Last updated May 1st, 2020
Well, this is a post I never thought I would have to write! I am sure you are all aware by now that the world is experiencing a pandemic: COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. It’s undoubtedly scary and uncertain times, and many of us are drawing on nature for an escape.
Like it is for many people, getting out in nature is like therapy for me. It calms me, yet at the same time fills me with energy and inspiration. Being outdoors provides a simplified existence away from the madness of every day life, and studies show that it does amazing things for our mental and physical health.
But this current pandemic is forcing us to make decisions when it comes to outdoor recreation. Do we go out and responsibly experience nature or do we choose to stay home and bring nature in?
How To Responsibly Enjoy Nature During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In this blog post I am sharing some tips on how to responsibly enjoy nature during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before going any further I want to make it clear that guidelines are developing every day and you should always check local regulations and recommendations before considering going outside.
Current recommendations from the CDC here in the US are to stay home if you are sick, stay a minimum of 6 feet apart from other people, wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, disinfect frequently used surfaces, and wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting.
My home state of Washington is looking to gradually reopen public lands starting May 5 for day-use only and with certain precautions in place. In this blog post I will go into detail on what those precautions are, but for more information you can check out the following websites: Washington State Parks, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Be sure to read up on your local guidelines before heading outdoors!
I’ve partnered up with Backcountry to bring you these tips, because we both feel strongly about keeping up a connection with nature during these days of uncertainty.
Don’t go out if you’re sick
This should go without saying… but please do NOT go outside if you are sick. This also applies for if you are living with someone who is unwell or showing potential symptoms. If you have symptoms of fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, it’s best to save your outdoor recreation for another time.
Check what is open in your area
Many recreation areas are still closed and it’s vital you do your research before heading out. This goes for public, tribal, federal, and other local lands. A quick google search will likely generate your answer and it’s important for your safety and others that you put the effort in to research before you go.
Stay local & limit points of contact
As far as I know it is still not advised to travel or take road trips during this pandemic. It is irresponsible to put small mountain towns and tourist destinations at risk just so you can take a hike. These small towns do not have adequate medical facilities to cope with outbreaks of COVID-19 and its imperative that we do our part to limit exposure.
Your best option is to choose somewhere close to home that can be accessed without driving. For example, walking or biking around your own neighborhood, or accessing a local park.
If you do need to drive to access a place to recreate, can you get there without any stops or points of contact? (front door, car, trailhead, back to car, back home).
For those in Washington State accessing public lands, it has been advised that you fill up gas close to home and come prepared with your own lunch etc. Try your very best not to stop in rural communities and potentially spread the virus.
Avoid busy trails & popular areas
Remember, it’s all about limiting our contact with others and subsequent potential exposure of COVID-19. You will need to avoid busy trails and popular outdoor areas, and instead focus on areas you would be able keep the recommended 6 feet apart from others.
If you arrive at a trailhead and there are a large amount of cars, turn around and go home (or drive to a quieter spot). Governments have made it clear that if they see overcrowding on trails and in parking lots then there will reinforce closures. Don’t ruin it for everyone!
Keep in mind that we are also being advised to leave at least one parking space between our vehicle and the vehicle next to us.
Recreate with your household members only
We are currently being advised to only hike with our immediate household members. This is not the time to hike in large groups or carpool to trailheads. I know we all haven’t seen our friends in a long time but unless you can keep the recommended 6 feet distance then it’s best to do your own thing.
*Update as of July – some states are allowing recreation with groups of 5 or less people. Please read up on your local guidelines.
Bring along a face covering
Most states appear to be advising the use of a nose and mouth covering if you have the potential of coming in contact with others (research your local area). The CDC has a handy resource on what a cloth covering can consist of, and it can be something as simple as a Buff, bandana, or converted old t-shirt.
I plan to keep mine around my neck and simply pull it up over my face if I can see someone coming along the trail or if I am passing someone in a parking lot. Just use common sense and keep the 6 feet rule in mind!
Practice personal hygiene
It’s really simple to follow basic personal hygiene. Just wash your hands often (20 seconds with soap), use hand sanitizer when that’s not possible, don’t touch your face, bring your own water, and try avoid touching railings etc. that other people may have touched before you.
Right now I would suggest that you bring all your own supplies and do not rely on trailhead facilities being open or well-stocked. Pack soap, water, hand sanitizer, a hand towel, and toilet paper.
Be extra careful
Emergency services are swamped right now and we don’t want to add to their caseloads. Firstly, go at your own risk. There is always an element of this when spending time outdoors, but now more than ever we cannot rely on emergency services to save us if we get hurt.
Secondly, be extra careful and stay within your limits. This is not an opportunity to take up a new sport or do anything crazy outdoors! If you aren’t already an experienced hiker, please do not go out hiking. If you don’t ride bikes, don’t take up cycling. Do not try skiing for the first time. I’m sure you get the idea by now – be sensible!
Note: here in Washington it is advised that you still stick to day recreation only and overnight stays are not currently permitted on public lands.
Leave No Trace
We should always be abiding by Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, but it’s now more important than ever while our outdoor spaces are most vulnerable. Consider that there may not be workers taking trash from trailhead facilities, therefore leading to an overflow and littering. Pack out all your trash, even if there is a designated place to dispose of it at the trailhead. This includes disposable gloves and single-use masks!
Also expect potential bathroom and other facility closures as parks cut down on services they can offer. The Leave No Trace Center of Outdoor Ethics put together their guidelines – please take the time to read. If you see someone not adhering to LNT principles, kindly and reasonably explain to them why it is important.
Bring nature inside
I want to stress that you don’t have to leave your home to enjoy nature! Maybe you have a backyard or balcony that gets some sunshine. Or a building rooftop you can access whilst maintaining adequate social distancing. Or even just a corner of your living room that gets direct light for a few hours a day. Get creative!
Here are some other suggestions for bringing the outdoors in:
Watch a nature documentary: Planet Earth II; Frozen Planet; Seven Worlds, One Planet; The National Parks – America’s Best Idea; National Parks Adventure; Wild North; Big Pacific.
Listen to ambient nature-sound playlists: Waterfalls Rivers & Creeks; Sounds of the Ocean; Crickets, Cicadas & Frogs; Nature Noise; Sounds of the Rainforest.
Watch an outdoor themed film: Free Solo; Wild; Into the Wild; A Walk in the Woods; Meru; Maidentrip; Leave No Trace; Tracks; Edie; The Dawn Wall; Under an Arctic Sky.
Listen to outdoor themed podcasts: Dirtbag Diaries; She Explores; Women on the Road; The Stokecast; Wild Thing; Outside/In; The Outside Podcast.
Read nature and adventure related books: Into the Wild; Desert Solitaire; Nature Fix; Wild; A Walk in the Woods; The River at Night; Roaming America; Peaks of Europe; Cabin Porn.
… and lastly – show some love to your pets and house plants, even more than usual!
Plan future adventures
This is a wonderful time to research and plan for future travels and adventures. Make the most of online blogs, travel books, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. to plan the ultimate trip for when this pandemic is over.
For trip planning, my personal preference is to create trip specific boards on Pinterest, excel spreadsheets with day-to-day breakdowns, and driving routes on Google Maps (My Maps)… but take whatever approach suits you!
If you are looking to gear-up for future trips and adventures, my favorite online retailer Backcountry.com is still open and taking online orders. I love that they partner with a range of sustainable brands, support incredible causes like The Nature Conservancy, and their Gearheads are always available to give advice and recommendations. Backcountry have kindly offered my readers 15% off first-time online orders using code RENEE15! *some exclusions apply
Trip Planning Inspiration
PIN this post
Disclaimer: Thank you to Backcountry for collaborating on this blog post. As always, all opinions are truthful and my own. The offer of 15% off does not apply on top of any other offer or discount, and it’s one use per customer. This post contains some affiliate links, which means if you buy something my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.