Wilderness and COVID-19
Social distancing has become the new norm for 2020, whether you're at the grocery story or on the trail. Although many states have lifted stay-at-home orders, following CDC guidelines for outdoor recreation is still necessary long-term.
Explore Wilderness In Person
Be aware that limits on travel and certain types of businesses are still in place in many areas. Most public lands, including wilderness areas, have remained open during the pandemic. But re-closures remain distinctly possible and may be driven by visitor behavior. 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. Indoor spaces, like visitor centers, and other public facilities may still be closed or have strict social distancing measures you must adhere to. Closures to boat launches and river access points are also still in effect in some areas. Outdoor spaces at national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and on national conservation lands currently remain open, but closures at popular trailheads and destination sites may be in effect.
- MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING: If you don't maintain social distancing when you are on public lands, land management agencies can 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).
- STAY CLOSE TO HOME: Hike, pack, paddle and wildlife watch within easy access to your home. For example, Colorado residents are strongly encouraged to recreate no more than 10 miles from home, and American Whitewater recommends paddling with your zip code. 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 travelling close to home, be extra 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.
- AVOID POPULAR AREAS: 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.
- 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 increases your chances of being injured--whether you twist your ankle or get caught in an avalanche. Backcountry injuries put rescuers at risk of virus exposure. Make overly safe choices by saving that sick line, sketchy traverse, and rad vertical for another day (or another year!).
- DON'T PUT RURAL COMMUNITIES AS RISK: Many states continue to have travel restrictions in place and mandatory 14-day quarantines for visitors from out of state. Observe any local, regional, or state quanantine orders. Also, avoid gateway communities. Small rural communities continue to have medical and food shortages and cannot support an influx of tourist. 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 volunteer groups may not hosting typical trail work or trash collection outings. If you pack it in, make sure to pack it out. 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
- 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)