a person hiking alone on a gravel trail in the wilderness with a yellow backpack

7 Tips to Hike Responsibly While Social Distancing

There is no denying the fact that this is a new era for hikers and outdoor travel lovers. With the closure of many parks and campgrounds, we are left searching for opportunities to get outside and reconnect with nature. If you’re looking to get out and enjoy your favourite trails, you may need to make some changes to your usual routine in order to hike responsibly while social distancing.

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Does anyone else feel like the world has completely turned upside down? When this whole situation started, I wasn’t too worried – after all, social distancing is what us outdoor travellers are MADE for, right?

After all, there is nothing that’s more appealing to me than escaping into the wildness away from everyone else…

Then it happened. Decisions were made, parks were shut down and camping reservations were cancelled. Now we’re looking for every opportunity to spend time outdoors from hanging out in our backyard all day to visiting our local hiking trails.

Studies show that there are some pretty incredible mental health benefits to spending time outdoors, yet the average American apparently spends 90% of their time indoors (and I’m sure that Canadians aren’t all that far off).

In light of the current situation, the Canadian government is still recommending that we go outside to exercise. However, we need to be aware o the current social distancing guidelines and the precautions that need to be taken to keep ourselves and others safe!

two hikers wearing hiking packs hiking on a rocky trail

Check Out These 7 Tips to Hike Responsibly While Social Distancing:

#1 – Avoid Busier Locations

If you know that your favourite hiking trail is a popular spot, it’s time to reconsider your plans. One of the biggest guidelines that we have been given is to avoid getting too close to others. This isn’t exclusive to situations indoors!

Social distancing guidelines say to avoid coming within 6 feet of anyone that isn’t in your household.

Passing others on a busy hiking trail will put yourself and others at risk. By avoiding hiking trails that are known for higher traffic levels, you are doing your part to help keep everyone safe.

#2 – Stay in Your Home Community

There has been a lot of chatter recently about travelling to outdoor travel destinations and cottages. At the same time, many cottage destinations and organizations including the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association (FOCA) are speaking up and urging cottagers to NOT visit their cottages at this time.

There are 2 main concerns when someone is travelling to a destination outside of their home community. The first is the travel itself and the risk of transmitting the virus.

We have been warned that not everyone carrying the virus is going to show signs… Even if you’re feeling great and showing no symptoms associated with COVID-19, you could still be carrying the virus with you. This would mean that you are exposing anyone you come in contact with at local stores, rest stops, gas stations, etc.

Not only is this a concern on an individual level (especially for those who are in a high-risk group), but it could also have a significant impact on the overall spread of the virus.

If you look at the numbers, the areas that are getting hit hardest right now are the busier cities and heavier populated areas – Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, etc. Leaving these areas and heading to a more rural location could then carry the virus to places that may not have previously been exposed.

The second big concern relating to travelling outside of your home community is the strain that it may put on local resources. Many of these rural locations are not equipped to deal with an influx of people during a high-risk time like this. Hospitals are smaller, resources are limited and there are fewer doctors and healthcare workers.

By travelling to a rural area for your hiking, camping or cottage time, you may actually be taking much-needed resources away from those in need living in that area.

two young children with backpacks hiking on a forest trail

#3 – Stick to Smaller, Easier Trails

While seasoned hikers often love challenging themselves, seeking out longer and more challenging trails, this isn’t the time. Why? Any time that you opt for a longer or more difficult trail, you are increasing the risk of injury. This puts both you and first responders at risk.

You may wind up having to take a trip to the hospital, which is one of the places you DON’T want to be during a pandemic. While healthcare workers are clearly doing their best to minimize the risks, hospitals are a hotspot for those who are suffering from the virus.

Additionally, you are putting first responders at risk. We are living right now at a time where many jobs have been shut down for the time being to avoid people having to travel. However, first responders still have to answer emergency calls. By putting yourself at risk of injury, you are also increasing the likelihood of having to call for medical assistance.

If you are going to head out hiking, stick to smaller, easier trails. This will allow you to enjoy some time outdoors with a fraction of the risk (no trail is risk-free).

Are you interested in an example of a great smaller trail? Check out my review of the Maidstone Conservation Area trail earlier this year!

#4 – Consider Contact with Surfaces

There has been a lot of research into the time that various surfaces can hold the virus. This includes banisters, handrails and park benches among other things. The Government of Canada COVID-19 resource page warns that this virus may be able to survive on surfaces for anywhere from a few hours to several days!

If you are heading out, pay careful attention to the risk of coming into contact on various surfaces and objects during your hike.

While hiking in an area with handrails along the side of the trail, try to avoid using them. Do not sit down and relax on park benches along the way. It is also important to avoid touching your face just in case you have come in contact at some point. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home.

Another surface that has raised a lot of discussion is the fur of our pets. While there has been conflicting information about whether or not a dog’s fur can actually carry the virus, it is safer to avoid petting any dogs that you do encounter on your hike. Additionally, if you’re hiking with your own dog, don’t allow others to pet him/her.

I know this can be difficult, I’m a dog lover too… There will be plenty of time to spend with dogs after all of this has passed.

#5 – Pay Attention to Closures

Many parks and public facilities have closed during this time. It is important to take a moment to research the trails that you are interested in visiting and whether or not they are accessible.

As of the time that this article was written (April 17th), Parks Canada has temporarily closed all vehicle access, camping facilities and visitor services at their parks. They have also cancelled any group activities and events. In addition, many trails in the Parks Canada network have also been closed. You can read the latest updates from Parks Canada HERE.

Ontario Parks has closed all provincial parks completely until April 30th including car camping, backcountry camping, roofed accommodations AND day use. This means that ALL trails at provincial parks are closed at this time. You can read the latest updates from Ontario Parks HERE.   

For private parks, conservation areas, etc., it is a case by case basis. You will need to contact the location that you are considering directly for their latest decision.

Failure to obey these closures can result in BIG fines.

It’s also important to pay careful attention to any government restrictions that may be in place. While I am writing this from the point of view of someone in Ontario who is under social distancing guidelines, we are not currently in a ‘shelter-in-place’ situation.

Check your current government regulations before heading out.

an individual with their dog hiking on a trail in a mountain area

#6 – Avoid Hiking in Large Groups

This should be common sense at this point with all of the warnings and directives that we have received, however, spending any time outside of the home will reveal that some people still aren’t getting it…

If you are looking forward to spending some time outdoors, restrict your travel companions to just those individuals that live in your household. Being outdoors doesn’t change this guideline somehow. You should not be gathering with friends, extended family or neighbours for a group hike.

#7 – Consider Hiking in Off Hours

There are certain times of the day that we, as hikers, know are likely to be busier than others. Rather than opting for a mid-morning hiker or trying to take in the sunset on your favourite trail, why not consider getting up earlier to enjoy the sunrise? Not only is this a great way to start your day, but you’ll be finished hiking before most people even consider visiting your trail of choice.

Do NOT Go Anywhere if You Have Been Exposed

If there is any chance that you are currently infected, it is important to follow the recommended self-isolation protocol. This includes not only those who are experiencing potential symptoms but also anyone who has been exposed to the virus and those who have been travelling.

Whether it has been confirmed that you have contracted the virus or not, it is better safe than sorry.

For those who have been potentially exposed, whether working with someone who has tested positive or coming home from having travelled, it is recommended that you self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days. Any hiking should be avoided until after that time has passed.

a person hiking alone on a gravel trail in the wilderness with a yellow backpack with the title 8 tip to hike responsibly while social distancing

How are you coping during the current times?

Did I miss any important factors that you believe should be considered in order to hike responsibly while social distancing? If so, please share it below!

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70 thoughts on “7 Tips to Hike Responsibly While Social Distancing”

  1. These are just excellent guidelines that all of us that love the outdoors should automatically follow. Especially during this crucial time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this post should be widely distributed to all those who may think or assume that hiking in the outdoors means you don’t need to think much about the potential spread of the virus. Hopefully, this won’t last too long but in the meanwhile, we all need to be careful. Thanks so much for putting this together, Britt.

    1. I LOVE getting out and getting fresh air, but I’ve had to give up my favourite local trail in order to follow these guidelines. That being said, I’ve discovered some smaller local trails that I’ve never tried before, so that’s been a fun adventure!

    1. Unfortunately, not everyone ‘gets it’ at this point. I’ve had to remind myself that I can’t control the actions of others, but I can choose how I respond. So, I go out of my way to compensate for those that don’t want to follow the guidelines and create distance to protect myself where needed.

    1. We were supposed to be camping this weekend originally, but that was cancelled with the park closures. Then we talked about just pitching the tent in our back yard but it was snowing pretty heavy yesterday so we’re holding off lol

  2. These are great tips. I’ve wanted to go to the mountains (about a 2 hour drive), but instead, we’ve stuck close to home, going no more than 25 miles in any direction. Most of our state parks are open, and not busy. There aren’t many good trails, but there is little traffic so walking on the park roads is do-able.

    1. We’ve been itching to enjoy our favourite trails but know that we have to be patient at this point. Hopefully that time will come sooner rather than later.

    1. We are definitely waiting for everything else to open up – missing our camping already. This weekend was supposed to be our first trip.

    1. It is so important to prioritize fresh air during all of this. Staying inside constantly can take a toll on our immune systems.

  3. This is exactly what I say. There are ways to be able to enjoy the world, currently, with the necessary precautions therefore lead us slowly to return to it. And then we hope that soon all these rules no longer exist.

    1. I am really looking forward to when things return and we can once again enjoy our favourite camping and hiking spots (many of them are currently closed).

  4. I’m so lucky. I live about a 20 minute walk to the mountains, so I go hiking at least a few times per week…and since I usually wake early, there is nobody there. Just the police on horseback who are there to make sure people aren’t picnicking in the areas where you can do that. Hiking has really been a pleasure during this pandemic. I’ll be putting all these tips to use.

    1. It really is a pleasure especially at this time, isn’t it? We haven’t been able to enjoy our favourite trails as they have been closed, but there are still many incredible ones close by!

  5. Great advice. I wish the majority of trails where still open around here but instead, we’ve taken to finding places to walk in our local area. Police are now stopping and fining people who are traveling for non-essentials. That’s including areas of exercise.

    1. We’re allowed to get within our local community still (with the exception of places that have been shut down). The trails that we’ve been accessing are either close enough that we can walk the dogs too them or are within a 5-10 min drive, so closer than even most grocery stores.

    1. A lot of the trails that have been closed are due to the points I already listed though – they are highly popular places that would likely attract crowds or they pose a potential risk that could put first responders in a bad place.

  6. This is so helpful!! a lot of our trails are actually closed….but we’ve found a few smaller ones that we can check out!

    1. Almost all of our usual trails are closed right now, so it’s forced us to explore some smaller local trails that we hadn’t tried previously.

  7. These tips to hike responsibly while social distancing are looking very useful and informative we should take precautions to remain safe and healthy.

    1. Yes! It’s important to take precautions but also to remember that being safe doesn’t mean cutting everything enjoyable out of our lives 🙂

  8. These are great tips, especially numbers 3 and 7. So important to protect our health services by not participating in risky behaviour right now.
    I live in the middle of London and went out for a 2-hour walk at 6am this morning. Since it’s Sunday, there was barely anyone around and I could fully enjoy the nature trails nearby without worrying about avoiding too many people. For us early risers, this is definitely the way to go.

    1. I love starting my morning by hitting the trails. When we go camping, that’s a normal ‘go-to’ approach for us, so it only makes sense to carry it over now.

    1. It’s definitely not for everyone. That being said, the fresh air might be a great thing during this pandemic, even if you’re only getting out and walking for that purpose. Have you tried putting together a fun playlist to walk to?

  9. It is amazing to me how the world has completely changed in a matter of 30-45 days due to COVID-19. Words like social distancing have now become a part of every day vernacular. Luckily our smaller hiking trails are still open in NY but all of our State Parks and beaches are closed. You have to be creative at this point to get your hikes in. Great tips

    1. That’s the way it is here too. National and provincial parks are closed, but we’re lucky to have some great small trails nearby.

  10. All very helpful tips. We have a lot of trails around me but people are NOT practicing social distance, it’s frustrating. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

    1. Iv’e seen some GREAT examples of social distancing in practice, and some that are REALLY falling short around here. I think, in some cases, people allow the rules to slide a bit simply because they’re outside.

  11. I love a good walk and I’m continuing to do so. With everything at the moment I am just trying to find different ways to weave in and out of my estate and its surrounding areas.

  12. Great tips, Britt! Thank you.

    I’d like to emphasize that it’s very important to take the precautions you outlined in your post and yet go outside regularly, stretch, walk, run, bicycle and simply get the fresh air in as it’s our best preventive medicine and the best supporter for our immune system.

    I live in Boston, and there are plenty of parks and easy trails in and around the city. I bet that the farther away you live from a large city the more trails are available for you to hike near your house…

    By the way, some trails are formally closed, but nobody orders you out as long as you keep common sense and follow the tips in Britt’s post… just saying 😉

    1. There have been threats of some big fines for people who don’t adhere to closures here, and a few news stories of people getting hit with them. So, I would err on the side of caution and stick with the trails that been officially closed at this point.

    1. If there’s a small, easy trail nearby, check it out! The easy trails are generally no harder on you than going for a walk around the block. The big difference is your surroundings.

  13. Great tips. Unfortunately we don’t have hiking places near where we live, but I dream of going out of town.

    1. We’re lucky to have some options of smaller trails, but I can’t wait to start visiting our favourite trails again!

  14. I have personally enjoyed finding hikes in my own community. There is so much to see right in my backyard and I didn’t even realize it. It has become my favorite part of quarantine.

    1. I have definitely discovered some great local trails during this that I wasn’t aware of. I’ll continue visiting them moving forward!!

    1. We’re lucky that we can still go out but most places are closed. No national or provincial parks, for example, but some of the smaller private trails are still open.

  15. Those are some really good tips, where I live the public hiking, camping, and parks are all closed right now during the pandemic, but they have recently opened back up the beaches so everything else will probably follow. Unfortunately, because of how people are treating this I would not go them even if they opened tbh.

    1. Our camping is currently closed, all major parks and hiking trails are closed – Provincial parks, National parks, etc. It’s only the small privately-owned trails that are still open.

  16. Great tips you got there! For the first time since quarantine, I went to the park for a walk and to get some fresh air and I am so proud of everyone for observing social distancing. I did too and kept my hands in my pocket at all times!

  17. I escape my house about twice a week, as I like to call it, on my husband’s days off. We are always searching for areas that few people go, so it is easy to stay away from other people. It has been pretty easy for the most part. There’s a tiny town about 10-ish miles away from us, like 4 blocks and you’re at the other end kind of small. We’ve been going there and just walking the streets where shops are normally open. Yesterday we went to a filbert orchard that is open to the public and walked around. Being outside, especially right now, is just amazing.

    1. That sounds very similar to the small town that I live in. We’ve been lucky in that we can easily get out and take a relaxing stroll right here in town during the week. We save the trips to local trails for the weekend when my husband is off work.

    1. Thank you! Honestly, there are so many great areas to visit to get fresh air right now, we just need to keep social distancing in mind.

  18. Good advice. Everyone wants to get out so you have to be sure to avoid the popular places. Plenty of space to go around.

    1. Thank you! I would be losing my mind if I couldn’t still get outside, we just need to be smart about it.

  19. Great tips! Although I haven’t been on any hikes during the owned, I have been on a few park walks, and it’s shocking how many are ignoring the social distancing rules. I’ve seen children playing in the grass or rolling down grass hills, running around, etc. But it’s not just children, who probably don’t know any better, some adults are ignoring the rules as well – walking in a row so you either have to squash yourself in the bush or wait for them to walk by. Cyclists passing too closely. Picnics!… I think everyone should be more mindful, just stop and think.

    1. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good people are doing here for the most part. They did have to fence off the playgrounds in our local parks because parents were still letting their kids go play. However, once that was done, there seems to have been a shift here. I have seen people ‘walking together’ with one on the sidewalk and one in the middle of the road (we live in a small town) or neighbours having conversations over the fence while each standing back on their own deck, etc. People have been finding ways to connect while trying to keep the guidelines in mind.

  20. These guidelines are great! A lot of our usual hiking locations/provincial parks have been closed forcing us to look into other options. While I miss our favourites, it has been a good opportunity to check out some new.

  21. It’s so important to go for hikes or walks these times in order to stay sane and healthy. Thanks for these tips and for helping us all to keep guidelines in mind! 🙂

  22. Wow, it looks amazing views where you are. We love walking (haha not as energic as hiking!), but have been sticking to the same route every day since lockdown. I think we need to try another smaller trail soon. We are very fortunate we live in the countryside. I can’t wait to get out to the parks, but only once it feels a bit safer.

    Lots of love, Helen x

  23. These are really great tips! I am really scared to go outside at the moment but I need to face my fears and get out there! Perhaps I shall start on quieter trails or even walk around the quieter parts of town!

    Thank you for sharing, Em x

    1. Quieter trails are a GREAT way to get out and enjoy fresh air without worrying about coming into contact with people.

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