Ready to Hike? Read This First

Tips for Hiking Now

Spring is in the air and the allure of nature is in full bloom as some 100 state parks in Washington begin to open for day visits after being closed to the public for more than a month. In addition, Idaho prepares to welcome campers to its nearly 30 state parks at the end of May for the first time since late March.

Yes, the ice around our self-quarantine existence is starting to break up a bit, although the coronavirus that sparked stay-at-home orders across the country still poses a danger to us all. So, experts advise everyone to engage our common sense and to remain vigilant as we take the first small steps back into our world — even if it’s just to enjoy a soul-lifting hike in a state park or other greenspace.

Across Washington and Idaho, city, county, state and national parks are subject to various orders governing when they can open and under what conditions. This amazing network of parks and greenspaces, overseen by a jigsaw puzzle of government agencies, are in various stages of phasing in public-opening schedules. Plus, those plans are subject to day-to-day changes, depending on a number of factors — including weather, park conditions and crowding issues. 

Hiking Essentials

If you want to take advantage of the spring bloom and 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, advises Tor Bell, field programs director for the conservation group Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

Bell also stresses 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 says.

Bell suggests hikers keep in mind the “10 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 adds that park staff also are 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.”

“As we begin the process of reopening, visitors should come prepared with their own handwashing supplies and toilet paper as some parks may have limited restroom facilities,” says Anna Gill, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Social Distancing

Jessi Loerch, spokesperson for the Washington Trails Association and editor of the organization’s magazine, stresses that while some parks are starting to re-open, broader stay-at-home orders are still in effect, adding 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 says. “Also, when choosing a hike this time of year, remember that trails at lower elevations are more likely to be snow-free.” 

Bell suggests 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 reminds 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 to contend with during the spring season. Bell advises 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.

Hiking Trails

Bell offers 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 ResourcesMount 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, adds 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, warns that some trails in Idaho are wet or snow-covered in the spring. He says dry trails are typically found in southern Idaho this time of year, in state parks such as Bruneau Dunes and Eagle Island. Quintana adds that trails elsewhere can be damp or even snowy in parts — such as Heyburn and Ponderosa state parks. State parks in Idaho are scheduled to open to campers on May 30, the same date the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors is slated to be lifted under Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan.

 “Plan ahead,” Quintana says, “and be prepared for the conditions with water-resistant, warm gear.”

Most of all, Bells says, hikers this spring 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 says. “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

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