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As the world around us closes down, one place hasn’t: the outdoors.

True, some facilities have closed. North Carolina State Parks closed its visitor centers and campgrounds. Most local parks departments have closed their rec centers and canceled programs. But for the most part, trails and greenways remain open. That’s not to say that taking a hike or strolling the greenway is virus-free. Play it smart, though, and getting out for some fresh air and exercise could be your salvation.

A few thoughts on how to be as safe as possible when you venture out.

Don’t go out with a group of 10 or more

It’s natural to want to call up some buddies or another family or two for an outing. The federal government is urging that group gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people. So instead of making a trail play-date with 20 people, maybe arrange three trail play-dates with six or seven people.

Be especially careful if you fall into an “at-risk” category

If you are 60 years of age and older or have underlying health conditions that may weaken the immune system (including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes), limit the number of people you hike with.

Take shorter hikes for at-risk hikers

If you are at-risk and do choose to get out, resist the urge to take a long, strenuous hike. Extreme exertion has been shown to temporarily weaken your immune system. Why take the risk? 

Seek the trails less traveled

Rather than start your hike from the Visitor Center (which is likely closed anyway), start from a secondary entrance. These entrances are less likely to attract visitors.

For instance, at Crowders Mountain State Park near Charlotte, fewer hikers are aware of the Boulders Access on the southwest side of the park. At Pilot Mountain State Park north of Winston-Salem, the River Section sees less traffic. At Eno River State Park in Durham, the multitude of access points helps spread out visitors (but we suggest the Pump Station Access off the gravel Rivermont Road).

Keep your distance

The current recommendation is to stay six feet from the nearest person. Follow this recommendation.

Seek single-track hiking trails

To help you keep your distance from fellow hikers and to resist the urge to walk two abreast, hike the trails just wide enough for one hiker.

Don’t share food or water

If you’re hiking with others, resist the urge to share food or water. If you hike with others, remind them to bring their own snacks and water bottles.

Check ahead before you head out

The situation is changing by the day. So a trail that may be open today may not be tomorrow. A quick visit to the appropriate website could spare you frustration.

Keep distance between kids and older hikers

While the incidence of COVID-19 among children is very low, researchers believe that children can carry the virus and transmit it without exhibiting symptoms. Take your kids out, but make sure they steer clear of older hikers.

Where to hike? Looking for a place to go? The GetHiking! Resource Page identifies more than 100 hikes throughout the state.

Joe Miller

About Joe Miller

Joe Miller is the author of four books on outdoor adventure, and writes about health, fitness and the outdoors. Read his blog at GetGoingNC.com. Joe has been compensated for this blog post