Is it possible to hike responsibly during COVID-19? In response to Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order, those of us living in Washington state have spent the last 40+ days stuck inside our homes or urban hiking within our neighborhoods. For someone who loves spending time outside as much as I do, this last month and a half has been extremely challenging, especially with all the nice weather we’ve been having here in Seattle. All I want to do is head for the mountains and get out on a trail.

Washingtonians finally got some good news this week. On Tuesday, May 5th, some of our state parks, trailheads and state managed lands here in Washington state will be opening back up for outdoor recreation! At last, we can start getting back outside and go hiking!

As parks, trailheads and recreation areas slowly start to open back up for business, each one of us must take precautions to be safe and socially responsible when recreating outdoors. Yes, it is possible to hike responsibly during COVID-19. Here are six ways for staying safe and being socially responsible when getting outside:

1 – Respect the Closures

Not all of the outdoor recreation areas here in Washington will be open for business on Tuesday, May 5th. This initial re-opening of recreation areas in Washington is only for some state parks, trailheads and state-managed lands, not all of them. As of May 5th, all national parks and national forests will remain closed.

The easiest way to see which parks, trailheads and lands will be open and which of them will remain closed is to visit the Washington State Parks website.

Another way to find state parks, trailheads and lands managed by the state is by using the WTA Hike Finder Map. Under Trail Features & Ratings, look for the Parking Pass/Entry Fee section and select Discover Pass. This will pull up a list of state parks and trailheads located on state managed land in the state of Washington. A good rule of thumb – if you need a Discover Pass, it’s a state park, trailhead or land managed by Washington state.

You can also visit the Washington Trails Association website and search by a park or trailhead specifically to get up-to-date opening and closure information. If a park or trail is closed, there will be a closure alert on the page in red.

A Discover Pass is required for parking a vehicle at any state park, trailhead or land managed by the state. Don’t have a Discover Pass? Click here to purchase a Discover Pass online.

2 – Stay Local

Staying local means choosing a park, trailhead or hike that you can get to and back home on one tank of gas. This is to reduce to the impact of putting small, rural communities at risk for a COVID-19 outbreak. For now, only choose destinations that are close to home and don’t require you stop anywhere along the way. As of May 5th, only day use of state parks and lands is being allowed. Overnight camping is still off limits everywhere.

3 – Plan Ahead

Hiking responsibly right now means driving from your home to the trailhead and then back home, without stopping anywhere along the way. Planning is always a good practice when adventuring outdoors, but it is especially important during COVID-19. Planning ahead means:

  • Knowing ahead of time where you’re going. Do your research on what parks, trailheads and lands will be open. Visit the Washington State Parks website to see the most up-to-date list of state parks that will be open and a list of parks that will remain closed. You can also visit the Washington Trails Association website and search by a park or trailhead specifically to get up-to-date opening and closure information.
  • Filling up your gas tank somewhere within your neighborhood before leaving for your adventure.
  • Being flexible with your plans. Have a Plan A, but if you show up to the parking lot and it’s more than half-way full, the area will more likely get crowded. Avoid crowding and spread out. Have a Plan B and C, just in case.
  • Packing the 10 Essentials in your pack.
  • Having enough food and water, not only for your hike, but also for the ride to the trailhead and on the way home. Remember, during this phase of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order, there’s no stopping anywhere along the way home for a meal.
  • Bringing a mask/Buff/something to cover your face and use it when encountering other hikers on trail.
  • Having a toilet kit in your pack and stock it with toilet paper, a trowel, hand sanitizer and wag bags/dog bags. Even if a park or trailhead is open, it doesn’t mean that the facilities will be accesible. Be prepared and know how to poop outside. If you have a dog, please clean up after your pet. Carry used dog bags with you. Don’t ever leave them along the trail, thinking you’ll pick them up on your way back to the trailhead.

4 – Practice Social Distancing

For now, only go hiking with people you live with and have been quarantining with. Now is not the time to meet up with friends and family living in other households at the trailhead. Keep your hiking group as small as possible.

On trail, practice proper hiking etiquette out of respect for your fellow hikers. When approaching other hikers, step to the side of the trail and give each other plenty of space to pass. Always maintain at least six feet from one another. Always give uphill hikers the right away or at least the option to keep going. When coming up behind another hiker, give them a verbal warning letting them know that you’re there. Approaching a hiker from behind and saying “coming up on your right” or “coming up on your left” will help ensure you don’t surprise the hiker and it gives them a chance to pull off to the side of the trail and give you room to pass safely.

5 – Leave No Trace

Whether were in the middle of a pandemic or not, always practice the Leave No Trace principles whenever recreating outdoors, especially when disposing of waste properly. Whatever you bring with you on trail needs to leave with you from the trail. Garbage facilities may not be available at many state parks and trailheads at this time. Be prepared to pack out all of your trash, including toilet paper and your dog’s poop. Bring something to use as a garbage bag, store your trash securely in your pack and dispose your garbage at home.

6 – Play It Safe

When selecting your hiking destination, only choose trails that are within your skillset, to eliminate as much risk as possible. Now’s not the time to take any unnecessary risks. Be smart, responsible, self-reliant and make good choices.

The “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order here in Washington is still in effect through May 31st. The opening of some state parks, trailheads and state parks is a trial run for now and is by no means permanent. It’s up to all of us outdoor enthusiasts here in Washington state, to abide by the restrictions put into place by the governor during the COVID-19 outbreak while out on trail. These restrictions are designed to help flatten the COVID-19 curve and keep our community at-large as safe as possible during these challenging and unprecedented times. With a little research and preparation, we can all hike responsibly during COVID-19.

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