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Trail Etiquette During COVID-19: A Safety-First Approach to Enjoying the Outdoors

by | Jan 6, 2021 | Trail Etiquette

hikers on trail

Even during the cool, damp winter, more people are visiting Bay Area parks for fresh air and escape during COVID-19. As our regional trails remain crowded, trail etiquette becomes more important than ever. During a pandemic, that etiquette comes with additional considerations around physical distancing, mask-wearing, and safety.

Remember: If we follow trail etiquette and park guidelines, the trails will stay open. If not, our regional parks may be forced (again) to close parking lots and the parks themselves.

Follow these trail etiquette guidelines to ensure everyone can enjoy our beautiful parks throughout the year.

1. Plan ahead. Stick to parks near your home per shelter-in-place orders. Ideally, choose a trail walking or biking distance or a short drive from your house. If you live in Oakland, this is the perfect time to visit Joaquin Miller or Redwood Regional Park. Save the trip to Mt. Shasta for a time when cases are more under control.

You’ll also want to check the park website in advance of your visit to review any closures in place. East Bay Regional Parks has an interactive map.

It’s also wise to plan your route and make sure you have the water, snacks, and stamina to finish. A walk around Lake Chabot sounds nice, but it’s about 9 miles with some steep hills. Are you up for a three- to five-hour trek?

2. Stay six feet apart as best you can. Visit solo or only with members of your immediate household. On the trails, maintain a safe distance behind or beside other people. On narrow trails, step to the side to let people pass. Put on your mask and pick up your pace when passing.

3. Observe the right-of-way. When approaching another hiker, pass on the left. Call out politely “passing on your left” to alert them of your intent to pass. Typically, hikers walking uphill have the right of way. When you’re descending a steep trail, step aside to let uphill hikers pass.

Typically, hikers yield to runners, while mountain bikers yield to hikers. However, if you notice a mountain biker bombing down a trail while you’re walking up, it’s definitely easier (and safer) for you to yield.

Everyone yields to horses. A spooked horse can cause serious injuries to the rider and to any person or dog in its path.

4. Wear a mask. Most park systems ask you to wear a mask or face covering to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Of course, if you don’t see another soul for miles, it’s safe to take it off. But if you see another person coming, put it on. Although the risk of picking up the coronavirus is low when you’re outdoors and passing someone for two seconds, it’s the rule and it’s the polite thing to do.

5. Pack it out. Pack out what you bring in. That includes energy bar wrappers, disposable masks, empty water bottles, and dog waste bags. NO LITTERING. It’s bad for the trails, bad for the environment, and bad for the park rangers, who already have a lot to do.

A few other points to remember:

  • If you’re sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 over the past 14 days, stay home.
  • No group activities. Walk, run, or bike solo or with someone from your immediate household. When the Bay Area moves to a less restrictive tier, you can visit the trails with someone from your safe social bubble.
  • Most restrooms and water fountains are closed. Plan accordingly.
  • Check the weather. Wear the appropriate layers to prepare for changes in temperature or rain.

Winter is a wonderful time to explore Bay Area parks. Help ensure you, your family, and other trail patrons enjoy our trail systems all year long by observing proper trail etiquette and COVID-19 guidelines.

Should you need us during a time of crisis, we’re here. Call our office for a free consultation.