Coronavirus Outbreak: Is it Safe to Hike?

(You can still hold hands with your love on the trail <3 But maintain social distance with anyone you don’t live with!)

When you’re stuck inside from social distancing and “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders, cabin fever is inevitable. It’s important to understand the new outside rules, and what old ones still apply, when you venture out for some sunshine and fresh air during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Coronavirus Outbreak: Is it Safe to Hike? Text over an an imagine of a woman wearing hiking gear in front of a vista of the foothills in Colorado.

Is hiking allowed during the coronavirus outbreak and a “shelter in place” order?

Make sure to first check local regulations before heading outside. They vary widely by region. Here in Colorado, we’re only allowed to leave our homes for the essentials – food, healthcare, pharmacy, and exercise. Unless you work in these places or in delivery, of course. 

So yes, hiking is legally allowed under Colorado’s shelter-in-place rules. But we’re going to have to change the way we hike to slow the spread of covid-19. The biggest thing that changes is that you can’t travel to hike.

Unfortunately, this means city residents can’t leave their city to hike. They can walk around their neighborhood and city parks.

Suburban and rural residents can hike on trails near their homes.

Read on to understand how your hiking habits will have to change during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Hiking Responsibly in the Age of Coronavirus

In order to keep our communities safe when we enjoy the outdoors during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll have to adapt the way we hike. 

STAY LOCAL 

The most important tip for your time outside is to stay local! This means staying in your own city, town, county, or even neighborhood, depending on where you live.

Traveling into nearby mountain towns in order to “get away” is not safe.

The Truth – rural, remote, indigenous, and gateway communities do NOT have the resources to support a viral outbreak. They do NOT have the food and supplies to stock up visitors and travelers in addition to their own populations. Rural towns have very few medical resources – hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators, staff. (Moab, UT has only 3 ventilators!) 

Members of these communities are scared and anxious about visitors passing through their towns on the way to outdoor recreation areas, possibly bringing a virus that can decimate their already strained populations. 

Many of these communities have asked visitors to stay away and closed facilities like parks and campsites. 

This is not the time for road trips, camping trips, backpacking trips, or climbing trips.

Outdoor activists like Katie Boue, Pattie Gonia, and @IndigenousWomenWhoHike are begging their followers to check their privilege and stay home. 

We all need to put the health of our communities first. Our movement directly leads to the spread of this virus. We can stop the coronavirus outbreak from destroying vulnerable populations by not traveling.

This is a great opportunity to explore your own backyard! Take daily walks around your neighborhood or visit parks in your city and county. 

You can use apps and sites like AllTrails, REI’s Hiking Project, and COTREX (Colorado only) to find trails near you. 

Avoid Public Transport and Making Stops in the Car

This kind of sucks for the people without cars, I know. But public transit is notoriously a crowded, germy place and we need to make space for the essential workers who are going to keep us going during this time – medical workers, supermarket employees, etc. 

If you’re driving, go straight to the trailhead and back. Do not make any stops. Have all the food, water, and supplies you need with you. Fill up on gas close to home and use hand sanitizer before/after filling up. 

Practice Social Distancing 

This is probably the only time you’ll hear people say “don’t carpool” but hey, these are weird times!

Avoid carpooling. If you’re meeting a friend, meet at the trailhead and maintain at least a 6ft distance throughout the hike. 

Social distancing does NOT include group hiking trips. Save the group hikes until the coronavirus outbreak has blown over and hike solo or with just one or two friends or others in your household. 

Keep 6ft at least between you and any other hikers you may encounter. This includes at trailheads.

Remember, hikers going downhill yield to hikers going uphill. So if you’re going downhill, step off the trail enough to give the uphill hiker 6ft of space as they pass you. 

Prepare to Pee Outdoors

Even seasoned hikers appreciate the privacy and toilet paper of trailhead restrooms. Unfortunately, most parks are closing facilities like restrooms, visitor centers, and other enclosed spaces to slow down the spread of coronavirus. You should avoid any trailhead facilities you encounter. 

This means that everyone will have to be prepared to relieve themselves outdoors. 

Pack out any waste – yes, this includes poo depending on where you are! It also includes any tissues you may have used (unless you have a Kula cloth!). Check out this chart for what to do when you have to poop outside. 

I typically bring a ziplock baggie and small pack of travel tissues on my hikes. 

Leave No Trace 

Normal rules for not destroying our public lands still apply. There’s no excuse for leaving food wrappers, beer cans, or other waste behind. Pack a plastic bag in your backpack for trash. 

Stay on the trails, keep a safe distance from wildlife, and don’t go starting any fires now! For the full list of 7 LNT Principles, check out this page

Be Extra Careful & Prepared 

Now more than ever, hikers should be prepared and extra cautious while recreating outdoors. 

With the expected overwhelm of the medical system during the coronavirus outbreak, emergency responders may be slower to respond and it might take longer to receive life saving medical care. Don’t take unnecessary risks. 

Check for closures and respect them if the place you want to go is closed. Don’t go. Many parks and trails are closing, including places like Rocky Mountain National Park!

Check the weather before you leave your house. 

Bring the 10 essentials on all your hikes:

  1. Navigation
  2. Sun Protection
  3. Insulation
  4. Illumination
  5. First Aid Supplies
  6. Fire
  7. Repair Kit & Tools
  8. Nutrition
  9. Hydration
  10. Emergency Shelter

And of course, plenty of water!! Don’t plan on having any opportunities to refill your water. 

Let Someone Know Where You Are 

If you’re hiking solo while social distancing, make sure to share your plans with a partner, friend, or roommate before you leave home. Tell them the trail you’ll be taking, when you expect to be home, and instructions for contacting local authorities if you’re not back in time.  

Make sure to call/text them when you return home safe!

Go During Off-Peak Hours 

Even during the coronavirus lockdown, we can still expect peak hours and crowds on weekday evenings and weekends. Many people are still working their 9-5 jobs, just at home. 

Try to hit the trails off-peak – early mornings are great. Midday during the week can be good too. It might take some time for you to figure out the best times for you to be outside to avoid crowds. 

Be Considerate and Practice Social Responsibility

A lot of us are scared, anxious, and worried about our new reality and what the future holds for us. Practice compassion and consideration of other people you encounter on the trail. 

A smile and hello can connect us, even when we have to stay far apart. 

Follow CDC & WHO Guidelines

Everything on the internet is listing the same guidelines about washing your hands and sneezing into a tissue/elbow, so I won’t repeat it all here. 

For a reminder on what health organizations are recommending during this coronavirus outbreak, check out the WHO and the CDC websites. 

Please DO NOT go outside if you think you may be sick! Please, just stay the fuck home until you’re better. 

If It’s Crowded, Leave

Nothing sucks more than having to turn around and go home before a hike.

Actually, that’s not true. A global pandemic definitely sucks more. 

So be honest and be prepared to bail on hikes if social distancing is not possible. 

Avoid really popular areas and check the number of cars at the trailhead. If there are more than a few cars, you may have trouble keeping your distance from others. 

In really dense metropolitan areas, avoiding crowds in parks might be impossible, like at Denver area trails during the weekend. Unfortunately, if crowds continue to happen, parks will be forced to shut down to prevent ANYONE from visiting, like what happened in LA County

If your hiking destination seems crowded, please just leave. It’s not worth it. 

Get to Know Your Neighborhood

Though the trails were packed near my home this past weekend, the streets were empty. You don’t have to leave your neighborhood to get some fresh air and exercise.

Try to get outside on daily walks through your neighborhood. Maybe you’ll find some cool new spots to check out when this is all over.

Do a Virtual Tour of a National Park

Good news! Just because you can’t visit national parks doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy them!

Some national parks offer online tours that you can enjoy straight from your couch. Escape into the worlds of glaciers, lava tubes, canyons, and more during your quarantine. 

Set Up an Indoor Picnic / Campsite

You can take the hiker out of nature but you can’t take nature out of the hiker!

Bring the outdoors in by setting up a picnic or campsite in your home. If you have the space for a tent in your backyard, you’ve got yourself a camping staycation! If not, a picnic spread across the floor of your balcony or living room can still provide a fun escape. 

You can also check out this list of 40+ Stay at Home Date Ideas I created for the couples out there! Though to be honest, lots of these ideas are also great for singles and roommates.

Getting outside is so important for our mental and physical health. By following these guidelines, we can promote our own healthy lifestyles while protecting the health of our communities during the coronavirus outbreak.

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  1. Kimberly says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this information! As someone who lives between the San Juans + Moab, my town has become a haven for those hoping to explore the smaller towns that are now closed to tourists. Staying local is so important at this time! Also, I’m totally setting up my tent now for some at home camping this weekend.

    • Showit User says:

      I’ve been hearing sooo much from people in these communities online about the danger of traveling there. Thank you for adding your perspective.

      Share pics of the living room camping!! 😀

  2. Cara says:

    Such wonderful points you’ve made here! Stay local, keep your distance, and stay safe. Hiking right now is still doable we just need to take other things into consideration now. Thanks for posting!

  3. Lydia says:

    I love hiking! Thanks for all the information.

  4. Lauren says:

    Such good information here!! Thank you so much for doing all this research and sharing, its important for people to read!! 🙂

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