FAQ: How You Can Enjoy the Trails While Social Distancing

We get it. Shelter in place orders, quarantines, and social distancing are complicated. Different municipalities and states have slightly different rules, so it can be hard to know what you can and can’t do. And especially for those of us who like to get outdoors, the instinct to “get away” and head off the grid might be at odds with some of the directions we’re hearing these days. The simple answer—just stay home—frankly may be the best thing we can do to slow the spread of this virus, and the easiest way to ensure we’re not doing anything that could cause problems for ourselves and other people. But at the same time, we need fresh air to maintain our own health and sanity. So how do you balance those two competing needs?

Step one: Know the rules in your local area. Read and understand the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then study up on any regulations and guidelines that have been put in place by your state, county, or municipality, as well as any closures of local parks, trailheads, and facilities. Whether you’re under a full shelter in place order or not, it’s good practice for us all to be following the same general guidelines to help slow down this virus. These answers have been written to apply to the vast majority of people—most orders allow for some level of physical exercise—but be sure you understand what your local recommendations and requirements are.

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If I was told to shelter in place, can I still go for a hike/bike ride/climb?

Yes! Getting exercise is not only important for your sanity, but it’s also a vital part of keeping your immune system up and running. But while at this time of year we might normally be thinking about driving to the next state over to climb a 4000-footer or dusting off our climbing shoes, we need to scale back quite a bit during this crisis. For starters, staying close to home to avoid being a part of the virus’s spread, keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and any other people, and staying home entirely if you’re sick at all, are critical. And as you would anywhere else, practice good hygiene by washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, coughing into your elbow, and drinking enough fluids to keep your immune system healthy.

How far away from home can I go for a hike?

The simple answer is that this might be a great time to get reacquainted with your local neighborhood park and staying on the trails nearest to home. If you need to do much driving to get there, consider finding someplace closer. Stopping for gas (inevitable at some point, even if it’s not on this particular trip), or to get snacks, or use the bathroom increases your interaction with public spaces and the chance that you could pick up or spread the disease. While most parks and public lands are still open, check before you head out, just to be sure.

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Should someone from an at-risk group do things differently than someone who is less at-risk?

Let’s get one thing straight: Everyone is at risk. While younger, active people have definitely been impacted less by the virus, they have been shown to be the biggest transmitters of it. Without any symptoms, it’s easy to assume you’re safe and continue on your day-to-day, but if you are carrying the virus, you could be spreading it without even knowing.

That being said, older people and those with underlying health conditions should be extra precautious to avoid picking up the virus themselves, and should consider staying even closer to home.

What if I’m not going to a populated area, and just headed to a quiet little mountain town instead?

Bad idea. While heading up to isolated North Conway, Keene Valley, or Millinocket might seem like a good way to escape the virus, each visitor to those towns increases the risk that the virus will appear there. And more than most places, the virus is something that those towns simply can not handle, thanks to smaller hospitals, fewer medical professionals, and less equipment. Steer clear of these places to avoid putting the local residents at risk. Once again, it’s best to stick close to home.

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Can I go with friends or should I go solo? What about my dog?

Avoid large groups and keep a healthy distance from everyone—6 feet is recommended. If you want to get out with a buddy rather than going solo, that will always increase your safety on the trail, but consider doing some things a little differently. Maybe now isn’t the best time to be meeting new hiking buddies on Facebook or elsewhere. Stick to friends who you know and trust to vouch for their health and sanitation. Also consider driving separately to trailheads. It’s difficult to maintain 6 feet of separation with a buddy if you’re in the same car. Sharing a tent with a friend might also be out, for now.

Experts don’t believe your pup can get this particular strain of coronavirus, so get them some fresh air, too! Just be wary of strangers petting your dog and potentially transmitting the virus to its fur, before snuggling up with the pup at home at night.

Am I allowed to get sendy?

With emergency workers and medical professionals a little preoccupied by the virus, now might not be the best time to go particularly hard and put yourself at risk of injury. Dial it back, make conservative decisions, and stay safe to avoid needing to take a doctor away from someone who is really sick. Carry a first aid kit, stick to trails you know, and don’t do anything particularly risky or challenging, right now. On a similar note, while getting exercise can boots your immune system, overexercising and pushing yourself physically can take a toll.

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What if I see other people on the trail?

Again: 6 feet of distance. Say “hi” and be your friendly self, but give others as wide a berth as possible. If that not possible, either because of the trail or the number of people on it, consider choosing a different place to go that day. Think about your objective when you pull into the trailhead. If it’s too crowded, you could be putting yourself or the others on the trail at-risk.

Is it safe to go skiing even if all the resorts are shut down?

Earning your turns can be one of the best ways to milk every last day out of your ski season if the resorts are shut down, and skinning at the resort is one of the best ways to be introduced to ski touring generally. But keep in mind: Uphilling during the open season includes the promise of groomed trails, marked obstacles, ski patrol assistance, and avalanche mitigation. With the resorts closed, it might as well be a day in the backcountry. Be prepared for that. If you don’t have ski touring experience, consider going with a friend who does (staying 6 feet away from them, of course), carrying all the gear you would have for a day in the backcountry, and having avalanche safety knowledge. And again—Keep it mellow.

Have another questions? Leave it in the comments!