Hiking in the Age of COVID-19: 4 Safer Outdoor Adventures

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has put a stop to everything from travel to business to eating out. But it doesn’t have to stop you from getting outside entirely.

As social distancing becomes the norm for everyone, from busy professionals to business owners and schoolchildren, it’s important to remember there are still ways you can stay active. What is there to do when schools, businesses, stores, and public spaces are all closed? Stay home, but don’t forget to go outside.

Editor’s note: A lot has changed since publishing the original version of this article on March 13. We are committed to providing our readers with the latest news and safest updates regarding recreating in the outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Please follow up-to-date instructions from federal, state, and local authorities and err on the side of caution. It may seem extreme, but if you do go on a trip outside, stay local and bring all supplies with you to avoid in-person interactions in stores, gas stations, etc. 

It’s important to note that none of these activities should be done in groups (outside the members of your household) or if you live in a city or town that has been ordered to shelter in place. If you’re required to stay indoors (exemptions are in place for exercise), do so.

Our first recommendation: Look close to home for adventures and relaxation. Staying in your local region will put less strain on smaller communities in trail-side towns. This is extremely important — now’s not the time to take a major road trip to a crowded national park. Doing so drains small-town resources, and traveling spreads the virus and increases exposure.

Secondly, heed the CDC’s advice to avoid touching shared surfaces and well as going to high-traffic, public places. Even in the outdoors, the CDC recommends staying 6 feet away from others. We like how the Colorado Department of Health explains it with skis.

coronavirus six feet skis

It’s worth reiterating that we aren’t advocating for long, extensive trips here. But if you look near home, there is almost certainly an adventure to be had.

So, on a positive note, here are six outdoor activities that still let you enjoy the outdoors.

1. Go hiking.

Hitting the trail for even just an hour is a great way to exercise and unwind. Remember to stay local: Check out the Hiking Project to find trails near you.

If you have a family, don’t hesitate to bring the kids! Especially with the schools, daycares, and childcare resources shutting down, take your kids (or pets) for a hike or walk outside. If you do venture out with your family, skip the playgrounds (lots of germy surfaces) and try to avoid public facilities.

Bottom line: The fresh air and scenery on a hike will do you good. (While hiking with members of your household is fine, now’s not the time to organize a group hike with your friends. Hiking can still be fun alone.)

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2. Set an FKT.

Woman trail running in La Sportiva Kaptiva Shoes
Photo credit: Fred Marmsater

It shouldn’t be something crazy like running the entire Appalachian Trail. But from Strava segments to local classics, FKT attempts are a fun way to get creative and get outside.

Especially if you’re self-quarantining, this is a fun and active distraction. Find a route that hasn’t been done and send it — whether you’re hiking, running, rollerblading, or biking. Check out FastestKnownTime.com for inspiration on records you can challenge or set.

3. Go fishing.

This one is a great choice if you live near water. Pack up for a few hours, bring a couple of fishing poles and a sack lunch, and work remotely from a local lake or dock.

With a power bank or Wi-Fi hotspot, you can still check up on that work project while waiting for a bite. Fishing is a perfect activity for social distancing: Get as far from others as possible.

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4. Do backyard or living room yoga.

The days of going to a gym or group fitness class are over for now. And we’ll likely see more online resources for classes popping up given recent news. But that doesn’t mean your yoga practice needs to stop.

All you really need is a mat (or if you don’t own one, a thick blanket). Roll it out at home, in your backyard, or a local park and find your flow.

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If you’re able and choose to go outside:

  • DO follow all CDC guidelines.
  • DON’T go out to public places (yes, even outdoor ones) if you’re feeling sick, are caring for others who are sick, or if you’re immunocompromised.
  • DO bring all the gear, resources, food, and emergency supplies you will need (i.e., DON’T stop at stores or gas stations).
  • DON’T be social: Don’t shake hands, high five, or get close to other hikers.
  • DO be flexible: Consider alternate trails to separate you from crowds, and DON’T go during peak times.
  • DON’T share gear, water, or food.
  • Like wildlife, keep a safe distance and DO wash your hands often.

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Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and serves as the leader of Lola Digital Media’s DEI Committee.

She has been writing about hiking, running, climbing, camping, skiing, and more for seven years, and has been on staff at GearJunkie since 2019. Prior to that, Mary wrote for 5280 Magazine in Denver while working as an outdoor instructor teaching climbing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and mountain biking at Avid4Adventure. Based in Denver, Colorado, Murphy is an avid hiker, runner, backpacker, skier, yogi, and pack-paddleboarder.