An introvert’s guide to social distancing while hiking

This is cross-posted from my other website,

The COVID-19 outbreak has taken the world by storm, causing national, state and local governments to issue unprecedented stay-at-home orders that have changed the way most people live their lives. And while some messaging encourages people to go outside and get some exercise, land management agencies are shutting down access to parks, campgrounds and trails. Why?

An empty trail is a good sign.

You’re doing this wrong.

And here’s where I have some expertise to share.

My entire adult life I’ve been hiking alone, seeking solitude in the wild spaces near my home and far away. I know how to avoid people; I’ve often called it my superpower. So, if you want to get outside for a hike but steer clear of crowds, then I can help.

The skills you learn now during the global pandemic can help you seek solitude anytime in the future, too. You might learn that you actually enjoy hiking alone and in quiet settings. I hope that these ideas continue to inspire walking adventures for the rest of your life.

One caveat before I begin: it is essential that you heed warnings to stay near where you live and do not travel to small towns and rural areas, since they do not have the same level of services and resources that a more populous area has. Do not use this time to take a vacation to a desolate mountain region or a small coastal hamlet. Keep it local! Explore the natural (and not-so-natural) spaces you can find close to home. Always check the internet for the latest updates on closures before heading out to local parks. Things are changing rapidly.

And, of course, let the Leave No Trace Principles help guide your actions in the outdoors.

Top 5 Tips for Finding Solitude

  1. Use AllTrails and other apps to discover where NOT to go. You know all those top ten lists that are floating around the internet? Have you seen the same picture taken from the same popular viewpoint 20 times already today? These are the places people are hanging out in droves. Start with the assumption that most people are (a) lazy or (b) not seasoned hikers. So they’re going to pick the low-hanging fruit.
  2. Learn to read a map. Cool, you’re thinking, tell me where not to go, so now what? Open Google Maps or, even better, pick up a paper map of a local park, national forest or open space. Look for any trails, forest roads or BLM land near your home. Put together your own hiking route and go explore. Then, DON’T SHARE YOUR GPX TRACK and every single detail on the internet. Because guess what happens when you do? If you’re not an expert navigator, stick to well-marked roads and trails. You can even put together a walking route in the city (here’s how)! If you’re comfortable trekking cross-country, do that. But stay well within your comfort zone so Search and Rescue doesn’t have to come rescue your butt, because they’re extra busy chasing down novice adventurers right now.
  3. Time your walks when other people are at home. The exact days/hours will depend on where you live, but most people are out and about during the daytime, when the weather is the best and when there’s lots of sunlight. That leaves mornings, evenings and poor weather days wide open for you to explore in peace and quiet. Weekdays are typically less crowded than weekend days, although with more people working from home this has shifted somewhat.
  4. Be willing and able to walk just a little bit further. On Friday, I visited Crater Lake for a ski trip and was aghast at how many people were milling around within a hundred yards from the parking lot…but there were maybe a dozen people out and about in three days of ski touring around the rim. Short hikes to epic viewpoints are where people cluster; they rarely venture out much further. Build up your endurance and put some miles in between you and the parking lot!
  5. Be willing and able to drive past a full parking lot. Always have a plan B in mind. If you arrive at a place that’s buzzing with visitors, keep driving! Maybe it’s not the right place or the right time for you to be exploring that spot. Re-check the map. Many parks are enormous, but they have only a handful of hot-spots. What else do you notice on the map? What other trailheads are there? How could you experience the park in a new way? Always keep in mind your fitness, equipment and navigation skills before you push yourself into new territory.

And one more thought: if you do encounter another hiker on the trail, give them 6 feet of passing space. This is much easier to do on a forest road or city sidewalk than on singletrack. Do the best you can to protect your personal space and respect others’ space as well. If you’re feeling sick, do everyone a favor and stay home! Watch some YouTube videos of nature and plan some epic hikes for after the quarantine period passes.

Narrow boardwalks and trails makes it hard to pass others safely.

I know that my mental and physical health improves greatly with the amount of time I spend out in nature. I am guessing that if you’re reading this, you feel the same way. As you are able, make an effort to get outside. Whether it is your literal backyard, a local park, a nearby trail, a forest road or wide open space on public land, take some time to restore your sanity outdoors. Be mindful of not sharing your space with others and change your plans if you show up at an already-crowded area. Use this as an opportunity to walk all the streets in your neighborhood! I guarantee you’ll find something new.

Questions? Suggestions? Just need to rant? Leave a comment! And in the meantime, happy hiking. . .

More hiking resources

Hiking Central Oregon’s Six Pack of Peaks: NOPE. That was a test! Do not do this right now. Any hikes on lists are going to be heavily-visited. But, you can use this checklist to plan some adventures for when the restrictions are lifted!

The Best Training for Hiking: If you’re a goal-oriented person, this one is for you. Use your local hikes and neighborhood excursions to train for something epic later this year.

Tips for Hikers: there’s something for everyone in this blog post, from the absolute newbie to the experienced mountain goat.

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