It’s more important than ever to go outside right now. The mental health benefits of nature can help calm the fear and anxiety caused by this pandemic. And with many of us stuck inside for the foreseeable future, going out to hike, bike, or simply walk the neighborhood will help us stay active and healthy, breathe fresh air, and soak up Vitamin D from the sun. However, in light of the Coronavirus crisis, where and how we escape to the outside has changed. Here’s what you need to know from the experts to keep yourself and others safe.
Is it OK to take a walk right now?
Yes! Unless you’re sick or quarantined after contact with a sick person, you are absolutely allowed to go outside. Even cities in the United States, such as San Francisco and New York, that have instituted shelter-in-place orders make exemptions for outdoor activity. But whether or not you’re on lock-down, you should still continue to observe the principles of social distancing on your hike or walk. And it’s critical that you avoid large groups of people and try to stay six feet away from others.
Can I hike with friends?
It’s tempting to use your time outdoors to catch up with friends and neighbors, but social gatherings at homes, restaurants, and bars are no longer advised. You can, of course, invite the people you live with to join you for a walk, but meeting up with people from outside your household could defeat the purpose of these strict isolation measures. Now is the time to enjoy some solitude in nature. Does that mean you have to cross the street whenever you see a person or only go outside if there’s no one else around? No, simply passing another human being is a low-risk situation, but things get tricky when you’re in a crowd, even if it’s with people you love and trust.
Where can I go for a walk while social distancing?
Avoid popular hiking trails and look for quieter spots. The more people there are in an area, the harder it is to maintain that required six feet of distance. It’s best to just consider a long walk around your neighborhood. You could also drive somewhere that you know will not be crowded. Alltrails is a great resource for finding trails, paths, and nature walks near you. The app and website use your location to provide you with nearby hiking suggestions, with information about distance, difficulty, and popularity. You can use the map view of search results to find trails within walking distance from your house. Self-isolation is hard. It takes a lot of effort, preparation, and energy to change your routines and lifestyle, and it can get lonely. But if you’re making all that effort, don’t erase your hard work by putting yourself in a crowded place. Besides, aren’t the outdoors just a little bit nicer when it feels like you have them all to yourself?
Are national and state parks open?
Yes and no. Many state and national parks across the country are waiving fees during the COVID-19 crisis. Officials in the Department of the Interior have announced that admission to all national parks would be waived. At the same time, many national parks are shutting down to discourage overcrowding, so this is not a great time to take a camping trip. In most parks, this means that visitor centers and facilities will be closed and special programming will be cancelled. Other parks may take stricter measures, such as closing roads, specific areas, or even the entire park. In parks that are still open for day use, park bathrooms will be open and trash services will still be running. But if you’re visiting a closed park, you will not be able to rely on those same facilities or emergency services. Use the National Park Service website to check closures. Another thought- after being forced to close, the loss of funding to national parks will be devastating. You may want to support these beautiful spaces by donating the equivalent of an entrance fee to the park you just enjoyed.
Finally, staying healthy doesn’t just mean avoiding COVID-19. Bring a water bottle on your walk to make sure you’re staying hydrated. Don’t forget to wear a hat and sunscreen if you’re going to be outside in the sun and layer up if it’s chilly outside. An early spring sunburn or head cold is the last thing you need right now. Enjoy and stay safe!