Resources for Safe Outdoor Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted 03/27/20 by Amy Kapp in America's Trails, Trail Use

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 the nation works to slow the spread of COVID-19 by practicing extreme social distancing, public health experts agree that outdoor exercise is essential as long as people maintain a safe social distance of 6 feet between each other.

But as trails and parks continue to serve as vital places for Americans to be outside, major spikes in usage have resulted in overcrowding—making social distancing difficult and forcing managers to limit access to or, in some cases, close facilities, altogether. Additionally, many states and communities have had to enact laws and regulations around group activity to ensure good social-distancing practices among residents and curtail the spread of the Coronavirus.

Good judgment and preparation are critical during this time to ensure we can be active safely in the outdoors. This includes: following the guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing before, during and after being outside; and adhering to all laws and regulations set by states and local communities.

Below is a list of resources that offer guidance on how to be safe in the outdoors, as well as the latest updates on closures of trails, parks and related facilities. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) will continue to update this list as more information becomes available.

Safe-Use Resources for Outdoor Activity

Federal Public Health Tips to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19

To urge all Americans to practice social distancing and critical public-health preparedness practices to slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has provided a collection of tips and resources for travelers, families, businesses and schools, healthcare professionals, pregnant women and children so people can be proactive in protecting themselves and others. For resources and real-time updates, go to

Tips for Safe Use of Trails and Linear Parks

Share the Trail graphic about COVID-19
Practice safe social distancing on the trail. Learn more about Share the Trail.

RTC recently put out guidance on how to safely navigate trails and linear pathways as many experience record use. Good judgment, preparation, and following all local laws and regulations of states and communities related to group limitations, curfews, etc., are crucial to ensure safe use. Specific tips include social distancing; hand sanitation; and staying close to home to avoid crowds on popular trails as well as the chance of accidents that could put a strain on local emergency resources. RTC also produced this rapid-response webinar, "Trail Use and Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic," to hear from trail leaders in COVID-19 hotspots about how they are managing their facilities.

To this end, many organizations are using social media and video to disseminate information to their constituents, such as East Bay Regional Park District.

John Muir Health just put out this great PSA on walking and hiking in the outdoors—and here’s a great video from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

RTC is corresponding with thousands of trail managers to develop resources for professionals as they deal with the extreme increases in demand, while simultaneously striving to balance public health and safety in an era of social distancing. View our recent rapid-response webinar, “Trail Use and Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” to hear from trail leaders in COVID-19 hotspots.

Finding Close-to-Home Trails and Greenways for Safe Use is an extensive free resource for locating close-to-home trails and greenways across the United States, offering information, biking and walking directions, maps, user reviews, photos and more for 37,000+ miles of multiuse trails, including more than 24,000 rail-trails.

Note: As communities and states seek ways to reduce the threat of COVID-19, they have begun to close trail facilities, including restrooms and parking lots. In some cases, trails have closed altogether. Before heading out to a local trail, please be sure to check with the local trail-managing organization (contact information can be found on the TrailLink records for each trail).

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

Tips and Guidelines for Public Parks and Recreation Areas

Although park departments across the United States are closing active facilities like playgrounds, sports fields, restrooms, picnic pavilions, etc.—many public parks and green spaces remain open. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) offers extensive guidance and an infographic on how to be safe and ensure the safety of others when out in public green space. This includes advice such as avoiding water fountains—even if operable—and removing all trash to protect park workers.

NRPA is also maintain a News and Resources for the Field Page in their online COVID-19 collection of resources, with blogs, and operational and program resources for park and recreation professionals.

COVID-19 Closure Info/Guidance for Parks, Trails and Public Lands

Information on State Park and Trail Closures

Current guidance recommends close-to-home outdoor activity, and the avoidance of popular state-owned thru-hiking trails and parks that might result in overcrowded parking lots, trailheads, rights-of-way and lands. 

The National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) advises that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many state park managers have closed facilities, access and, in some cases, whole state parks or whole systems. To learn the status of state parks and facilities, go to the NASPD homepage, which provides a searchable map of each state park website.

Updates for National Scenic and Historic Trails

Many overseers of National Scenic and Historic Trails—such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy—are discouraging the use of their long-distance thru-hiking trails and canceling programs and events to promote social distancing, encourage close-to-home outdoor activity and reduce overcrowding. To that end, the Partnership for the National Trails System is maintain a page to track organizational responses, guidelines, policies, event cancelations and related resources in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Park Announcements, Guidance and Closures During COVID-19

The National Park Service (NPS) is urging people to do their part when visiting all parks in the system and to follow CDC guidance to “avoid the spread of infectious diseases” [like COVID-19] with recommendations for public health preparation, and facility and closure information. As of March 26, 2020, three national parks have been closed to visitors temporarily.

To access an interactive map for each individual national park, and subsequent facility and closure information, go to the NPS “Find a Park” page.

An Essential Guide to Enjoying National Parks Responsibly

Additionally, you might find this resource on enjoying national parks responsibly very useful, which has plenty of tips, practical advice and other resources to stay safe while you're visiting parks and recreating in the outdoors. 

As Americans continue to rely on trails and other outdoor spaces for critical physical activity and mental health during this uncertain time, RTC urges everyone—including individuals, families and older Americans—to be safe and use good judgment when in the outdoors.

We will update this page as new resources come in.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy logo

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy urges everyone to be as safe as possible when out on the trails in their communities, and to follow CDC guidelines and state/local guidance and laws before visiting your local trail. Read the insights and information that RTC is compiling to help you stay active and to promote wellness during this time.

comments powered by Disqus