North Cascades Institute Spring Naturalist Retreat, Methow Valley.

Recreating responsibly as lands reopen

As parks, trails, and beaches begin to reopen, it can be confusing to navigate this “new normal” in terms of how to recreate responsibly. The new #RecreateResponsibly guidelines give advice on how to get outdoors right now. When you choose to recreate responsibly, you are doing your part to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.  No one wants to see our parks, trails, and beaches re-closed, and we can all do our part to take care of each other and these places so we can maintain access. We all have a shared responsibility to care for these places and ensure they remain for future generations to enjoy.

Check the Washington Trails Association’s website for public lands closures and the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. Public lands are reopening, but because of personnel limitations, not all sites are open yet or even website updated, and most camping remains closed. Here are some helpful tips to help you recreate responsibly, to keep both our lands and each other safe!

Know Before You Go: As you plan your hike, look for lesser-traveled trails, and do your best to avoid trails where the main attraction is a viewpoint or other area that would serve as a likely gathering point for many people. (Now’s not the time to hit up Rattlesnake Ledge or Oyster Dome.) If you get to your trailhead and it’s crowded, head for your plan B (or C) trail. Need inspiration? And be sure to notify whoever you left your hiking itinerary with of the change.

Plan Ahead: Pack a lunch and any extra treats you will want. While we often encourage hikers to shop local and contribute to the recreation economy in rural communities, doing so right now could deplete the resources of smaller communities. For now, this precaution also applies to post-hike snacks or drinks: save them for when you get home.And you’ll want to add a few extra essentials to your pack, like hand sanitizer and a face covering. You don’t need to wear it the whole time, but having your mouth and nose covered when around other people protects them from any particles you may be breathing out. Consider this an opportunity to show off your buffs and bandannas that are probably as desperate for some time outside as you area.Facilities are likely to be closed. Go before you leave home, and bring supplies to manage things if nature calls while you’re out there. If necessary, brush up on how to poop in the woods. If you wipe after a pee, save your toilet paper and go a more sustainable route: get a Kula cloth.

Stay Close To Home: Don’t start your big summer of adventures quite yet. Most places are only open for day use anyway. Stick to trails that you can get to and back home from on one tank of gas.

Practice Physical Distancing: Adventure only with your immediate household, and have a face covering at the ready so you can cover your nose and mouth if you encounter others on trail. When you see approaching hikers, look for a spot where you can get off trail and maintain 6+ feet of distance. If you can’t, be sure to use that face covering.As long as you’re briefly passing one another, risk of transmission is low, and even lower with your mouth and nose covered. Here’s how to pass others quickly and courteously.

1. Let them know you’d like to pass. If you are coming up from behind them, a polite: “Coming up on your right (or left)!” works well. If you’re coming towards each other, make eye contact. Trail etiquette states the person going uphill has right of way, but not everyone knows this. If there’s confusion, communicate with each other.

2. Pass with as much space between each group as possible. Try to step aside in a place where you can get well out of the way of each other without trampling the trailside plants.

3. Cover your mouth. Use a buff, a bandanna, or a homemade facemask while you’re passing.

4. Acknowledge them. Say a quick “thank you!” or give a little wave.

Play it Safe: Choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health care resources are strained, and we don’t want to put any extra pressure on them.

Leave No Trace: Respect public lands and communities and take anything you brought with you on the hike back out, including food waste from lunch, and dog poop bags. You’ll need to bring them all the way home with you, since there’s no trailhead trash service.Finally, if you’re sick, please stay home and take care of yourself. We hope you’ll recover quickly, and know that by staying home, you’re protecting others and contributing to the fight to flatten the curve.


Find more #RecreateReseponsibly guidelines for biking, visiting national parks, mountain biking, climbing, boating and more at


  1. Carol A Boss

    This Recreate Responsibly message was OUTSTANDING! Now, if everyone will follow these guidelines. Thank you!

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