and-rescue teams as well, reminding folks to stay home if they are feeling sick and to avoid taking unnecessary risks while hiking.
Bell offered the following list of less-traveled potential hiking destinations: Squak Mountain State Park and the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, as well as the following trails managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources — Mount Teneriffe and Granite Creek Trail to Granite Lakes. Check out this list of Washington state parks that have re-opened for day visits.
Clay Jacobson, trails program director at the Idaho Trails Association, added that there also are many great hiking trails in Idaho, which boasts a large network of state parks as well as a number of breathtaking national parks. “Hells Canyon, Rapid River and the Salmon River outside of Riggins offer impressive canyon hiking at low elevations,” he says “You can contact the local U.S. Forest Service district to find out information about trail conditions or access.”
Craig Quintana, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, echoed the advice to plan ahead.
“Be prepared for the conditions with water-resistant, warm gear,” Quintana said.
Most of all, Bells said, hikers should exhibit patience with other people they meet on the trail and particularly with park staff.
“We ask folks to recognize that they [park staff] are doing their best,” Bell said this past spring. “These folks are all out there working hard, and it’s not going to be like it was. So, just have some patience with folks and recognize that they’re doing their best to get it all up and going again.”
–Written by Bill Conroy in May 2020. Updated in November 2020.
–Written by Bill Conroy