SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month.

Hiking during the coronavirus pandemic? Here's how to stay safe on the trails.

As social distancing guidelines continue another month and temperatures warm up in some regions, many Americans will search for safe outdoor activities. 

Medical experts say hiking is safe as long as you do it alone or with someone from your household at a trail or park that isn't crowded. 

Some trail organizations urge hikers to cancel or postpone their trips to limit the spread of coronavirus. 

In a statement on its website, the Pacific Crest Trail Association says hiking on its trails "runs counter to widely-accepted medical, government, and scientific recommendations."

“Because no one can travel long distances on the PCT and be certain of avoiding any exposure to the coronavirus, and because anyone at any time can be a carrier of the virus without knowing it, it is clear that anyone traveling the PCT and resupplying in communities along the trail represents a serious risk to others on the trail and people in those communities – particularly high-risk individuals for whom the virus could be deadly,” the statement says. 

Trail conservancy groups ask hikers to cancel plans to walk the popular Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trails, which stretch along the East and West Coast, respectively.

Sandra Marra, president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, issued a similar plea to hikers who might consider tackling that trail, which stretches more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine: "Please postpone your section or thru-hike. Instead, consider alternate ways of connecting to the Trail and to the outdoors."

"We do not make this request lightly. We manage and protect the A.T. because it is meant to be hiked," Marra explained. "However, the practices necessary to support a section or thru-hike may make A.T. hikers vectors to spread COVID-19 – whether congregating at shelters or around picnic tables, traveling to trailheads in shuttle vans, or lodging at the various hostels up and down the Trail."

For those intent on traveling the Appalachian Trail, a bucket-list hike for many outdoor enthusiasts, Marra suggests beginning their trips somewhere other than the usual, crowded start points in Georgia. Marra's advisory says to expect fewer support services and businesses along the way.

You may not be planning such an epic hike, but if you do hit the trails, here are some tips: 

Keep away from other hikers

Outdoor groups say that although hiking is safe, you should do so alone or with people you live with.

If you encounter a crowded trail or overlook, park officials recommend going elsewhere to ensure social distancing. 

The Washington (State) Trails Association advises hikers to stay at least 6 feet apart and cover coughs or sneezes with an elbow. The association says hikers should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before touching anything when they get home. 

Hiking should be done alone or with people from the same household, says Sean O’Leary of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases. 

Don't take unnecessary risks 

A hiker climbs down from the Angels Landing summit.

Medical experts and park officials say hikers should avoid areas that could result in injury.

“Our emergency responders are limited right now,” says Michelle Thompson, spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “They’re busy working on a lot of other situations. We don’t want to have people putting themselves at risk on a trail and using those resources.”

The Washington Trails Association says hikers should not venture to spaces that might pose hazards that could lead to a fall or injury, necessitating a rescue. 

Hikers should take shorter hikes close to home instead of embarking on long-distance treks. 

“If you have not yet started your trip, stay home or consider hiking shorter segments along the trail where you can be fully self-sufficient without relying on others to help you with transportation, food and other services," Arizona Trail Association executive director Matt Nelson wrote in a blog post. 

Stay local 

If hikers travel to trails in rural areas, the Washington Trails Association urges them to keep their gas tanks full and bring food. This helps to avoid depleting the resources in smaller communities. 

Better yet, the group advises hikers to visit trails in their own communities rather than run the risk of spreading the virus to other areas.

"Let's all keep our rural neighbors safer by sticking close to home, especially if you are in a major population center in the middle of an outbreak," the association says. "Think of your front door as your personal trailhead, and let your feet do the rest."

Need a social-distancing-friendly activity? Improve your outdoor skills

Coronavirus closures:  These national and state parks are closed amid coronavirus outbreak