Let’s commit to social distancing in the outdoors  

We understand not everyone is permitted outside right now, and for those who can’t, our hearts go out to you. For those of us who are fortunate enough to make it outdoors, we all need to commit to social distancing before more of the parks we love are closed for public safety. Please check out the below information from our team of medical advisors on how to responsibly get outside during this time. It’s up to us to take care of each other. Let’s keep the one place we all look to for solace – the great outdoors – safe for all .  

Is it safe to go outside? Isn’t it risky?

In North America, we are still permitted to go outside. As long as we adhere to the recommended social distancing mandates, it’s not only safe, physicians are ENCOURAGING it. AllTrails medical advisors and physicians are suggesting families get outside because of the physical and stress-relieving benefits nature has to offer.

Just make sure to only venture outdoors on local trails and plan a route you can enjoy solo or with those you live with. Please don’t seek out technical trails at this time, and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

If you have long-distance trips planned to more remote areas, please reconsider your travel plans to avoid spreading COVID-19 to rural communities with fewer available healthcare resources. Additionally, if you get lost or hurt while on the trail in these remote areas, first responder and rescue services are less likely to be available due to the ongoing situation.

Can I go outside if I’ve been told to shelter in place?

Yes, you can still go outside if you’ve been told to shelter in place. In fact, in California, where residents have been told to shelter in place, physicians are still encouraging people to go outside. Unlike many countries where residents have been quarantined, those who are sheltering in place are able to leave the house when doing so responsibly. Even in areas like New York and Paris where shelter-in-place ordinances are in effect and strictly enforced, local authorities have designated time outdoors as an “essential activity”. Just make sure to check with local parks and authorities before heading out, as ordinances are changing daily.

What are the benefits of going outside? Aren’t I putting myself at a greater risk of getting sick by going outside?

Nope. In fact, as long as we all adhere to social distancing requirements, it’s good for you! There is tremendous healing – both mental and physical – that can be found in nature. Studies show that being outside is also good for our immune system. The phytocides in plants, Vitamin D from the sun, and bacteria in the soil all aid in boosting our immunity. We also find mental and emotional relief from getting outside. When we feel less stressed, our bodies work more effectively, which also helps boost immunity. If you are healthy, there is no reason we shouldn’t go outside at this time. Just make sure not to congregate!

What is social distancing?

According to Johns Hopkins’ Senior Director of Infection Prevention, Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19. This also means no congregating, and only being around those in your household. It is of the utmost importance we practice social distancing at all times – including when outdoors.

Do I need to go outside alone, to make sure I’m adhering to social distancing mandates?

When going outside, it is important to practice social distancing. Only go outside alone or with those living in your household. When you are outside, make sure to stay at least six feet away from others and do not congregate.

What are some recommendations for what I can do outside? What can’t I do outside?

We probably sound like a broken record at this point, but when going outside make sure you stay at least 6 feet away from others. We can’t stress this enough. Take a walk around the block with your family or those in your household. Go for a walk with the dog – this is perfectly safe. Look for local trails where you can venture out into nature and keep sufficient distance from others. Do not engage in team sports or play that involves close contact with those who aren’t living in your household. Do not let your children play with friends/those who don’t live in your household, as it is nearly impossible to ensure they stay six feet apart from one another. Most water fountains are no longer operating, and we don’t recommend drinking from them if they are, so be prepared with your own hydration. Finally, we ask that you please take extra precaution while outdoors and avoid any risky behavior. We are incredibly thankful for our dedicated emergency and hospital staff, so we must be mindful of limiting unnecessary emergency visits that create additional stress.

My trails and outdoor spaces are so crowded it’s difficult to practice social distancing.

With more downtime, more and more people are heading outdoors these days, making it difficult to responsibly keep 6 feet of separation. The trails are filled with new hikers, runners, and cyclists, so let’s set a positive example of how we can responsibly play outside, even in times like these.  Here are a few ideas on how to avoid traffic on the trail and in nature. 

  • If you can, try to head out during off-hours. 
  • Stay local, and avoid driving to major recreation areas that are attractions for large groups. 
  • Look for less popular trails in your community. Maybe you’ll stumble upon a hidden gem! 
  • If the trailhead parking lot is full, the trail likely will be too. Consider finding another route if the lot is overcrowded. 
  • Avoid single track trails, as it will be difficult to keep 6 feet separation when passing others. Instead, opt for wide fire roads that can accommodate more people. 
  • Look for loop trails over out-and-back trails. Not everyone will necessarily be headed in the same direction but there’s a good chance you’ll encounter less return traffic than on an out-and-back.
  • Only venture out with people in your household or by yourself.  
  • Over-communicate while on the trail, and announce yourself to others when passing to help maintain at least 6 feet of separation. 
  • Be safe, but be kind. Some trail goers may be slower than you. Some may not be as familiar with the trail. Let’s be patient with one another, but help remind our community of the importance of social distancing while outdoors. 

Some of the parks in my community have closed. Can I still go outside?

Unfortunately, more and more parks are closing because trail-goers refuse to follow social distancing mandates. Yes, you are still permitted to go outdoors, and we encourage you to do so. Please make sure to head out responsibly, and practice the guidelines we’ve outlined regardless of where you venture.

Where can I find information about local parks?

Check your town or city’s website for information about local park closures and restrictions. 

How can I help minimize my impact on the outdoors?

During these tough times, it’s more important than ever that we act as responsible stewards of our outdoor spaces. Follow these simple principles from our friends at Leave No Trace to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.

What are some other ways physicians are recommending we stay healthy?

Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re strengthening our immune system. Here are a few things our physicians and medical advisors are recommending: 

  • Make sure you are getting at least eight hours of sleep each night
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables – these foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which keep our immune system healthy 
  • Get outside – Since many of us are working from home, schedule a walk or hike in your calendar to make sure you’re getting your daily dose of nature. Check out the AllTrails app to find local trails near you. 
  • Stick together – not physically, but do stay connected and in touch with loved ones. As an inherently social species, “social distancing” is hard, especially during times like these. That’s why we like to think of this practicing as “physical distancing” instead of social distancing. Just because we need to separate ourselves from each other for a while, doesn’t mean we can’t keep in virtual contact!