Hiking during Covid-19

I was hoping I wouldn't have to devote a page of my blog to resources on hiking during the Covid-19 pandemic; back in March, I was hoping along with the rest of us that the United States would have effectively suppressed its outbreak in the same way that Canada, Western Europe, and China among other countries were eventually able to do. But here we are: it's about to be August and Covid-19 is still raging across much of the country. It's difficult to strike an appropriate tone when writing about something as trivial as hiking when 150,000 Americans have died. But hiking and a few other outdoor activities are among the few safer options for recreation and exercise during this trying time for us all. Below are some tips on how to stay safe on the trail in Covid-19 America:

1. Adhere to state and local public health guidelines and rules. Many states have restrictions on travel from other states; even if they are loosely enforced, these restrictions have been set in order to reduce the unchecked spread of the virus and we should adhere to them.

2. Stay (reasonably) close to home. The virus can't spread if people don't travel. Staying local to recreate can both help you avoid contracting the virus elsewhere and prevent you from unwittingly being an asymptomatic vector. Of course, it's possible to hike at a location a couple of hours away without ever having to come in contact with others; for residents of large metropolitan areas, traveling further may make it easy for you to social distance. If you choose to do so, understand the risks and double check your preparedness to avoid having to make stops far from home. Avoid crossing state lines when possible, as changing outbreak conditions may lead to complicated new quarantine rules and situations.

3. Find trails where you can social distance. Hikes where you can maintain physical distance from others and avoid crowds will naturally be a bit safer than hikes where you must frequently come within six feet of others. What sort of trails allow you to social distance? Pick hikes that give plenty of passing room (fire roads allow for more distancing than single track trails). Avoid the most popular hikes (Seattle hikers should avoid Mount Si, Rattlesnake Ledge, and the Paradise area of Mount Rainier this summer, while Virginia hikers should find alternatives to Old Rag, Whiteoak Canyon, and Stony Man). Unfortunately, finding hikes where one can social distance may often be in conflict with staying close to your residence- use your judgement to minimize exposure risks for both yourself and others.

Are you having trouble figuring out which trails might be better for social distancing? We've compiled lists of good hikes for social distancing in Virginia, the Pacific Northwest, and California.

4. Bring a mask or other face covering. Over the past few months, trail etiquette in parts of the country have adapted to the pandemic. As you'll inevitably still pass other people on the trail, it's a courtesy to others to bring some form of mask. While it's probably okay to have your mask off during your hike when there's no one else around, mask up when you approach others. Also, you should always wear a mask if you need to enter any indoor space during your hiking outing. 

4. Step off the trail and yield to other hikers. Standard hiking etiquette dictates that downhill hikers yield to uphill; in these times, you should yield the trail to others regardless of direction if there is someplace safe for you to do so. While stepping off the trail is bad hiking etiquette in many places, doing so to give others some physical distance while they pass is probably okay during a pandemic.

6. Hike with people within your quarantine bubble. This isn't the time for gathering in large groups to go hiking. When possible, stick to hiking with people who you've quarantined with or limit yourself to hiking with just one or two other quarantine groups and practice social distancing if you really have a need to socialize while you hike.

7. Stay home if you feel sick. This can't be emphasized enough and it applies to more than being sick with Covid-19. Even if you're noticeably sick with Covid-19, if you require health care attention far from home you could either expose other people if asymptomatic or just pose a general drain on already strained health care resources.

8. Leave No Trace. The standard hiking advice of Leave No Trace applies now more than ever: many trailheads no longer have trash collection or have locked bathrooms during the pandemic, making packing out your waste more important than ever.

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