Thinking of Hitting the Trail During COVID-19? Answer These 5 Questions First.

Before you go on any outdoor adventures you need to ask yourself these questions to confirm if your plans are safe and appropriate.

by Mike Passo, Executive Director, American Trails

View along the trail - Holland Falls Trail, MT; Photo by Kasie Haack

Whether hiking, bicycling, riding on horseback or participating in motorized recreation nearly everyone uses trails for a similar goal – to spend time outdoors. This time outside, whether a short walk down a paved trail to work in an urban setting, or a hike to a point reachable to only a few Americans makes trail users happier people. We all know that spending time outdoors can improve our personal health in many ways like lessening anxiety, decreasing depression, boosting creativity, and increasing optimism.

But during this time of crisis, not all recreation is responsible.


Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether it is indeed appropriate and safe for you to go outside.

1. Do I have the potential to come within six feet of people who are not a part of my household?

Is the trail wide enough, or does it offer the opportunity to get me and my equipment at least 6 feet (many experts are now saying 12 feet) away from another person passing on a trail. Single direction (one-way) trails are the best option for allowing limited exposure to other people.

2. Does this activity put me at risk for potential rescue, straining local resources?

Now is not the time to be attempting highly challenging or dangerous activities or highly technical trails that have a higher likelihood of you hurting yourself. Our hospitals have enough to worry about now, without you filling up their waiting rooms with broken arms or twisted ankles.

3. Am I coming into contact with surfaces that can hold and transfer the virus?

Avoid being out long enough that you would need to use the trailhead facilities (toilets), or need to tie up your horse at a crowded hitching post.

4. Will this put me in closer contact with vulnerable populations, such as those with compromised immune systems, persons over the age of 65, or those who are pregnant?

Your actions do not only affect you, but have a great effect on the people around you. Any time you move during this pandemic, you have the potential of carrying the virus with you as an asymptomatic carrier, or even on your clothing. No matter what, avoid even remote contact with vulnerable populations.

5. Do I need to travel outside of my local community to do this?

If you travel far to get to your trail or outdoor recreation experience, you may need to stop for gas, pick up food at a restaurant. Stay close to home to limit these exposures.

If you can answer YES to ANY of these questions, please alter your plans to keep your community safe by finding another form of recreation, a different location, or staying home.

Here is some additional guidance from some of our partners in the trails community:

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

American Hiking Society

National Recreation and Park Association

National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council

Outdoor Industry Association

Published April 01, 2020

About the Author

Mike Passo is the Executive Director of American Trails. Mike has also served as the Executive Director of the Professional Trailbuilders Association and the owner and operator of a sea kayak outfitter called Elakah Expeditions. Mike has led groups of all backgrounds, ages and abilities on sea kayak expeditions in the San Juan Islands of Washington, Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Mike has conducted an extensive study of outdoor developed areas nationwide to determine the cost implications of construction according to proposed Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and a Congressional study on improving access to outdoor recreational activities on federal land. He has a B.S. in Recreation Resource Management from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, including three years’ coursework in Landscape Architecture and Civil Engineering. He has presented on Universal Design and Programming at several national conferences and served on the Board of Directors of American Trails since 2000. His love of the outdoors and his own paraplegia has given him a great interest in the creation of an accessible outdoor environment that does not ruin the characteristics and value of that environment.

Contact: [email protected]

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