Hiking Responsibly During a COVID-19 Pandemic

Ice Age Trail Alliance, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Hiking Responsibly, COVID-19, coronavirus

A hike on a favorite segment of Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers mood-boosting fresh air and sunshine and provides a respite from the uncertainty around us. The Ice Age Trail is a perfect place for slowing down, gathering your internal resources, and gaining clarity. However, the spread of COVID-19 and the Safer-At-Home order (a.k.a. “Stay-At-Home”) issued by Governor Evers raises some questions.

Is Hiking Still Allowed?

The good news is the Safer-At-Home order considers outdoor activity as an Essential Activity (defined in section 11). This means visiting public and state parks, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements, is still allowed. “Such activities include, by way of example and without limitation, walking, biking, hiking, or running.”

How Far Can I Travel to Hike?

Traveling great distances to and from an Ice Age Trail trailhead doesn’t really fall into Essential Travel (defined in section 15). So, a rule of thumb suggested by the American Hiking Society is to stay within about 50 miles of your home so that you can avoid stopping for gas, snacks, restroom breaks, etc., none of which allow for social distancing – running essential errands in your neighborhood is one thing – errands that result from traveling to a hike for fun are not essential.

How Can I Be a Responsible Day Hiker or Trail Runner?

Healthy, symptom-free hiking on the Ice Age Trail is encouraged and we recommend you take the following precautions through May 1, 2020:

Feverish or Coughing? Don’t go. Don’t head out on a hike if you display any of the coronavirus symptoms, have tested positive, or have been in contact with someone who has symptoms/tested positive to COVID-19/coronavirus.

Limit your hiking or running partners. No new hiking/running partners. Do not hike in any groups other than members of your household. Shrinking your circle of interactions will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, do not carpool with friends or family who are not members of your household.

Social Distance. Keep a 6-foot distance while at trailheads, along the Trail itself, and at scenic overlooks. See recommendations by the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Avoid crowds. Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open. If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.

Runners = Extra Space. Runners should give other runners and hikers more space. You are inhaling and exhaling more deeply and therefore more susceptible to absorption and transmission of the virus. Don’t do the “runner nose blow.” It’s a great way to spread the virus.

Practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out your refuse, bury your bodily waste, and practice responsible hygiene.

Be Prepared. The Ice Age Trail winds its way across state park land. It’s important to know: the trails are open to the public; buildings are closed except for some restrooms.

8-foot maximum leash. Please keep your dog(s) on leash while hiking the Ice Age Trail. Discourage your dog(s) from jumping on other hikers.

Do not pet other dogs. Dogs can carry the virus on their fur and it can be transmitted by petting them.

How Can I Be a Responsible Long-Distance, Multi-Day Hiker?

Don’t go just yet. We discourage long-distance, multi-day hikes (and overnight camping) through May 1, 2020. It is unwise to begin this style of hike until the threat of the coronavirus is contained. Should you become infected with the coronavirus, the likelihood of negatively impacting volunteers, residents, or first-responders of a Trail community is quite high.

3 Things for our Long-Distance, Multi-Day Hiker to Know:

  1. Trail Angels have suspended shuttles or home stays through May 1st.
  2. We do not recommend the use of Dispersed Camping Areas (DCAs) through May 1, 2020. There are too many potential health hazards related to these minimally developed sites during a pandemic. There are also too many managing authorities to suggest a standard agreement of use during this crisis.
  3. The Ice Age Trail winds its way across state park land. It’s important to know: state trails are open to the public; campgrounds are closed through April 30, 2020. This includes the popular backpacking shelters in Kettle Moraine State Forest.

How Can I Stay Upbeat During This Tough Time?

We know it’s tricky to feel happy during these uncertain times, so we’ve pulled together these resources for you to use in whatever outdoor space you have available to you right now, especially if you decide not to travel very far.