How to Hike Healthy + Responsibly

March 17, 2020
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


How to Hike Healthy + Responsibly
Family Hiking the Blue Mountain Loop in Stokes State Forest, New Jersey. Photo credit: Jeremy Apgar


This article was edited on 5/15/20 to reflect the easing of restrictions on activities in the midst of COVID-19. Specific tips for hiking in the era of physical distancing can be found here.

Looking to get outside? Wondering if it’s safe to hike right now? The Trail Conference has your answers!

Coronavirus has suddenly changed the way we go about our everyday lives. Talking or thinking about the current pandemic and how our individual choices may inadvertently affect public health at large has become all-consuming. But while physical distancing may be a new practice, it doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors for the foreseeable future. In fact, to stay healthy and happy during this unprecedented moment, everyone from medical professionals to elected officials such as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo are encouraging people to get outside and connect with nature.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is a volunteer-powered nonprofit founded in 1920 to help people discover the restorative benefits of nature. We are a resource to ensure you have all the information you need to have a safe, enjoyable experience outdoors. Check out the tips below, or reach out to @nynjtc on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with your questions.

Is it safe to hike, run, or bike outdoors right now?

As parks throughout the region begin to reopen, the Trail Conference is asking our volunteers and trail users to be a part of the solution. We must all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Park agencies and health officials continue to recommend keeping your outdoor activities close to home. Particularly if you live in a highly affected region, please be mindful of the distance you travel and respect communities that have not been as impacted. Aim to keep your visits short. Remember: Not all parks are open! Before heading out, check park info and trail alerts for closures. NYS parks and NJ parks are your best resources for up-to-date information. Check these pages before you head out. 

Wear a mask or other face covering, especially near parking lots and busy areas. Avoid popular areas. Expect trailheads and parking areas to be at capacity. Prepare local alternatives ahead of time. If you find yourself on a crowded trail, keep a considerable distance from others; the suggested distance is 6 feet. As always, keep your group sizes small on the trail; go out with only those in your immediate household. Indoors or out, everyone should be aware of—and follow—the latest guidance of the CDC and their state governments.

Can you recommend a hike near me?

As caretakers of the region’s parks and trails for 100 years, the Trail Conference community is made up of lots of hiking experts happy to assist in finding the right hike for you! One of the best pieces of advice they’ll offer: Avoid popular trails, particularly during peak days, such as weekends. Keep in mind that people may be visiting trails more than usual even on weekdays right now. Not only will these destinations be crowded, the trails and land literally cannot handle that much use. The Trail Conference has several webpages and articles on finding underutilized trails that are still fun and rewarding. Check them out on our Top Trails page. Our How to Hike a Trail Less Traveled article gives recommendations on great hikes in New York and New Jersey, organized by county.

Or use the Hike Finder tool, which allows you to search for hikes by difficulty, length, and features, such as accessible trails or waterfalls. There, you can also view a list of all hikes or list of all parks to find your next adventure.

Either way, plan ahead to have alternative hikes ready to go in case trailhead parking lots are full. If parking is full, please go to a different trailhead.

What do I need to know before hiking?

Using good hygiene will help protect the land you love—and other hikers. Pack out all trash including food wrappers and tissues. And for the love of trails, don’t leave your toilet paper on the side of the trail; practice either carrying out your TP or burying it using a cat hole technique. Carry hand sanitizer with you and avoid contact with others. Avoid touching your face.

The Trail Conference encourages all trail users to learn, practice, and share these and other Leave No Trace principles. These simple steps keep you safe and help protect the environment.

Leave No Trace includes:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
    Know park regulations before you go. You can find information for most state parks in our region at Make sure to bring a map! Take advantage of the Trail Conference’s digital map offerings.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
    Stay on the trail!
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
    Whatever you carry in on your hike, you must carry out. Don’t expect to find a trash can! Bring a bag to carry out your waste.
  4. Leave what you find.
    Don’t pick flowers or carve into trees. Take only photos!
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
    Much of our area is currently under a burn ban to reduce the risk of wildfire.
  6. Respect wildlife.
    Do not approach animals. Do not attempt to feed them.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.
    Do your part to respect others’ experience connecting with nature.

Learn more on our Trail Resources page. 

What should I bring on my hike?

It’s important to be prepared on your hike. That means knowing where you’re going and carrying a physical and/or digital map, as well as wearing weather-appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes. These days, essentials include a face covering and hand sanitizer. Bring plenty of water and snacks and a bag to carry out your trash. It’s always a good idea to carry a first-aid kit and knife or multi-tool as well. 

We also recommend carrying a small boot brush to clean your boots and gear before and after your hike. Why? Invasive species love to hitchhike in the dirt that gets stuck in your gear. And these weeds and pests are massive threats to our native habitats. Give invasive species the brush off! Remember: Play, Clean, Go.

For hikes in the backcountry where being self-sufficient is important to your well-being, the 10 Essentials is recommended.

The 10 Essentials list includes:

  1. Navigation
    Map, compass, GPS system
  2. Sun protection
    Sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, sunscreen
  3. Insulation
    Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell
  4. Illumination
    Flashlight, headlamp, extra batteries
  5. First-aid kit
    Including foot care, insect repellent, personal necessities as needed
  6. Fire
    Matches, lighter, fire starters
  7. Repair kit and tools
    Knife or multi-tool, duct tape
  8. Nutrition
    Food, plus extra
  9. Hydration
    Water, water treatment supplies
  10. Emergency shelter
    Tent, space blanket, tarp, bivy

The services of our medical professionals and first responders are already stressed at this time. Please do not put unnecessary strain on already strained resources by venturing out for a hike unprepared.

To learn even more outdoor skills and prepare for your next adventure, check out our Online Learning Library for on-demand content. Or sign up for a live webinar! We’re posting new digital workshops and presentations frequently.