Wilderness and COVID-19
Social distancing become the new norm in 2020, and that's continuing, whether you're at the grocery story or on the trail. However, following CDC guidelines for outdoor recreation is still necessary long-term. #RecreateResponsibly to ensure that your public lands stay open and accessible during the pandemic.
Explore Wilderness In Person
Most public lands, including wilderness areas, continue to remain open during the pandemic. But closures due to increasing infection rates in many states and unsafe visitor behavior are resurfacing. When visiting wilderness or other outdoor public spaces, take these critical precautions.
Critical Pandemic Precautions
- VERIFY CLOSURES: First, verify what state, county or city government restrictions may be in place related to COVID-19. Next, check with National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service or Bureau of Land Management office that manages the wilderness you want to visit to ensure you get the most current public health information available on closures and restrictions on public lands. Indoor spaces, like visitor centers, and other public facilities may still be closed or have strict social distancing measures you must adhere to. Outdoor spaces at national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and on national conservation lands currently remain open, but closures at popular trailheads, long-distance trails, river access points and destination sites may be in effect. Some national parks are limiting visitors to day-use only.
- MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING: If you don't maintain social distancing when you are on public lands, land management agencies will close them to protect public health. Follow the new rules for social distancing while on the trail that include maintaining 6 feet of distance between you and other people at all times. Have a mask, buff, or bandana ready in case you encounter a situation where you are less than 6 feet from others (ex. a pinch in the trail or a resting area).
- STAY CLOSE TO HOME: Hike, run, pack, paddle and wildlife watch within easy access of your home. Limit your stay in the backcountry to ensure that if you become sick, you can self-evacuate without the need for search and rescue assistance. Postpone extended backcountry trips, including thru-hikes on national scenic or historic trails. When traveling close to home, be fully self-sufficient by reducing or eliminating your interactions with local tourism industry services--gas stations, hotels, rest stops, grocery stores etc.--along the way and in communities near wilderness.
- DON'T CONTRIBUTE TO 'WREAKREATION': Unprecedented numbers of people are visiting public lands during the pandemic causing everything from crowding on trails to the creation of makeshift campsites to piles of human feces and trash. Be flexible with your outdoor plans so you can avoid popular areas by 1) choosing a different access point 2) getting outdoors at a less busy time of the day 3) practice no-waste camping and 4) be well-educated about Leave No Trace techniques, specifically those related human waste.
- SAY 'NO' TO RISKS: Although making conservative choices while in the wilderness has always been important, it continues to be more so now. Engaging in risky backcountry sports, or even just hiking something outside your level of expertise, increases your chances of being injured--whether you twist your ankle, fall while climbing, or get caught in an avalanche. Backcountry injuries put rescuers at risk of virus exposure, and are injuries are increasing due to increased visitation. Make overly safe choices, stay within your recreational comfort zone, and save that sick line, sketchy traverse, and rad vertical for another day (or another year!).
- DON'T PUT GATEWAY COMMUNITIES AS RISK: Although states are now opening, some are now re-closing. Restrictions continue to change; they still exist in many places and vary greatly. Observe any local, regional, or state health orders and recommendations. Gateway and rural communities still cannot support an influx of sick tourists. Your use of their limited resources puts residents of these small communities at risk.
- PRACTICE LEAVE NO TRACE: Many federal employees are still working from home, and field work seasons have either been canceled or cut short. Volunteer groups may not be hosting typical trail work or trash collection outings. Even at trailheads with trash receptacles, trash collection may be limited and bathrooms may not be being service. If you pack it in, make sure to pack it out--this includes all garbage and dog waste. If you find trash that isn't yours, pack it out anyway. Be extra vigilant about following Leave No Trace principles when in wilderness or any other outdoor public space.
Explore Wilderness Virtually
Virtual outdoor experiences can help feed your wild spirit when you're not outside. While at home, visit wilderness virtually:
- watch wilderness videos
- follow wilderness news, photos and videos on our Wilderness Connect Facebook page
- find your virtual park or tour 31 national parks (many with wilderness) on google earth
- 10 webcams for your nature fix
- view stunning photographs of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
- take a video tour of southern Oregon and northern California
- connect to nature through livestreaming nature feeds
- try these park activities you can do from home
- walk the Appalachian Trail online (passes through 28 wildernesses)
- listen to nature sounds