Hiking Responsibly During a COVID-19 Pandemic

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

Note: Updated 5/27/2020

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.

It’s also important, while we are out exploring the Trail, that we remain respectful of the fact COVID-19 is still in our midst. It’s important to help stop the spread of the virus and help flatten the curve with considerate and responsible behavior.

Is Hiking Still Allowed?

Yes! It’s allowed and good for you, too! However, best practices call for thoughtful social distancing.

Should I Keep My Social (or Physical) Distance?

As the folks from the American Hiking Society point out, “Social distancing isn’t just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting those at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and succumbing to extreme symptoms. It’s also about protecting healthcare and essential services workers.”

The better job we do with maintaining social distance ( a minimum of 6 feet between you and another person not of your household), the sooner we “flatten the curve” and keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe until a vaccine is available.

Additional Tips:

Physical Distance. Keep a 6-foot distance while at trailheads, along the Trail itself, and at scenic overlooks.

Limit your hiking or running partners. No new hiking/running partners. Shrinking your circle of interactions will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Avoid Carpooling. It’s hard to stay 6-ft apart in a vehicle, so stick to rides with people in your immediate household.

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.

Hike Early/ Hike Late. Due to the congestion on Ice Age Trail segments in populated areas, hike at off-peak times. On weekends, peak times are 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Hike Connecting Routes. These days, less vehicular traffic, mud, or people, make these portions of the Ice Age Trail an attractive hike option.

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.

What About Flattening the Curve? 

The idea of flattening the curve was to stagger the number of new COVID-19 cases over a longer period, to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and allowing people better access to care.

Based on the science of the virus and public health practices, a gradual, phased process continues to be the safest way to open Wisconsin. Badger Bounce Back is Wisconsin’s plan to reopen and contains the recommendations of public health experts.

Should I Wear a Mask? 

We recommend you bring a mask with you, but when you need to wear it depends on what you’re doing. Your risk of infection (or spreading it) depends on many factors, but, simplified, it depends on the time you spend in contact with the infected person and the viral load delivered (e.g., a cough spreads more than just breathing).

If you’re going to stay in one place for more than 10 minutes with other people around, even if you’re 6 feet from others, then we recommend wearing a mask (even if the risk is lower outside than in an enclosed space).

A solid article to help you be informed and make your own decision is found here.

What Should I Know Before I Go Hiking? 

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail crosses numerous State, County, and Federal properties on its 1,200-mile journey. Access to parking lots, restrooms, and campgrounds may affect your hiking experience.

Park Status. Beginning Saturday, May 23, all Wisconsin state park system properties will return to regular operating hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Properties will no longer be closed Wednesdays.

For up-to-date information check with the Department of Natural Resources, here.

Note: All group, family, individual, and indoor group campsites will remain closed through June 7.

The following properties will remain closed for the health and safety of the public, staff, and property integrity:

  • Dells of The Wisconsin River State Natural Area
  • Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area
  • Parfrey’s Glen State Natural area
  • Pewits Nest State Natural area

Several popular state properties have Safety Capacity Limitations in effect. Before you head out the door, check a property’s status here.

Safety Capacity Limitations limit the number of people able to park in a parking lot, and therefore use the park or hike, at any given time. Once a lot is full, visitors may be denied entry to the park until existing visitors leave. This system may on occasion limit access to these segments:

Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Sauk Point Segment
  • Devil’s Lake Segment

Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit

  • Whitewater Lake Segment
  • Blackhawk Segment
  • Blue Spring Lake Segment
  • Stony Ridge Segment
  • Eagle Segment
  • Scuppernong Segment

Kettle Moraine State Forest-Lapham Peak Unit

  • Lapham Peak Segment

Forest Status. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is open, as of 5-21-2020, for dispersed camping and campfires, lifting the campfire ban across much of the Forest. Fire and campfire restrictions will remain in place for Forest Service lands in Langlade and Oconto counties due to the July 2019 blowdown. While some recreation areas are open, they will not be maintained, nor will any associated facilities be available such as restrooms or garbage receptacles.

View press release.

Visit their website for complete details and a listing of what’s open.

Additional Tips: 

Do Research. Use the online Hiker Resource Map to locate a new-to-you and less frequented Ice Age Trail segment for your outing (please consider limiting your range of travel). You can also use the Ice Age Trail Guidebook or Atlas. You may purchase new editions here (a downloadable PDF version is sent via email immediately).

Plan Carefully. Have several options in mind. If the parking lot is full when you arrive, consider hiking another segment instead, or reschedule your visit.

Yellow Blazes. The blazes are the official indicator used to mark the Trail route. They are painted or plastic 2-by-6-inch vertical rectangles placed on trees or posts along the Trail. In numerous instances, the Trail crosses private land. Stay on the Ice Age Trail. Taking a trail that is not yellow-blazed could lead to trespassing and jeopardize our relationships with private land owners.

How Can I Be A Trail Angel?

Smile and Say “Hi!”: A friendly Midwestern wave never goes out of style and is good way to spread a little joy while you’re out on the Trail.

Be Thoughtful. Pack out your own trash. Do not litter. Pick up your dog’s poop and carry it out. Leave No Trace.

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.

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

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.

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

Please follow the safety guideline listed above. Should you become infected with COVID-19, the likelihood of negatively impacting volunteers, residents, or first-responders of a Trail community is quite high.

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

  1. Trail Angels have suspended shuttles or home stays for the time being.
  2. Please read the What Should I Know Before I Go Hiking? section, it will help you understand where you might be able to pitch a tent at night.

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.

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