Hiking during COVID-19: Tips for Recreating Responsibly

Is it ok to hike during COVID-19? Learn exactly what you need to do to be a responsible outdoor enthusiast right now.

Are you itching to hike during COVID-19? I’m definitely craving the physical and mental benefits of the outdoors right now. Nature is a huge part of my life (hence this blog), and it’s always been my go-to when I need inspiration, guidance, and a little peace of mind. So, you’d think that I’d be spending even more time outside than usual now, right?

Well, for for the first two months of quarantine, I actually didn’t hike at all. Of course, getting outside offers a way to clear our heads, but, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, I thought we needed to put our personal needs and desire to adventure aside, while prioritizing the health of others and the greater collective good. And that meant minimizing time away from our house. 

However, as restrictions are loosening up across the country, people are starting to flock to the outdoors as an escape from everything that’s been going. Here in Utah where I live, they are encouraging us to go outside and hike, but in order to be a safe and responsible hiker in the midst of COVID-19, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

Back in early March, right after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, I went hiking and was surprised, and frankly angered, to see many large groups of people together on the trail (not practicing social distancing), and it got me thinking. How can I be a responsible hiker during COVID-19 while abiding by the current CDC guidelines? 

Ultimately, the CDC says the best thing we can do right now is wear a mask and practice social distancing, which is what I’m choosing to do. Not only is my choice driven by a desire to protect my own health and that of my Type 1 Diabetic (immunocompromised) significant other, but the sooner we all act with society’s collective health in mind, the sooner things will go back to normal.  I’ve been using this time to find other ways to stay active indoors. And I’ve also taken this as an opportunity to engage in home-based activities I might not have had time for otherwise

If you’re hoping to hit the trail during this time (assuming your local regulations allow it), there are several critical precautionary steps to keep in mind to keep yourself safe and prevent the spread of the virus. Here are some basic guidelines that were just released by leaders in the outdoor industry for how to #recreateresponsibly.

Ready to hit the trail? In this blog post, I share some tips on how to be a responsible outdoor enthusiast, comply with the recommendations, and hike safely during COVID-19. 

Here’s how to recreate responsibly and hike safely during COVID-19.

Things to Keep In Mind to Hike Safely During COVID-19

Act Like you Have the Virus

How would you behave if you knew you had the virus? There are increasing reports of young people carrying the virus and having zero or very mild symptoms. Further, the incubation period is 14 days, so you could be carrying the disease and not know it. If you go about business as usual, you could be unknowingly spreading it to others, like our parents or people with weakened immune systems (like my partner). First and foremost, be a considerate person, and act like you have the virus. This mindset should guide all of your choices moving forward.

Hike Local

While restrictions are loosening, it still might not be time to head out on a road trip. Before decide to go anywhere, you have the responsibility to check with the local governments in the areas you want to visit to see if visitors are welcome. Rural communities do not have the supplies to handle an influx of visitors. Small-town grocery stores and gas stations have limited access to resupply, and they’re experiencing greater shortages due to an influx of non-resident visitors using this “free time” as a chance to road trip.

Even more importantly, these rural communities do not have the medical resources or facilities to handle an outbreak. For example, the town of Moab, Utah only has 3 ventilators and 17 hospital beds. If this small town (home of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park) were to have an outbreak, they simply do not have the resources and equipment to survive. Their back-up plan is to airlift patients to major hospitals several hours away.

Back in March, the town of Moab had to shut down all non-essential businesses and the national parks, because they had record-breaking numbers of visitors to their national parks despite their requests urging visitors to stay away.

Please, do what you can to reduce the chance of spreading the virus and causing more distress. The best thing to do is to stay local and hike in your town. Besides, some of the greatest gems are right in our own backyard.

Hike Locally during COVID-19

Don’t Carpool or Congegrate in the Trailhead Parking Lot

I know, it’s shocking for me to say that. And, it’s probably the only time you’ll hear me say that. But… it’s the best thing right now. Driving in cars with friends means you’ll be in pretty tight proximity, so it’s advised not to carpool unless you’re driving with the people you live with.

Want to celebrate the hike with a post-trail beer? Go home and have a virtual happy hour. Don’t crack beers and sit on the back of your truck socializing with other hikers.

Practice Social Distancing on the Trail

Social distancing while hiking is just as important as it is in the supermarket. When practiced properly, social distancing works to slow the spread of a contagious disease, in efforts to ensure the healthcare system is able to manage cases as they come.

Your best bet to hike safely during COVID-19 is to only go out with those that live in your household. Because, in all honesty, you’re probably not going to stay 6+ feet away from your hiking partners the whole time, even with the best intentions.

  • Keep your distance from others (6+ feet at least)
  • Try to pick a wider trail and step off the trail to let people pass
  • Don’t use this as a time to socialize in big groups – instead, get some exercise and clear your mind
  • I’ve been wearing a buff that I can pull over my face when I cross paths with other people.
Hikers in Joshua Tree National Park // Hike Safely during COVID-19

Only Go Out with People You Live With

One more time for extra measure. Unless you can be absolutely certain that your friends have been taking quarantine and social distancing as seriously as you, it’s best to only go out with people who live in your household. You have no idea who your friends have been in contact with or how many unnecessary trips they’ve been taking to the grocery store. Many young people are carrying it and have no symptoms, and it’s for the good of the collective to be extra safe right now.

Don’t Pet Dogs (or Let Other People Pet Your Dog)

There seems to be some conflicting advice about whether or not the virus can live on a dog’s skin and fur. The concern here is if the owner has the virus and they kiss/pet their dog, droplets containing the virus might be present on their fur. Just to be safe, avoid petting other people’s dogs right now and try not to have other people pet yours. (I know, it’s tough.)

Hike Safely During COVID-19

Be Prepared

Know before you go. Many visitor centers and bathrooms are closed now throughout state and national parks. If duty calls and you need to go, know the ins and outs of Leave No Trace. (Learn how to poo’ outdoors in this blog post!)

Take your hiking goals down a notch

As I said, visitor centers are closed, bathrooms are locked, and healthcare providers have a lot on their hands right now. Do what you can to prevent accidents from happening. Take extra precautions NOT to get hurt, because if you do, you’ll be putting unneeded strain on the medical system.

Now isn’t the time to take risks and go on the most rugged bike trail, hike, or climb. If you want to hike safely during COVID-19, use this time to go a little slower, enjoy your time outside, and notice the little things.

Climbing is a No-No

Just think about the holds and all the sweaty hands that have grabbed it before you. (Need I say more?) The virus can be transmitted via the hands, so I’d wait it out until everything is in the clear.

Be Self-Sufficient

This one’s for you, van lifers.

I know many of you are facing tough decisions on where to go. If possible, I urge you to find a safe place to park at a friend or family’s house, where you can have some stability. If that’s not an option for you, please make sure you’re completely self-sufficient to minimize your potential impact on towns you travel through. Take some time to plan out your meals for the next 2-3 weeks, then stock up on food and water. And, make sure your gas tank is full. This way, you’ll minimize the number of trips to the grocery store and gas station. If you need more advice about van life and COVID-19, check out this blog post.

Self-Sustained Van Lifer

Go Out in the Off-Hours

You can hike safely during COVID-19 by hitting the trail outside of peak times. A lot of people like to go mid-morning and at sunset. Instead, wake up before sunrise and enjoy a quiet stroll on the trail as the sun comes up. This way, you’ll be done by the time most people are just getting to the trailhead.

Avoid Main Trails

Steer clear of popular trails and look for lesser-known more off-the-beaten-path trails (near your house) to limit the number of people you encounter.

As an avid nature lover and adventurer, the first place I thought of going was outdoors. But, right now, the best thing we can do for the collective good is to stay home and abide by the recommended guidelines.

When we choose to be responsible outdoor enthusiasts, we’re making a choice to contribute to the greater good. But, if you do decide to go out on the trail, please heed these precautions and hike safely during COVID-19.

For more helpful outdoor resources, check out some of our favorite fellow bloggers for inspiration and community: Women Who Hike, Katie Boue’s Outdoor Advocacy Project, and Hiking Misadventures.

There are 7 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

7 Comments on “Hiking during COVID-19: Tips for Recreating Responsibly

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  1. Hey Kristen,
    Great post, especially about only going out with people you live with. I also want people to know that if they do choose to go out, to stay local. Many of these towns people go to for outdoor recreation are very small and limited in resources both personal items and emergency service, so large floods of out-of-towners could put small towns at risk.

    Thanks for your posts love them, stay healthy and safe.


    Thank you for this post. It is the information that is needed. I live in a rural area that has many crowed trails due to its proximity to Portland , Oregon. People were not staying home and were mobbing the Columbia River Gorge trails a few weeks ago during a sunny weekend. Trails and campgrounds, state lands, and developed National Forest lands had to be totally shut down to stop the crowding and influx into our small communities.

      Glad you found this helpful! Unfortunately what you’re describing had been very common and is the reason why parks, beaches, and trails have had to be closed as you said. The sooner everyone does their part by staying home and maintaining distance, the sooner we’ll all be able to get outside again.

    Thank you for doing this. I live on the wasatch front and I see soooooo many people “staying local” but not practicing appropriate behaviors. I hope people heed your advice and we can get back to “normal” sooner than later.

      I live on the Wasatch front too 🙂 Drove up Little Cottonwood the other day and couldn’t believe the number of cars parked at the trailheads.

    Thank you so much for posting this. I felt like I was in the twilight zone with people posting pictures of them on hikes. I live in Denver and have chosen to not hike. Apparently I am a minority. In addition to staying indoors to help stop the spread of covid-19 to other humans, it is also a rare opportunity to let nature recover. I am blown away by folks that I thought were mindful and connected to be so selfish and feel it was still their right to hike.

    I don’t care that much for hiking to be honest but in the past two months I’ve been on way too many hikes (3+ a week) just because my parents want me to get out of the house. My governor won’t put any restrictions on that and it’s making me angry because those long frequent hikes on narrow crowded trails will keep happening.

A little Instamagic