Can I Go Hiking During California's Shelter in Place? Yes, But Read This First

A bicyclist goes past the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on March 30, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated April 17

It's safe to say that sheltering in place has made many of us stir crazy. There are only so many times you can walk around your apartment or house before you start feeling frustrated and boxed in.

Many experts agree that going outside and being in nature can be crucial for both our physical and mental health. And for some, home isn't a safe place and getting respite from that environment is not only important — it's essential.

But state and local officials have also warned that unless we follow proper health and safety protocols, they may have to take drastic measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Already, the state has shut off vehicle access to all state parks and limited trails. And public health officials are urging residents to stay home as much as possible and wear masks when they go out.

So here's how to get your outside time, and do it the right way:

Before You Go

  • Plan ahead: If you're going to a park or the beach, check to make sure that location is still open. Many parks have also closed their parking lots, playgrounds and restroom facilities, so you'll want to plan for that, too.
  • Pick a place close by: Whether it's a nearby park or just walking around the block, look for nature nearby. Now is not the time to explore or travel far from home.
  • Go solo or with members of your household: As tempting as it may be to meet up with friends, now is not the time to do so. Do not plan meetups at the park or anywhere else. Instead, opt for hanging out with friends remotely.
  • Wash your hands before you go: Wash your hands and bring hand sanitizer, if possible.
  • Don't make stops in between: Maintain social distancing while you're on your way — if you're headed to a park or trail, try to make no stops while you're going to and from.

While You're Out

  • Maintain social distancing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping at least 6 feet of space or more between you and people who are not members of your household. Step off trails to allow others to pass.
  • Choose less frequented areas: Don't walk or hike on crowded trails, and don't park in crowded lots. Signal your presence to others with your voice, a bell or a horn.
  • Follow appropriate signage: Don't go into parks or on trails that have been closed.
  • Keep pets on a leash: Protect your furry friends by keeping them on leash and with you at all times.
  • Leave no trace: Trash pickup may be limited, so make sure to pack out what you pack in.
  • Wear a face covering or mask: Bandanna, t-shirt or homemade mask. San Francisco, as well as several other Bay Area counties, are now requiring face masks be worn when performing essential activities — like grocery shopping. While residents are not required to wear a mask while walking, running, hiking or bicycling, officials are encouraging you keep one handy.

When You Should Not Visit a Park

  • If you're feeling sick: If you, or one of your family members, is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness — stay home.
  • If it's too crowded: If you can tell from the parking lot, or from observing the trailhead, that it is too crowded to maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, do not go.
  • If the park is closed: If a park has been closed by local officials, do not go there.

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And remember, if you can't visit you can always explore parks virtually.

Have fun, stay safe and remember: 6 feet apart!

More Bay Area coronavirus resources: