How to be respectful during physically distant hikes

To avoid trail closures in the future — either because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns or damage caused by recklessness — you should adhere to the following rules.
family pointing at a trail sign
Photo by Sharon Vanorny

People love trails. But any given trail can be loved to death if too many people use it. And in the midst of a pandemic, crowds of trail users can cause the loss of trail access. Consider the temporary closure this past spring of state parks and trails in southern Wisconsin. That decision was prompted in part by people who weren’t maintaining a safe distance from one another. That reminded us all that having trails open to hiking is a privilege, not a right.

To avoid trail closures in the future — either because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns or damage caused by recklessness — you should adhere to the following rules.

Share the trail.
Treat all other trail users — regardless of their means of travel (by foot, bicycle, horseback or motorized vehicle), speed or skill level — with respect and courtesy. Expect to encounter others around corners or in blind spots, and try to announce your presence without startling them.

Stay safe and distant.
Hike only with household members, maintain at least 6 feet between you and other hikers, walk single file, stay to the right and pass on their left. Yield to everyone. Wear a mask or cover your mouth and nose when approaching others. Keep moving and don’t congregate.

Stay on the trail — when open.
Protect the environment by not stepping off the trail to take a shortcut or to avoid an obstruction. Going around obstacles widens trails. If a trail is wet or muddy, do not hike it. The tread you leave can cause damage and hasten erosion. If a trail is posted closed, do not proceed. If the parking lot at a trailhead is full of cars, go elsewhere or return during off-peak hours.

Keep pets leashed.
Dogs must be kept under control so as not to scare wildlife, startle horses with riders or expose them to areas where trappers may have set snares. Carry out your dog’s waste and all other litter.

Stay off social media and avoid distractions.
Refrain from posting photos of your adventures that might attract more people to remote locations. And leave the earbuds at home so you are not surprised by others on the trail and to maximize your enjoyment of the birds singing and other critters rustling in the underbrush.

Read more about hikes here.