Travel Advisories: Active Wildfires / COVID-19
Hiking North Cascades
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Hiking Safely During COVID-19

This spring's hiking season got off to a shaky start while most public hiking areas were closed throughout the state due to the COVID-19 outbreak wreaking havoc worldwide. Now, however, as the Governor has started slowly opening public hiking areas statewide through his phased approach to reopening, many public spaces including hiking trails are open again. Seems simple right? Just hit the road, grab some chow to go and plan to get some serious fresh air. Hit the brakes kids--it just isn't that simple anymore. Hiking now is more than choosing where to go and going for it. Now you MUST plan ahead and be 100% sure you've crossed your t's and dotted your i's--not just so that you have as comfortable of a time as possible, but so you've done everything you can to ensure a safe time for yourself and anyone else that you might encounter. We can't stress this enough--be prepared.

Hiking

Choosing your ideal hike is a combination of factors including:

  • Location
  • Difficulty
  • Ability to Socially Distance

When considering these factors, ask yourself a few questions. The answers will help you pretty quickly.

  1. How far away are you willing to travel without stopping for services such as gas, water, food, etc? Many of the small communities neighboring hiking locations may be vulnerable in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. Their medical resources are often limited and their grocery stores may be struggling to keep stocked for locals.
  2. How long of a hike are you comfortable doing in a day with your supplies on your back? Part of safe hiking is making sure you have all of the 'worst case scenario' supplies with you as you hike just in case something goes sideways such as getting injured, having an on-trail health event, or getting lost. It's no secret quarantine life from the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak has left much of us a little less in shape than we were pre-outbreak. Plan to start out doing less than you think you can. It's always better to be pleasantly surprised than struggling along.
  3. How steep of a hike are you comfortable doing in a day with your supplies on your back AND while wearing a mask or face covering? Not only are most of us pretty out of shape these days after spending multiple months in COVID-19 quarantine, but we're all getting used to needing to wear face coverings when we can't keep a 6-foot social distance. When passing on trails--even those least visited-- you'll need to ensure that your face is covered for the safety of those you pass. On flat ground this is easy enough but it's a different ball of wax altogether when you're huffing and puffing up a steep trail at high elevation. 
Hiking

Once you know where you want to go, it's time for more legwork. At this stage, here's your To-Do list:

  1. Double-check that the location IS open. Just because you've heard that the national forests have opened does not mean every hiking trail is open. In most forests and parks, locations are opening on an individual basis based on a number of factors. Contact the land management authority (could be a national park, national forest, state, county or city trail) to confirm in advance
  2. Contact the land management office for the area (national park, ranger district, etc.) and inquire about the level of visitation on the trail. Some trails DEFINITELY have more visitors than others. Look for the hidden gems that have not been featured as often as others.
  3. Once you are confirmed, be sure you understand what type of pass or permit is needed and plan to have it in your vehicle the day before you leave. There's nothing worse than getting to a trailhead and realizing you can't park unless you want a ticket.
  4. And finally, have a plan B. If you arrive at your trailhead and the lot is packed, not only can that be a less than stellar experience on the trail in terms of communing with nature, it could be a serious risk to your health. DO NOT opt to hike in a densely populated trail. It just isn't worth the risk for anyone.
Minotaur Lake

Even if trails are open to the public, that does not mean the trip will be risk-free. Any time one wanders into the woods or wilderness varying levels of risk are everywhere, from turning one's ankle on the descent (yep, most injuries happen on the way down when you're good and tired from the trek up) to bees buzzing around pollinating and perhaps incidentally leaving you with a zinger. Of course, now that the world is ears-deep in a global pandemic, the latest life-threatening risk is either becoming infected with COVID-19 or unwittingly passing it along to a passer-by. The risks aren't limited to when you're on the trail either, sadly. The same risks of either becoming infected with COVID-19 or unknowingly passing it along to others can happen if you choose to visit locations where you have to stop "in town" for supplies and/or services. As noted earlier in this article, often smaller communities' resources are minimal, and just enough to cover the needs of the folks in their communities. Please make choices that not only keep you safe, but also don't tax the areas that you're visiting. The following are some tips to help you plan your hike with the least likely negative impacts:

  • Plan to pack three masks-- one for if you MUST stop into neighboring communities for supplies, one to put on for when you pass people during the ascent of your hike and one for when you pass people heading downhill and back to the trailhead. Having multiple masks will ensure that you are always covered (literally) when you to need to be, even in the event that yours calls out of your pack or pocket
  • Pack two containers of hand sanitizer Again, things fall out of packs and pockets ALL the time when hiking. Plan to keep a pocket-sized container of hand sanitizer in your pocket and another for inside your pack
  • Pack your snacks, drinks and meals before you leave. Don't plan to pick up your food and drink on the road. It's just another way to risk becoming infected or accidentally spreading COVID-19. Also, many smaller towns have made the personal choice to keep some businesses closed and you don't want to be far from home with nothing to eat or drink!
  • Always put on a mask to pass on the trail. If you know you'll be closer than 6 feet apart while out and about, it is now a mandate from the Washington State Governor that masks or face coverings be worn whenever in public spaces when 6 feet of space cannot be maintained. This definitely means, be prepared to put your mask on when you pass on the trail. It also means, keep your eyes and ears at the ready in case someone else may need to pass you.
  • Speak clearer and louder then normal when passing. Because you'll be wearing a mask, it makes it harder for folks to hear you and/or understand what you're saying. Please speak a little clearer and louder than normal to give folks fair notice that you're planning to be within 6 feet of distance.
  • Take it easy out there. Now is not the time to be doing wild and crazy things that might put you in a possible to be rescued. Not only are medical resources often taxed in smaller communities and wilderness areas, but search and rescue efforts may be as well. Now is also not the time to find ones self in the hospital if it can be avoided. Be careful out there!

CDC COVID-19 Dashboard (this'll help you see what phase of reopening the areas are that you're hoping to visit)

Hiking Etiquette

How to Plan a Picnic Like a Pro

How to Recreate Responsibly

Leave No Trace: How to Pee Outside (seriously guys, let's do this one right, k?)

Passes & Permits

Washington's Phased Approach to Reopening