With Chattanooga under shelter-in-place orders for the past couple of months, local trailheads and parks have seen a significant bump in visitors — READ: they've been busier than ever. We love seeing folks get outside; nothing gives us that warm and fuzzy feeling more than helping someone find their first sleeping bag or fitting them for their first pair of hiking boots. If you find yourself in the group of folks packing their daypack for the first time or knocking the dust off their boots, here's what you need to know about getting out in a pandemic.
1) If the trailhead is full, consider a different trail.
Have a couple of options up your sleeve before walking out the door. It's hard to social distance on a singletrack when it's flooded with people. It can overwhelm park infrastructure at a time when park staff is operating with a skeleton crew. Trails can also deteriorate with the extra wear and tear, which could ultimately lead to short-term closings for some R&R.
2) Know what you're getting into.
Just because a trail is well-known or popular doesn't mean it's going to be clearly marked. Make sure you at least glance at a map before going out, and consider downloading a PDF. Don't solely rely on your internal compass and intuition — although, we're sure those are great, too. Read some reviews of the trail to make sure it's on par with your fitness level, and check the weather! The last thing you want to do is divert emergency medical care to wilderness injuries, or have emergency services looking for you because you got turned around or got in over your head with a difficult trail.
3) Pack it out, all of it.
You should always, always, always practice Leave No Trace guidelines while outside, during a pandemic or otherwise. Bring a small ziploc bag, or (if you want to be even more eco-conscious) use a reusable bag to transport your trash off the trail. We suggest taking it a step further during the pandemic and packing out your trash to your home garbage can or recycling bin. Remember, parks are working with small crews, and little things like this will allow them to do their job more efficiently.
4) Stay local.
Reducing travel not only helps reduce the spread of the virus, it also helps you save money and time! There are plenty of trails in the Chattanooga area to keep you occupied this summer, and many have a swimming hole or two on the way. For recommendations on local trailheads there are plenty of online resources (RootsRated, AllTrails, HikingChattanooga), and you're always welcome to pop into a local Rock/Creek and ask one of our team members!