Long before Covid-19 disrupted our lives and closed or strongly altered many of our activities, I avoided crowds. I just don’t care to be around large groups of people. I’m no introvert. I love company and companionship—but not crowds—and especially unruly and clueless ones.
It’s no secret that our trails, parks, and forests have been inundated with people this year, due to the fact that hiking and camping are a few of the things that you can safely still do during this pandemic. But many of our natural areas simply cannot sustain the number of folks currently taking to them. And exacerbating the problem is the sheer number of clueless visitors that are wreaking havoc on our public lands by leaving garbage and human waste behind—ignoring rules and regulations—and doing what they damned well please.
No thanks. I don’t want to be around any of that. I hike and go to the woods for rejuvenation, not frustration. And during these trying times I want to be far away from boorish, selfish, and slovenly behavior. I am fortunate in that I can hike weekdays and travel far from cities to hit the trail. And hike far up the trail. And so far this summer I have been having a great time on the trail often seeing no one, or just a couple of folks. I always welcome fellow hikers who are respectful of Leave No Trace principles and practice good outdoor etiquette.
The trails I have been hiking all summer have been so lightly used that I have seen a bear now every week! It has been a great hiking season for me so far—especially because I know what is going on in the popular trail corridors and I know what I am staying far away from.
But what if you can’t take off on a weekday- drive a little farther or hike a little farther? Do you really still want to be on a trail with hundreds or thousands of people—shoulder-to-shoulder during a pandemic and having to endure scores of people who will be blasting music, crapping on the trail and leaving other filth behind? If this is the case—take a break from hiking for a while! You can still get outside and get a great workout by doing other activities.
Some of my favorite hiking alternatives include kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, bicycling, and running. It’s easy to find a small quiet body of water nearby—or a large one with lots of space to ply away from the masses. If you live west of the Cascades you are close to plenty of protected coves and bays on the Sound and Strait. And there are lots of quiet backroads nearby—particularly on the islands offering great biking options—and crowd free. And wide open rail trails away from the city are great for mountain biking (as are old logging roads) and running.
Maybe this is the year that you try a new outdoor pursuit? Hopefully next year the trail madness will subside. The trendy hikers will have moved on having exhausted their selfie allotment—other things will have opened again siphoning the less-than-enthusiastic newfound hikers—and a few newbies will have actually become good trail stewards. Hopefully too our elected officials (let’s work on voting in some enlightened ones) will also see how badly underfunded and inadequate our parks and trails systems are—and start expanding and enhancing them so that will also alleviate crowding.
But in the meantime—I will look for you on a remote trail somewhere far from the cities—or on a rail trail, placid lake, protected saltwater cove, or on a quiet country road!
And if you are looking for plenty of trails free from crowds, please pick up one or two of my well researched books offering lots of trails less taken.