FAQ: What Hikers Need To Know For May 5 Reopening of State Lands
Washington's state lands and trails will be reopening to hiking on May 5. Here's what hikers need to know before they go to get outdoors safely and responsibly.
Here at Washington Trails Association, we see hikers come together every day as donors, volunteers and advocates to protect trails and public lands. The key is to give folks the tools they need to be good stewards for the places they love. To that end, we recently hosted a webinar to answer your questions about the reopening of our state lands on May 5. We were thrilled to see almost 1,000 members of the WTA community join us. We also heard from many who were hoping to make it but were unable to. So, we’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions from hikers like you.
First off, hikers should remember that this reopening is a trial run. As long as the coronavirus is a public health concern, it will take extra effort from all of us to keep each other safe, and to keep hiking a healthy activity. Land closures may be needed again if cases surge. Public health is our top priority, especially while the pandemic continues. You can find the latest information in the temporary closures sidebar of our Hiking in the Time of Coronavirus page.
Where can I go hiking? What trails are open right now?
Starting May 5, many hiking opportunities on state lands will begin to reopen. This means, with some exceptions, hiking trails on lands managed by Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are open to use. National parks, trailheads on national forests and many county parks and trails will remain closed. We always recommend you check to make sure your destination is open before you head out.
So, what are state lands? In short, think about where you would need a Discover Pass. These are state lands. Areas that require an America the Beautiful Pass or Northwest Forest Pass are federally managed and, in general, are still closed.
Notable exceptions to lands reopening: Most areas in the Gorge, including Beacon Rock State Park, are still closed as are many beachside state parks, like Cape Disappointment. The popular Wallace Falls State Park remains closed, too. Check here for the full list of open and closed state parks. Additionally, the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area, including the Rattlesnake Ledge hike, also will remain closed.
So what about national parks, like Mount Rainier, and national forests?
We don’t have a timeline yet for National Park Service land or Forest Service trailheads reopening. We’ve been in close contact with our land manager partners and will share that information as soon as we have it. (Note: While we consult with land managers, they make the decisions about when lands will reopen.)
National parks: The Department of the Interior and National Park Service are using the White House’s “Opening America” criteria to formulate a national plan for the reopening of national parks. We understand that this will be released in the next week. For now, it's safe to consider Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks off limits. When they do reopen, we are likely to see reductions in services, such as restrooms being closed and limits on parking/trailhead capacity.
Mount Rainier: During our webinar, we got a lot of questions about Mount Rainier National Park. It's still winter at high elevations, so most hikes are still under snow. The road to Paradise is closed, so snow activities there aren't available. All other roads in the park are closed as part of normal winter operations. Typically, these roads open between late May and early July.
Forest Service: Developed trailheads on many Forest Service lands remain closed. Campgrounds are closed. The Forest Service is in the process of evaluating day-use sites, including trailheads, for potential reopening. While trailheads, parking lots and bathrooms are closed, trails are open if hikers can access them safely. Many informal trailheads can only accommodate a handful of cars, and it can be difficult to park without blocking the road. If you arrive at a destination and see more than a few cars parked roadside, it's probably time to head to your plan b location.
What are WTA’s tips for recreating safely?
WTA has been working with land agencies, nonprofit recreation and conservation partners, and REI to create the Recreate Responsibly Coalition. Together, we created best practices for everyone who gets outside. By recreating responsibly, we can keep each other safe and lands and trails open.
Here are six key tips:
Practice Physical Distancing
- Choose somewhere you can maintain at least six feet between you and other hikers.
- If you have to pass someone on trail, do so with as much space as possible. If you're coming toward each other, make eye contact. Trail etiquette states the person going uphill has right of way, but not everyone knows this. If there's confusion, communicate with each other.
- If you are coming from behind someone, a polite, "On your right!" works well. And cover your face as you pass (have a mask with in case you need to do this).
- For now, hike only with the folks in your immediate household.
Stay Close to Home
- Can you get there and back on a tank of gas? If not, it's probably too far.
- Pack whatever food and water you’ll need, use the bathroom before you go and don’t make stops along the way. While we usually encourage hikers to spend money in the towns they recreate near, we don’t right now. Bring the Ten Essentials. And don’t forget hand sanitizer, a mask and toilet paper — bathrooms are going to be closed so make sure you know how to go in the woods.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
- As always, take any garbage with you, including disposable gloves, masks and poop bags. Staff won't be collecting trash at trailheads, so bring everything back with you.
- Before you go, check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go.
Play It Safe
- Keep your hikes within your skillset. Any risks could lead to injury or needing to be rescued, adding to the strain on our healthcare system and putting emergency workers at risk.
- Remember many trails haven’t had any maintenance this year. There will likely be trail damage and downed trees. Be prepared for rough conditions and to turn around if necessary. When you get back, write a trip report!
- If you are sick, stay home.
How can I find trails that are open?
Start with WTA’s Hiking Guide. We keep the information in it up to date, including closure alerts at the top of each hiking guide entry, so be sure to check there before you head out.
If you'd like to hike at a state park, you can find one by searching for hikes that require a Discover Pass in our Hiking Guide and the Hike Finder Map.
(If you don’t own a Discover Pass, you can purchase one online. You don’t even need a printer. You can write the order number on a piece of paper and display on your windshield until the pass is mailed to you.)
You can also use our Hike Finder Map to find trails that are close to you, including urban trails and greenspaces. Over the last few months, we have added dozens of trails that are in or near cities across the state.
What does it mean when people say “stay local”?
Gov. Jay Inslee extended the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order through May 31. While some trails are back open, we urge you to keep this in mind. “Staying local” looks different for folks, depending on where they live. As a shorthand, if you can’t get there and back on one tank of gas, it’s probably too far. If you have access to nature close to home that you can enjoy while physically distancing this is your best option.
While we are all excited to get outside, this is not a return to our normal hiking adventures. Most bathrooms and facilities will be closed even if the trail or park is open. While we normally encourage hikers to stop in communities and support the local economy, these are not normal times. We urge you to drive to and from your hiking destination without stopping. Plan ahead: Have a full tank of gas and bring all the food and water you will need.
Who can I go hiking with?
For now, hike and drive only with the folks in your immediate household.
How do I know if a trail is too crowded to hike?
If it’s a trail you hear talked about a lot, there’s a good chance other people are talking about it too … and planning to go.
If you arrive at a location, a good shorthand is that, if the trailhead is more than half full, it’s probably too crowded to recreate safely. Make sure to have a plan b and plan c. If all of your options are too crowded, the responsible choice is to head home. Trails will still be there the next time you venture out.
Should I wear/bring a mask?
Yes, a mask and additional hand sanitizer should be added to your Ten Essentials list for now.
Is backpacking allowed?
State park trails that are reopening are for day use only. Dispersed camping may be allowed in some national forests or national parks, check with the land manager for details. We are still encouraging folks to stick to day trips and stay close to home for now.
I have a permit or campsite reservation for later this summer, when will I know if that trip will be possible?
No one, including land managers, knows the answer to these questions yet. We’re talking to land managers regularly and will pass along information to our community as we hear of it.
When will WTA’s volunteer trail crews be able to get back to work?
WTA has canceled all in-person volunteer events through May. We are working to finalize our safety protocols for a return to trail work once it is possible. Safety is the #1 priority on a WTA work party and we are working on safety protocols for a return to trail work once it is possible. We expect to see a phased return to work, starting with limited scouting and hazard clearing before moving to small group work.