Tips for social distancing and the outdoors

Tips for social distancing and the outdoors

Conservation Northwest / Mar 17, 2020 / Recreation, State Trust Lands, Wilderness

Suggestions for preventing the transmission of coronavirus while spending time in nature

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting policies continue to change rapidly, even many months after this blog was first published in March 2020. Please check for local agency, county or state restrictions before heading outdoors. Let’s do our part to keep our communities healthy and our public lands open and accessible!


As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to develop in Washington state and beyond, our hearts go out to those and their loved ones who are experiencing the direct impacts of the virus. This is a difficult time for our community, and we are with you as we all navigate our way through this situation. Additionally, we have moved our annual auction and other events to online formats.

The Ferry County Rail Trail is a great outdoor option for northeast Washington locals, but we don’t recommend that Western Washington residents travel to rural communities or remote areas at this point. Photo: Chase Gunnell

As communities comply with state-issued “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders and restaurants, bars, recreation facilities, and other businesses close or alter their services, we’re grateful to live in a place with many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors—even if we’re limited to local spaces at this time.

Being out in nature can be restorative. It can provide some respite from stressful, busy lives, and for many of us, the outdoors is simply where we’d rather be. So during this tough time, it’s only natural to want to head outside. And for those who are able, we encourage you to do so.

Getting some fresh air and exercise is a good way to keep yourself healthy—physically and mentally. But we all need to do so responsibly. If you choose to head outdoors, consider possible effects on vulnerable individuals as well as our healthcare system, taking steps to minimize risk. Make sure to continue practicing social distancing and proper hygiene even while enjoying the outdoors.

Suggestions for practicing social distancing in the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Pay very close attention to your health and how you’re feeling. No matter how tempting a short hike or bicycle ride might seem, if you’re feeling at all unwell, please stay home!

Washingtonians are lucky to have green spaces to enjoy in both urban and rural areas, like the Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle. Take advantage of outdoor spaces in your neighborhood! Photo: Keiko Betcher

Stay local as much as possible

Now is a good time to explore trails, parks and outdoor spaces close to your home, including those in the city or suburbs. Doing what we can to limit opportunities for spreading the virus to rural communities where medical services are already a scarce resource is important.

Think about what you really need from nature at the moment, and whether you can obtain it without interaction with remote communities.

Keep your distance and wear a mask when you cannot

While in the outdoors, do your best to continue to maintain a six-foot distance from others. Wear a  mask whenever you cannot. Be mindful of those around you—if other people are already stopped at a viewpoint, try stopping on your way back down. If the parking lot of your favorite hike looks full, move on to a different hike you’ve been meaning to try.

Bring your own lunch and limit stops

We don’t recommend traveling far distances to get outside right now. Take some time to explore urban nature close to your home! Photo: Keiko Betcher

We usually encourage boosting local economies while you’re out. But if you choose to spend time outside during the pandemic, try to limit contact with others, and don’t stop for a beer or a bite to eat on your way back home. If you’re not bringing food from home, consider ordering takeout and ask if they can deliver it to your car and if you can pay with card over the phone.

Use hand sanitizer before and after exchanging items and encourage others to do the same. If possible, fuel up at local gas stations before you leave and when returning home. Other ways to contribute to small businesses include gift cards and local online shopping.

Postpone group activities

Choose your adventure partners carefully. Avoid crowds and groups, especially those of more than five people. If you head outside with a buddy, be very careful. If they aren’t someone you’re already in close contact with, such as a family member or roommate, it’s best to avoid those interactions for now. Plus—if you’re on an urban trail, you might get enough reception to Facetime a friend or loved one who can’t join you in person!

Don’t carpool

Again, something we’d normally encourage, but should now be avoided.

Maintain excellent hygiene

Frequently washing your hands and/or sanitizing isn’t limited to when you’re in places with a lot of people. Keep yourself (and your things) clean, especially while traveling to and from the outdoors.

Avoid risky or potentially dangerous activities

Getting outdoors is good for your physical and mental health, but make sure to get outside responsibly.

If you’re going to spend time in the outdoors, take it easy. Hospitals and emergency rooms should be prioritized for those who are sick, so don’t partake in activities that are more prone to injury. The same goes for your pets and vehicle—now is not a good time to be calling roadside assistance in a remote area.

If you choose to go outdoors alone, take proper precautions. Enjoying the outdoors is always best done with at least one buddy. But if going alone seems the best or only choice for you at this time, make sure to take proper precautions by packing all necessary safety equipment and letting someone know where you are going, what your plans are, and when they should expect you back (and don’t forget to tell them when you do get back!).

Enjoying nature from your home

Unfortunately, many people are experiencing impacts from the virus, and do not have the option to get outside. For others, a lack of green space or personal vehicle and general inaccessibility can make nature harder to find. We hope these resources can bring some of nature’s wonders and restorative gifts to you from the safety of your home.

Try listening to a nature podcast—one of our favorites is The Wild with Chris Morgan. Chris is a great storyteller and longtime friend and colleague of Conservation Northwest. His podcasts make you feel as if you’re there in the wild with him!

Our partners at the National Wildlife Federation have also made their Ranger Rick Magazine free online through June.

Sometimes the most incredible things in nature are the most rare—and the only chance you’ll get to see them is on a screen. Now’s a great time to watch some nature documentaries, or check out these live-stream videos of brown bears in Katmai National Park, bald eagles, sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium, jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more.

Did you know you can also contribute to wildlife research as a community scientist, without having to leave your home? Check out some of the nature projects you can assist with on Zooniverse, an online platform for volunteer-powered research that anyone can participate in!

However you might be finding ways to make it through this tough time, we hope you still get the chance to enjoy your love for the wild while staying safe and healthy.

*Editor’s note: These recommendations were reviewed and informed by medical experts, but we at CNW are not public health professionals. We believe these suggestions are appropriate given circumstances in Washington state at this time, and we’ll make edits or updates as needed. However, conditions are changing very rapidly. Please stay tuned to the CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL, local and state ELECTED LEADERS, law enforcement and health departments for the most up-to-date recommendations and public safety orders. If you have questions or feedback on this blog, please contact communications (at)


Find your favorite close-to-home outdoor areas and make sure to stay six feet away from others. Photo: Chase Gunnell