The New Hiking How-tos
Guidelines for outdoor recreation have changed. Here's what you need to know.
As caretakers of the region’s trails and natural areas, the Trail Conference puts the safety of our service members, staff, and trail users first and foremost. As restrictions on activity begin to ease in the midst of COVID-19, safety remains our number one priority.
When heading outdoors, the following is recommended:
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—the virus is still spreading. Check out “less traveled” trails to avoid popular areas that already see an abundance of foot traffic, both for your safety and protection of the land, and use our Hike Finder tool and Top Trails page to find the right trail for you. Aim to keep your visits short. Remember: Not all parks are open! Before heading out, check park info and trail alerts for closures.
Avoid crowds and groups. Recreate only with members of your immediate household.
Take note of several hikes in the area you plan to visit. It’s good to have alternatives ready to go in case trailhead parking lots are full. Most amenities—such as bathrooms—remain closed in many parks that are open, and parking restrictions are in effect in almost all areas. Consider alternative days and times to go out; expect parking areas to be at capacity very early on weekends. If parking lots are full, do not park along roadsides or other undesignated areas. You may be ticketed.
Wear a face covering when you cannot maintain physical distancing, especially in parking lots and at the trailhead. Keep a distance of 6 feet or more from others. Alert others as you’re about to pass, or step aside to let people pass. Our medical professionals and first responders are already overburdened. Refrain from risky activity that could result in injury.
It’s important to be prepared on your hike. That means wearing weather-appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes. These days, outdoor essentials also include a face covering and hand sanitizer. It also means knowing where you’re going and carrying a physical and/or digital map—don’t rely solely on trail markers or the person ahead of you. Bring plenty of water and snacks and a bag to carry out your trash.
The Trail Conference encourages all trail users to learn, practice, and share the seven Leave No Trace principles. These simple steps keep you safe and help protect the environment. Particularly with many people using disposable masks and gloves, be sure to bag and carry out your own disposable protective gear.
We are eager to resume the care of parks and trails to help ensure everyone has a safe, enjoyable experience in nature. With that in mind, please understand that many trails have been without volunteer attention for the entire spring and may be overgrown or visibly in need of maintenance. Not all parks are allowing volunteer activity to resume, and not all volunteers are comfortable getting out just yet. Be understanding and patient in the coming months as we work to bring all trails back to their best condition. If you encounter trail conditions that are damaged or unsafe, use our Trail Issue Report to let us know.
To learn more about how the Trail Conference’s efforts today are improving your future outdoor experiences, learn about our Recovery and Response initiative.