Colorado Pandemic Recreation: If You Have To Drive To Hike, ‘You’re Trying Too Hard’

Walking dogs at Chatfield State Park
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Chatfield State Park, a pair of people and their dogs walk in the spring sunshine on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

Hey Colorado, you can still hike … kind of.

“If you have to get in your car to go hiking, you’re trying too hard,” said Matt Robbins of Jefferson County Open Space. 

Under the state’s “safer-at-home” order, Coloradans are discouraged from traveling more than 10 miles to recreate. Officials want people to continue to enjoy parks and open space, but they also want visitors to be more responsible about going out during the pandemic.

Robbins emphasized exhausting all opportunities to stay closer to home before you get in your car to look for a trail. If you do end up driving and the parking lot is full, come back at a different time.

“If you have to circle the lot twice to wait for someone to come and move their car, there’s a good chance that you’re going to encounter that same experience while on the trails,” Robbins said. 

When people walk on crowded trails, they tend to attempt to socially distance by stepping off the trail so others can pass. However, some people go off-trail completely in an attempt to give 6 feet of space. And rather than stepping back on, some continue to forge their own new trail, which can be damaging to wildlife and the land.

In Boulder, if you go into a closed-off area and are caught, rangers will be strict and enforce violations, said Philip Yates, a spokesman for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks. To avoid this, he recommended people announce themselves when they realize they are about to get closer to others.

“When people walk off-trail, they can create the potential fragmented habitat and that's essentially reducing habitat with more and more trails,” Yates said. 

Jefferson County’s stay-at-home order was lifted on Friday. Under the order, groups were limited to four people. That guideline has since been less restrictive under the state’s safer-at-home, which allows no more than 10 people to gather. 

Robbins said people have regularly disregarded that guideline. Although it is not required, the county strongly suggests wearing masks. There were more people adhering to that suggestion initially, he said, but people have been wearing them less often in the last week. 

In Boulder, people are required to wear masks while out and about. It applies to anyone 12 years and older where a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained. Yates said that if people are found without them, the goal is to educate them rather than to fine them or turn them away. Boulder is still limiting groups to four people.

To curb crowds and to stop illegal parking, Jefferson County introduced temporary closures over the last three weeks. These closures usually last about an hour and are implemented when parking lots are at capacity. 

One of Robbin’s biggest suggestions is to come during off-hours. 

“Think about doing them in hours before 9 a.m.,” he said. “Or, in the evenings. The sun is setting later and later every day, and there's a great opportunity to get out into the end of the trails in the evening when it's not nearly as busy and congested.”

Other guidelines for both counties include keeping dogs on a leash, packing all belongings, including trash, and staying on the trail.

He also said he understands that visitors are confused because different counties have different rules, and most people don’t check which jurisdiction they are in.

Many people want to know when things will go back to normal completely and that’s still up in the air. The safer-at-home guidelines loosened some restrictions, like opening up benches and picnic tables now that more people are allowed to gather. Robbins predicted that throughout the summer, groups may be able to become larger over time. He said it’s hard to know anything beyond that though.

As for Boulder, Yates said that all guidelines are staying as is, for now, but that can change any day.