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Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

State lands are reopening, but hiking will look different for a little while. Pack a few extra supplies (like masks, extra toilet paper and hand-sanitizer), skip that post-hike beer, and be more willing to head to a different trailhead if your first choice is busy.

After weeks of enjoying nature close to our homes, Washingtonians will soon be able to venture further afield. In a press conference, Jay Inslee announced state lands will reopen outdoor recreation on May 5. In the conference, the governor acknowledged the importance of getting outside for Washingtonians everywhere. 

"We know how important outdoor recreation is during this time of physical and mental isolation."

State lands are opening, but be prepared to hike with a little extra empathy. And toilet paper. Photo by Gaurav Bora. 

But the opening doesn't mean everything is back to normal. Inslee compared the current situation to a well-planned hike foiled by late-spring snow: "They have their boots, their compass and their backpack. They've planned the hike. But you can't go until the snow retreats from the hills, and that's up to Mother Nature." 

Many of us have been there, when events out of our control force us to change our plans. And right now we're having to change our behavior to keep each other safe and healthy. So hiking is going to look different for a little while. You'll want to pack a few extra supplies (like masks and hand-sanitizer), skip that post-hike beer with friends, and be more willing to head to a different trailhead if your first choice is busy. 

This reopening is a trial run. As long as this virus is a public health concern, it will take extra effort on all our parts to keep each other safe, and keep hiking a healthy activity. But land closures may come back around when and if cases surge. Until the pandemic is under control, public health is top priority.

Remember, this opening only applies to state lands. Lots of other popular locations (like Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, trailheads on national forests and many county parks and trails) remain closed. 

Coronavirus Hiking Etiquette

WTA worked with land managers and other stakeholders in anticipation of this decision, and in order to balance recreation with public health, we've got some new advice about how to recreate responsibly to keep each other safe and lands open. 

  • Physical distancing is key. This remains the main way to avoid transmission of the virus. It's important to be able to maintain 6+ feet between you and other hikers for the majority of your outing. If you can't, pick another trail. And right now, stick to recreating with just the folks in your household. 
  • Passing on trail. Even given these considerations, you'll likely run into other folks on trail. If you do, do your best to maintain physical distance. Determine who will step aside (generally, hikers coming uphill have right of way) and give each other a wide berth.
  • Bathroom breaks: BYOTP. For now, assume all trailhead facilities will be closed. Take care of business before you arrive, bring your own toilet paper and brush up on how to poop in the woods. And remember to pack it out — toilet paper doesn't decompose quickly outside. 
  • Stay local. This reopening applies to day-use of state lands only. Most campgrounds and other facilities will remain closed. Stick to parks you can access in a day, and remember to keep rural communities safe. While we often encourage hikers to shop local and contribute to the recreation economy in rural communities, doing so right now could deplete the resources of smaller communities.

Find more details on recreating responsibly, get tips, and see current closures on our Hiking in the Time of Coronavirus resource page.

You are also invited to join WTA staff on Friday, May 1, at noon for a webinar to answer as many of your questions as we can in 45 minutes. Registration is free.



sarta on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

This is good news in theory but judging by the 100+ cars I counted at Tiger Mtn yesterday and 200+ cars off of Exit-38 outside of closed trailheads I cant see how this is going to work in practice. People were not at all concerned about social distancing of any kind nor respecting the public lands evident through piles of toilet paper and sanitary products strewn outside of the outhouse, Inslee seems to be very out of touch from the realities of society.

WTA needs to be taking the lead in working with DNR, Forest Service and other land owners to implement much stricter rules to control crowds on these trails and not rely on individual 'common sense' and 'ethics' which appear in ever dwindling supply. e.g. if a parking area is full then go somewhere else, don't park alongside the road at the back of a 2 mile conga line and make the situation worse, and if an outhouse is closed don't free form defecate outside of the door.

Posted by:

sarta on Apr 27, 2020 09:12 PM

scubaaron on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

I'm not sure your vehicle estimates are right, but people have been still been hiking.

The problem with more rules (as you suggest) is there isn't a way to enforce them. Cops and rangers have better things to do. If someone isn't carrying sanitizer that shouldn't be a crime. In my experience hikers are a nice and easy going group, yielding on the trail is no issue. If anything it becomes a politeness standoff with each party insisting the other goes first.

Posted by:

scubaaron on Apr 28, 2020 12:04 AM

lindsayflo on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

I think the issue is more what sarta said - that people won’t turn around and find a different trail if the parking lot is full at their first choice - they’ll just park down the road and walk in. I know for me - I’m a super early hiker because I can only hike on the weekends. I’ll get to a trailhead early and be one of the first cars, but by the time I come back down the parking lot will be overflowing. I’m concerned that’s going to happen now that things are opening back up.

Posted by: on Apr 28, 2020 07:34 AM

Pack-rat on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

How are hikers going to maintain a 6 foot spacing when passing on a 2-3' wide trail?

Posted by:

Pack-rat on Apr 28, 2020 09:03 AM

Kevin.Loves.Hiking on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

I don't think you will be able to open Mailbox, Serene, Mt. Si etc..etc.. and maintain distancing. There are just too many people. We go EARLY A.M. with headlamps and usually are headed back down as dawn breaks. It is about the only way to avoid crowds in those spots.

Posted by:

Kevin.Loves.Hiking on Apr 28, 2020 09:26 AM

daugman on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

USFS lands are not closed. Only the developed areas like ski resorts and improved trailheads. They explicitly acknowledge trails are open.

Posted by:

daugman on Apr 28, 2020 11:12 AM

sarta on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

@scubaaron - I counted vehicles in blocks of ten as I drove along the line so assuming +/- 15-30 error. I'm not proposing that we search hikers for 'hand sanitizer' or involve law enforcement but instead that we focus on limiting the total amount of people at the trailhead by not allowing "overflow" parking alongside adjacent roads outside of the maximum capacity of the lot. This can be achieved simply through 'No Parking/Tow' signs as is the case for Mailbox, Lake 22 etc. with a ranger doing spot checks and applying tickets - normal duties for a ranger. Hikes with larger lots e.g. Teneriffe should be restricted for now as that lot easily accommodates several hundred vehicles.

Less people = more opportunity for social distancing = less viral spread = curve stays flat/decreasing = trails don't become closed again = everyone happy :) I agree with others in that distancing is already difficult on narrow trails and in some areas e.g. steep/exposed its not safe to step off the trail so passing will likely be 1-2ft at most.

Inslee stated yesterday that if there are crowds of people on a summit then this is not acceptable and will cause him to reevaluate. Mailbox has a small summit, so does DHP, Teneriffe and other nearby peaks on DNR land so limiting # of people is key if we want trails open throughout this pandemic.

Posted by:

sarta on Apr 28, 2020 12:12 PM

Scratch_That_Hiking_Itch on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

What's the deal with the commentary on a post hike beer? What on Earth is wrong with that?!

Posted by:

Scratch_That_Hiking_Itch on Apr 28, 2020 12:25 PM

argosinu on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

Actually, one of the best things a hiker could do is patronize a local business or shop in a small town (especially take-out pizza). There may be some area that is depleted of all resources, but NE Washington counties are begging for a re-opening. Just be wise in what you do and how you do it. (Aren't we always wise?)

Posted by:

argosinu on Apr 28, 2020 10:09 PM

Mike on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

Its so silly that people make comments below thinking the Forest Service or has the ability to control hiking at all. They have like two Forest Rangers assigned per Wilderness Area. Now look at a map and see of expansive these areas are. People have to take responsibility for their own conduct. The resources to demand or control peoples action are not there. Rules don't mean anything because they are broken on a regular basis even with out the virus.

Posted by:

Mike on Apr 29, 2020 07:59 AM

nyx_ on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

if you have a problem and dont want to hike the trails, then don't! If you do, go for it. We live in a FREE country

Posted by:

nyx_ on Apr 29, 2020 08:12 PM

Robbie Thunder on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

Friends, I’m glad you will be spending time in the best places in the Pacific NW. Being outside strengthens our physical and mental health and our community. As we return to the trails, please remember that with an increase in freedom comes an increase in responsibility, for ourselves and those who share the trail with us. I hope to share a smile with everyone as we do the social distance dance.

Posted by:

Robbie Thunder on Apr 29, 2020 10:53 PM

CamL on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

It is about time. A small step towards getting our freedom back.

Big trailheads are going to be packed. Just how it goes. I suggest FSR routes to get out in nature.

Disperse camp if you'd like. Go in deep enough and you won't see anybody for days. Signs will say it's not allowed for state lands. More or less a ethical decision to make.

A friend told me from their experience this last weekend.

Posted by:

CamL on Apr 30, 2020 06:28 AM

LarryG on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

Please tell me where the photo above was taken. It appears to be somewhere in Central Washington, maybe between Yakima and Ellensberg. I'm sure the wildflowers are quite intense now and I'm sure you don't want any trails to get overly crowded but if you are going to publish such a lovely photo please tell us the name of the hike.

Posted by:

LarryG on Apr 30, 2020 04:24 PM

BethS on Turning the Dial: State Lands Will Reopen to Hiking

I went to Umtanum Ridge trail on Thursday and it was nearly empty. Some fishermen were putting in drift boats by the suspension bridge, but they were easy to avoid. There are several BLM land trails in the area that are beautiful right now. I did not see rattlesnakes, but I did wear hiking boots and long pants because there are some in the area, near the creek only. The trailhead bathroom is open, it's a tank style outhouse, but just fine. Bring some hand sanitizer. TP is provided. There was no sign of trail poo except for coyotes. (Humans don't eat fur). I would advise, take a day off, go mid-week, and, by all means, go somewhere else than the usual busy places!

Posted by:

BethS on May 09, 2020 05:39 PM