Avoid Crowded Trails like the…Coronavirus

Many of Washington’s state parks and forests will soon be opening back up for recreation. I imagine too that soon our state’s national forests will be doing likewise. To many hikers and runners including this one who has been adhering to the governor’s stay at home decree—we welcome this news. However, many others think it is too soon to open up these trails. There is a lot of debate supporting both the need to stay in place and to allow public parks and trails to open. In any case, I do not wish to argue the merits of either side here—rather to point out that trails and public lands are opening soon and what this means in the Age of Covid-19.

It is safe to say that both sides of the open up debate can agree that there is going to be crowding on the trails due to the fact that recreational use has been exploding in the past few years and now more folks than ever due to being out of work, out of school, or out of their minds will be hitting the trails. But the elephant in the room is that Covid-19 is still with us and we are still at risk of catching this nasty virus or passing it on to someone else. So where do we go from here because we all know the positive side of being outdoors and hitting the trails—it can do wonders for mental health-which as of late has also been under assault.

The most important bit of advice I can give you –and if I only give you one suggestion is absolutely avoid crowded trails. My second suggestion is stay away from crowded trails. And my third pointer is to avoid crowded trails like the plague-er- coronavirus. Now more than ever you do not want to be on a crowded trail. I have long written about the need to disperse use as not only do our trails and parks have a carrying capacity—but crowded trails—and especially ones with scads of unenlightened users to the virtues of proper trail etiquette and Leave No Trace ethics simply means a less than enjoyable trail experience.

But now we are talking two outcomes far worse than just having to hike in a conga line of blaring music, bags of dog crap, toilet paper flowers and boneheads cutting switchbacks, trampling meadows and disobeying in place rules and regulations. Now we have to worry about the possibility of contracting or passing on a potentially deadly virus. And whether you believe you are at risk or not—if there are stampedes of folks on the trails—and our covid-19 numbers begin to rise instead of decline—you can very well be looking at trail and park closures again—and into the summer.

So, please, if I haven’t made my point yet—avoid crowded and popular trails!

Many of us who have been hiking for a long time can rattle off the biggest culprits; and if you aren’t sure which ones are  the state’s busiest—just check any large Facebook hiking group, WTA’s website trip reports or Instagram influencers to see where the most traffic is—and don’t go to those places!

To avoid crowds it takes a little more planning and in some cases lowering the expectations for a viewpoint payoff that is less than stellar—but made up with the fact that you may only be sharing it with a few folks. Other tricks are to hit the trail on days of less than ideal weather or very early in the morning. Look for the over-looked trails that are quite often just in the shadows of the popular ones. And drive a little farther—although we should all still be staying pretty close to our home areas. Many off the radar trails can be found in county parks, local parks, land trust or other conversation based organization’s properties. Long distance rail trails also offer lots of room. Head to open to the public tree farms that allow hiking, running and biking on their road networks. Many national forest and DNR logging roads that are either decommissioned or are on their way to being so offer excellent quiet trips in the woods. And do some research. My guidebooks are an excellent source for finding trails both in the backcountry and in the urban areas that are less traveled and off the radar. In coming posts I will be suggesting some alternative areas to the popular ones.

And in any case be it you are on a popular or remote trail, be prepared with your 10 essentials plus hand sanitizer, toilet paper and a mask/buff or bandana to don when passing others in a tight spot. Absolutely no groups. Stick to family members or just one or two others and keep your distance. And pack it in pack it out. Do not leave gloves and wipes on the ground—take them with you and throw them out when you get home. Try to heed nature before you get to a trail—use an outhouse if one is available—or heed the call to nature by doing it properly (which I will be writing about in an upcoming blog or check out this excellent resource).

Okay-you have been holed up for 6 weeks staying away from others. You should have no problems staying away from people on the trails now. Happy uncrowded hiking!

Please check out any of my books for plenty of detailed information on trails less traveled. I thank you too for buying my books and supporting my work so that I can continue bringing you up-to-date, accurate and detailed hiking information. Happy Hiking!

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