Your Guide to Hiking During Quarantine

If you’re feeling cooped up and stir crazy from social distancing or having to stay indoors due to coronavirus quarantining, there’s good news. First — you’re doing the right thing; Second — hiking can be a terrific way to keep yourself physically active while gyms are closed. And hiking is also one of the best ways to improve your mental health and boost your mood, too. Who among us couldn’t use a bit of both of those right now? Of course these are unique times, so there are some things we hikers should do to tweak our routines and outdoor strategies a bit. Here is your guide to hiking during quarantine.

Nix that National Park Trip Idea

You may find yourself with a ton of forced free time and traffic-free freeways and think, “Hey, now’s the perfect time to head out to Zion National Park!” Guess what? It’s not. Staff at many state, local, and now National Parks are being kept home and away from the public just like you are. That means interpretive centers are closed and the places you want to go may not be fully staffed. Some of these places may be in danger of being over-run, and a few parks have even requested to be closed but have not been granted that request by the Department of the Interior.

There are already rumblings that the parks may be headed for a shutdown. If that’s not enough to discourage you from heading out, then definitely stay away if they are shutdown. I feel like crews are still picking up trash and repairing damage from the last shutdown …

Keep Your Hikes Local

One of the biggest issues facing the country right now is access to our hospitals. The primary reason driving restrictions and actions right now is to prevent exponential spread of the virus from overwhelming our medical care systems. If big cities like New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles are worried about it, those smaller gateway towns we all love are even less prepared. Normally, I would never tell you not to go to the Eastern Sierra for the outdoors … but right now Inyo County is basically telling the folks who normally flock there to stay home.



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Your adventure can wait. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• 📷: @jchapell •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• We want to extend our thoughts and concern to everyone during this time of adjustment and remind you that your next adventure to our backyard can wait! We don’t want to get sick nor do we want to get anyone else sick. • The consequences of a contagion like COVID-19 taking hold in a small town like Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Tecopa, or Bishop, with our limited resources and substantial elderly population, could be devastating. The backyard will still be there when this storm passes. So stay home for now and we’ll keep you updated with how things are playing out on the East Side. • #exploreinyocounty #bestbackyard #visitbishop #buttermilks #sadboulders #happyboulders #bishopclimbing #mtwhitney #sierranevada #eastside #deathvalleynationalpark #Covid-19 #AdventureCanWait #StayHomeStayHealthy

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No Group Hiking During Quarantine

Although outdoor activities like walking and hiking during quarantine seem to be OK by most standards we’ve seen so far, remember that one of the things we’re trying to do to limit the spread of coronavirus is to stay away from groups. You may have seen or heard the phrase “social distancing” to describe this — maintaining a distance of around 6 feet between people. Now that’s impossible to do during a big group hike, but you can absolutely manage that with one or two hiking buddies. If you’re looking for an easy way to make sure you’re keeping a good distance from each other, Boots McFarland has you covered:

a comic showing hikers with good social distance during quarantine

Boots McFarland is great, y’all.

Pick the Right Trail

To maintain social distance, you should stay away from crowds. That also means you should stay away from crowded trails in general. Here are a few quick tips for making sure you pick the right trail when you’re hiking during quarantine:

  • Go on Off Times: Same as you would during a non-pandemic timeframe, if you can get to a trailhead when other people can’t, you’re likely to have more solitude. Solitude equals good social distancing. Even though lots of folks aren’t working right now, try to get outside during the week and go early. 
  • Hike Wide Trails: If you’re solo hiking, you can still hike single track trails easily. If you’re going with a buddy or partner, you’ll want to pick something with a bit more social distancing room. Look for wide, fire road style trails instead of single tracks. 
  • Stay Away from the Popular Trails: I was hiking in Griffith Park recently and although many of the routes had plenty of room, folks were still crowding around the (closed) Griffith Observatory to grab a selfie with the Hollywood Sign. Not worth it. Plus — you don’t have to all go to one spot to see the Sign, folks. 
  • If It Rained, Give the Trails Some Time: I know we’ve had a bit of a March Miracle in California with rain recently and we might all have a bit of extra cabin fever — but please give trails some time to dry out. I generally recommend folks wait 24-48 hours after it rains before hiking. Some parks may even close during those times. In some places, like narrow canyons, it’s to protect you from high water or flash floods. In other places, it’s to protect the trails from increased erosion. I promise, the trails (and waterfalls) will still be there afterward!


Be Extra Safe Hiking During Quarantine

Remember how smaller towns are discouraging folks from visiting so they don’t get stuck in their smaller hospitals? Well, we also don’t want to clog up any hospital beds with broken ankles because somebody wanted to scramble up a waterfall in flip flops. Save the extra-tough adventures for later, and be sure to follow all park rules and stay on the established trails. You do that anyway, right? 

Wash Your @*&$# Hands

If you’re on the trail, you probably won’t be touching too many high-contact surfaces. But you should still remember to wash your hands often and not touch your face. The good news is soap and water for 20 seconds will do the trick. Although you don’t need hand sanitizer, I have a tiny bottle in my car for after I touch my door handle. Remember to wash when you get home!

Some Good Trails to Hike During Quarantine

There are plenty of terrific, wide, uncrowded trails in places like Griffith Park or in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Puente-Chino Hills have an extensive network of wide trails. And you can even find some nice wide trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. Check out Josephine Peak or the hike to Henninger Flats if you’re looking for good examples. Or roam around in the Verdugos, instead. And don’t forget to keep an eye on wildflower conditions!

Let’s all help keep each other sane during this time. Tag us in your Instagram stories and posts with your favorite quarantine hiking views and we’ll share them there to spread the outdoor love for folks who can’t get outside safely. 


UPDATE 4/22/2020:

Is this the beginning of the end? 

Two counties in Southern California have begun to tentatively open up certain trails for neighborhood use. Other cities have announced they are forming re-opening plans for trails elsewhere as well.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed that this works out, and hope that bigger cities can follow their good examples soon. Until then, please follow the advice of your local health officials. If trails do re-open, please adhere to any additional safety precautions. We’re all in this together!

UPDATE 3/25/2020:

Parks continue to close. All Sonoma County Parks, parking lots at 36 California State Parks (so far), All Oregon State Parks, all Washington State Parks, and others. Los Angeles City Parks appear to remain open for now, but honestly I don’t expect them to be open for much longer. 

Because our readership is from all over the American West and park and open space closures seem to be coming in a maddeningly piecemeal fashion, I will no longer be updating individual park closures here. Please assume the park you want to visit is not open. Call the individual land managers or consult their web sites for more info or clarity. And if you live in an area where these closures don’t seem to be happening yet, prepare for them.

Update from the Afternoon: Well there we go – trails in Griffith Park are closed. It seems like the park itself is open, but trails and playgrounds are not.

UPDATE 3/24/2020:

I’ve been watching the news about closures and bad behavior rolling in and I’m just as bummed out about it as you are. But I also think these feelings of loss we’re all having right now can be channeled (eventually) into something positive.

UPDATE 3/23/2020:

Numerous agencies across the state have begun closing parking lots and in some cases all public access to parks and trails. Closing parking access will likely reduce much of the crowding that’s putting people at risk, but we can assume moving forward that parks and trails will be off limits until further notice. Both the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Pacific Crest Trail Association are urging people to cancel or postpone their thru-hikes. Stay healthy everyone.

UPDATE 3/22/2020:

Both Joshua Tree and Yosemite National Parks have closed entrances because people are not adhering to social distancing. Today, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority (MRCA) has officially closed access to all of its parks and trails.

MRCA manages a large number of many different types of parks all over Southern California (a full listing is here). We have also heard anecdotally of smaller local parks and even specific trailheads being closed. Please follow your health officials recommendations and do not hike in parks that are closed to public access. 

The City of San Diego has also closed all parking lots to parks and beaches.

UPDATE 3/19/2020: 

If you live in Los Angeles County, you should know that Mayor Garcetti and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health have issued a “Safer At Home” order through April 19, 2020. This order can be read in its entirety here. The order is a cancellation and prohibition of gatherings of 10 or more people in addition to a closure of malls, shopping centers, children’s playgrounds, and non-essential retail businesses.

If you are still interested in hiking, this order does not prohibit that. In fact, it specifically says you can: “As a point of clarity, this Order does not prohibit any individual or family from outdoor activities such as hiking, walking, shopping at Essential Businesses, including grocery stores and restaurants offering delivery, drive thru, or carry out service, so long as all persons practice social distancing to the extent practicable.”

If you are hiking, please follow the rules of social distancing and keep in mind the other points I have mentioned here.

UPDATE 5/6/2020:

Mayor Garcetti has announced the opening of most LA City and County Trails beginning Friday, May 8th. Head here for more info.

A quick note: In case you didn’t know, I’m not a doctor. And in case you haven’t noticed, the situation on the ground is changing pretty quickly. Please follow the advice of medical professionals and adhere to your local or state recommendations and restrictions during this time.