Hiking This Weekend? Here’s How To Stay Safe And Healthy On The Trails

March 26, 2020
Barr Lake State ParkBarr Lake State ParkHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Barr Lake State Park remains open during the statewide stay-at-home order to battle the spread of coronavirus, March 26, 2020.

Colorado’s stay-at-home order allows for hiking, biking and running close to home. State parks remain open while campgrounds and playgrounds have closed. Rocky Mountain National Park and Mesa Verde remain closed. And some National Forest trailheads and other facilities may be closed too.

All this adds up to short trips to nearby spots like Jefferson County Open Space.

“A lot of our visitors are still coming to their favorite parks and enjoying the trail just because nature offers solace, particularly in these really tough times,” said parks ranger Mary Ann Bonnell with Jefferson County Open Space, one of the most heavily visited recreation areas along the Front Range.

With new social distancing norms, people are trying to figure out how to enjoy the outdoors. Here’s how to stay safe while hiking on your local trails.

Plan It Out

Colorado State Parks has closed its visitors’ centers, playgrounds, picnic areas and campgrounds. But hiking trails remain open. Check websites before heading out to make sure you can get in to your desired location 

Also, before you head out, be honest about how you’re feeling. If you’re not feeling well, or are sick, don’t go out on a hike.

“Think about, ‘How am I feeling today?’” Bonnell said. “If you’re feeling off, if you’re not feeling well, if you’re sick, don’t come. It’s too much of a risk.” 

New Items For The Backpack

Plan on bringing hand sanitizer and toilet paper along with the other essentials of sunscreen, water, food and first aid items. Don’t litter: Plan to hike out what you bring in.

Bathrooms will be a mixed bag. Some will be closed while others are open. With no running water, make sure you are self-reliant and able to clean your hands. 

Avoid Peak Hours

Colorado Parks and Wildlife reports a spike in visitation, particularly during the 11 to 3 p.m. hours on most days, especially weekdays. 

“We highly recommend everyone avoid any area that may have any congestion,” said Jason Clay, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Visitors to Jeffco can check Lot Spot, an app that shows parking availability across the region’s most popular parks.

New Trail Etiquette

Jefferson County Open Space posted new signs at trailheads March 26 encouraging hikers to hike in groups no greater than four. 

When you’re on the trail, don’t rush by someone in an effort to pass. Announce yourself, acknowledge the other person, and allow for plenty of time and six feet of distance to pass. 

Avoid spitting on the ground. Since the coronavirus is carried by droplets, visitors should also avoid the “farmer’s blow.”

Be Kind To Park Staff

Expect a different experience at places you often visit. Across many state parks, visitor centers are closed and so are entrance stations. 

Many rangers continue to patrol and work across local and state parks. Bonnell said many visitors are courteous. But she’s been surprised by the number of visitors who walk up to rangers and don’t give them six feet of social distancing.

And if rangers tell you to do something, do it. Jeffco rangers wear personal protective equipment so they can continue to keep bathrooms clean. They’re also using new cleaning products that require a 10-minute waiting period for products to disinfect bathrooms. 

But not everyone is following the orders.

“We had one visitor who started in with expletives on a parks professional because they just absolutely had to get into the restroom, and it takes 10 minutes to disinfect it," Bonnell said. "We’re just asking for people’s patience as we use these products."

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misspelled CPW spokesman Jason Clay's name.

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