How to Hike Healthy + Responsibly

March 17, 2020
News
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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

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

Update March 23: 

We take the responsibility of caring for the people who protect and use trails very seriously. Overcrowding on trails—even trails normally not well-traveled—has made social distancing difficult, if not impossible. As parks throughout the region close to protect public safety, 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. Staying home is the safest option during this time. Get some fresh air in your backyard, start seeds or another gardening project, or take a walk around the block. But please, stick close to home.

Need to Know:

  • Stay Home

    Staying home is the safest option at this time. If you are not well, stay home except to receive medical care.

  • Stay Local

    Do not travel. Avoid popular areas. Expect trailheads and parking areas to be at capacity. Prepare alternatives ahead of time. NYS parks and NJ parks are your best resources for up-to-date information on closures. Check these pages before you head out.

  • Stay Solo

    Practice social distancing. Keep a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others.

  • Stay Safe

    Our medical professionals and first responders are already overburdened. Refrain from risky activity that could result in injury. Always stay on the trail. Know that some trails in our region may still have areas of ice and snow.


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 social 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. The Trail Conference is 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 close to protect public safety, 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. Staying home is the safest option during this time.

That said, according to the Los Angeles Times, medical experts say “individuals should take part in any outdoor activity they feel healthy enough to do while practicing social distancing recommendations. Of course, if you’re feeling sick and have a cough, don’t go out and do any activity.”

Right now, if you do choose to go outside stay local. Do not travel. Most state parks in both New York and New Jersey remain open, with facilities like restrooms closed. NYS parks and NJ parks are your best resources for up-to-date information on closures. Check these pages before you head out. 

Avoid popular areas. Expect trailheads and parking areas to be at capacity. Prepare local alternatives ahead of time. Remember: Stay close to home in your outdoor adventures out of consideration for other communities. 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. Indoors or out, everyone should be aware of—and follow—the latest guidance of the CDC.

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 destinations such as Breakneck Ridge and the Appalachian Trail’s Pochuck Boardwalk 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 Morris, Passaic, and Sussex counties in New Jersey and Orange, Putnam, and Westchester counties in New York. It also includes free map downloads!

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. And note that some seasonal park road closures may still be in effect, and many of the trails in the Catskills still have plenty of ice or snow.

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 nynjtc.org. 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. 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.

As long as authorities keep parks open, the Trail Conference is recommending you get a daily dose of vitamin nature. But remember to do it safely and responsibly, with Leave No Trace principles in mind.

Remember: The safest place right now is at home.