11 Things to Do at Home When You Can’t Visit Your Favorite Trail

Posted 04/13/20 by Laura Stark, Amy Kapp in America's Trails

Woman repairs a bicycle | Photo courtesy iStock by Getty Images
During the coronavirus pandemic, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy urges everyone seeking trail experiences to practice social distancing and follow the safety guidelines on being active in the outdoors outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the laws and regulations set forth by state and local governments. For additional information, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

As public health professionals urge Americans to practice social distancing and not congregate in groups to help curb the spread of COVID-19, they continue to maintain the importance of outside physical activity for keeping our minds and bodies healthy, as long as we take the proper steps to protect ourselves and others.

With that in mind, trail and park managers are urging people to stay very close to home when seeking exercise in the outdoors, and to avoid crowded trails and public spaces. In some cases, trails and parks are being closed to ensure the health and safety of residents.

If you don't have access to your favorite trail or a safe outdoor space, fear not. There are many ways you can love trails and be part of the larger movement. Here are just 11 ways you can continue to embrace an active, trail-focused and nature-fueled lifestyle if you're stuck at home.

Related: Resources for Safe Outdoor Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic (03/27/20)

Looking for a home activity? In addition to limiting trips, staying close to home and maintaining a 6-foot social distance from others when outside and in public, the CDC is advising the use of simple cloth face coverings—which can be made at home from household items and common materials—to slow the spread of the virus.

Check out this video by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on how to make a face covering out of a bandana, scarf, hand towel or T-shirt.

1Take a Virtual Trail Tour

In these uncertain times, we look to inspiration wherever we can find it—and thankfully, if we can’t be on trails, we can at least experience them in semi-glory through smartphones and personal computers. Trail videos, virtual trail walks, online events and even Google Maps “Street View” (trail view!) can keep us connected to trails while we stay at home. 

Check out our latest blog outlining six ways to get your virtual trail experience on!

Related: Six Ideas for Exploring and Celebrating Trails …Virtually at Home! (04/10/20)

2Workout at Home

This one may be a no-brainer—as many of us resort to backyards, basements or living rooms to get in our physical activity in this time of social distancing. But did you know that you can make your workout trail-centric, with many online exercise videos tailored to training for a future trail, hiking or bicycling adventure?

Check out REI’s “How to Train for Hiking” page, or Bicycling’s10 Essential Strength-Training Exercises for Cyclists” and “6 Standing Abs Exercises to Help You Stay Stable in the Saddle” (their website also has a number of articles on bicycling safety in the midst of COVID-19).

3Virtual Racing

Virtual racing is one of the fastest-growing trends in the running world, according to a recent article in Shape magazine, in which one signs up for a certain distance, runs whenever they can (within a period of time)—including on one’s own neighborhood street or a treadmill—and logs their completed run for a prize or swag. It’s a way for people to participate in races that they may not be able to otherwise be at physically, and/or to practice good racing nutrition, hydration and practices.

If you’re interested in this virtual activity, check out Active.com, which has a running catalogue of virtual races from a mile to much longer. 

4Explore Railroad and Rail-Trail History

TrailLink Trail Histories featuring the Old Plank Road Trail in Illinois | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com
TrailLink Trail Histories featuring the Old Plank Road Trail in Illinois | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com

To date, more than 24,000 miles of rail-trails have been created in America, built on disused corridors that ultimately were major players in the development and evolution of modern America. History buffs might check out History.com’s article on the Transcontinental Railroad, or you might head to Railfan & Railroad Magazine’s website for interesting articles and features on railroads past and present.

For quick reads, check out TrailLink.com—RTC’s free trail-finder website and mobile app—which includes rail and trail histories on many of the country’s favorite rail-trails.

5Learn About Wildlife

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes | Courtesy Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes | Courtesy Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation

As people attempt to eliminate crowding in the outdoors for everyone’s safety, the sounds and sights of wildlife are more salient in America’s communities—providing a great time for all of us to get more in tune with the nature at home. For example, the Audubon Society posted this online resource on Backyard Birding

Or, you can turn your own outdoor space into a nature-fueled conservation or educational hotspot; the United States Department of Agriculture posted this page on Backyard Conservation, and the National Wildlife Federation has a variety of resources and tips for creating places that support local wildlife, as well as many other nature-centric tools and tips for parents and caregivers.

6Chill With a Movie

Maybe you’ve gotten in that great workout already, and now it’s time to settle in with a great movie and little popcorn (or whatever snack you fancy) for some R&R. If you’re feeling a little walk-bike-rail-trail action, we’ve got a few suggestions for you of movies with great walking moments and/or great biking moments you might want to check out.

And by the way, we’re looking to update these lists soon—so if you know of great movies we missed, email us!

7Play With the Kids Outside

"Every little thing gonna be alright" in chalk on trail
"Every little thing gonna be alright" in chalk on trail | Photo by Becky Dickerson

The internet abounds with memes about parents trying to cope with having the kids at home 24/7. Although playgrounds are now off limits in many parts of the country, there are still ways to get the wiggles out (and save parents’ sanity). One idea literally full of sunshine and rainbows is sidewalk chalk; these enduring drawings and messages of hope are popping up in cities all over America; take a look at this art with heart.

And sometimes it truly takes a village. On neighborhood social media pages, some circulating ideas for collectively entertaining youngsters include putting teddy bears in windows for kids to spot as they stroll through the community, and decorating yards with Christmas lights to bring cheer. Check out the Action for Healthy Kids website for additional ideas for kids (and the adults who love them).

8Escape With a Trail Book

There has probably never been a better time for escapism through books. For those missing outdoor adventure, there are many vividly written and engaging books about life-changing experiences on trails, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, or Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. (And, hey, if nonfiction is truly your game, RTC has some solid rail-trail guidebooks on offer; you can even get them digitally, too.)

For more ideas, check out these lists of great hiking and biking reads. Not interested in ordering online? Check out ebooks from your local library!

Guidebooks are available in RTC's Trail Shop.
Guidebooks are available in RTC's Trail Shop.

9Give Your Bike a Tune Up

Woman repairs a bicycle | Photo courtesy iStock by Getty Images
Woman repairs a bicycle | Photo courtesy iStock by Getty Images

One way to plan for better days ahead is to give your bike a DIY tune-up. Check out the “How to Get Your Bike in Tip-Top Shape in Under 10 Minutes article on our Trailblog. For more in-depth reading, our friends at REI have an “Intro to Bike Maintenance” series of articles as well. (But if you’re not a DIY type, bike shops are specifically designated as essential services in many states and remain open.)

10Create a Trail in Your Neighborhood

Beach Drive in Northwest Washington, D.C., is closed to vehicular traffic in April 2020. | Photo by Anthony Le
Beach Drive in Northwest Washington, D.C., is closed to vehicular traffic in April 2020. | Photo by Anthony Le

If you don’t have access to a nearby trail, or the trails closest to you are too crowded to use safely, you can join the thousands of people who are calling on local elected leaders to create safe places for walking and biking. RTC believes that every American should have safe, immediate access to the outdoors, so we’ve created a petition to close select streets to car traffic during the COVID-19 public health crisis to ensure that essential opportunities for health and well-being are available to everyone. You can also show us exactly what street you'd like to see opened up to walking and bicycling; we want to bolster local efforts and send a strong message to local decision makers that America needs places to safely be active outside right now.


11Plan Your Next Adventure

Have cabin fever? One of the best prescriptions is more bike bell. Plan your future trail adventure—or simply take an armchair vacation—by exploring TrailLink.com. Thanks to thousands of trail enthusiasts around the country, the website is chock full of beautiful trail photos and first-hand reviews of trail experiences. Rails to Trails magazine also offers great trail features and recommended trail destinations to tear out and post to your dream board.

TrailLink is a free app in Apple App Store and Google Play
Download the free TrailLink app on iPhone or Android.
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