During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during spikes in cases when stricter restrictions are in place, we lose the ability to partake in many indoor activities. Many of us instead hit the trails and enjoy the beauty and comfort of hiking in Red Rock Country. Hiking outdoors is one of the safest activities you can engage in right now, but then you hike you’ll want to follow some simple steps to make your experience the best possible for both yourself and others: plan, prepare and prevent.

First, plan your hike. With over 400 miles of trails on the Red Rock District, you should look for trails that are typically less crowded. If you’re unfamiliar with how popular a trail is, a quick web search should provide the answer. Trails like Devil’s Bridge or Cathedral Rock that are noted as among the most popular in Sedona are poor candidates. You should also try to avoid mid-day when day-trippers from Phoenix have arrived and are starting to hike. As you plan your outing, keep in mind that you should stay home if you feel at all ill.

Have a backup planned. If there’s a crowd at the trailhead when you arrive, move on to your backup. There are plenty of spectacular trails that don’t attract the throngs. One tip-off that the trail is overcrowded is when the parking lot is full and a lot of cars are parked along the road – sometimes scores of them. Don’t contribute to the congestion; move on to your backup.

Drive safely to the trailhead. Even though carpooling is usually a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, during the pandemic the CDC recommends extra care, noting “Don’t ride in a vehicle if the driver or other passengers who don’t live with you are not properly wearing face masks.” However, if you share the air at home, you can share the air in a car.

When you arrive at your planned trailhead if you find it’s been closed by the Forest Service, respect that closure. It’s for your safety. The Forest Service takes closing a trail very seriously and only does so if crowding on the trails (or other reasons like rockfalls) causes unacceptable risk.

As a final pre-hike step, come prepared. Bring plenty of water, even for a winter hike, along with snacks, a hat, good footwear, sunscreen, walking sticks and a mask.

As the CDC continues to emphasize on their website, masking, distancing and avoiding crowds are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus. While on a trail and at a distance from other hikers, masking up is not necessary. But there are times out on the trails when you should mask up to protect yourself and others: in the parking lot where crowds of hikers are congregated, or when you stop to rest or sightsee and you are close to others you do not live with.

Masking up when needed is simple etiquette that will make everyone’s experience safer and more comfortable. Keep in mind that Sedona attracts visitors from around the world. Even if our area is controlling the virus well, others are certainly not so fortunate. When encountering other hikers, find a good spot to pull off the trail a few feet and let them pass. When in doubt, yield. But please don’t hike off trail. You’re as likely as not to start a social trail that others will then hike on, damaging the very fragile organic soil that takes decades to recover.

Right now, when our hospitals are struggling to keep up with cases and our healthcare heroes are stretched to their limits, please don’t take risks when you hike. Don’t be a Search and Rescue case. If you come prepared with water and snacks and stay on the trails, you won’t become an unfortunate statistic.

When your hike is done, conclude your experience with these simple steps: don’t congregate unmasked in the parking lot and keep proper social distance.

All of these precautions boil down to three things: plan, prepare and prevent. You’ll fully enjoy the benefits of being outdoors and you’ll look forward to your next hike!

Author – Craig Swanson