How to safely recreate now

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Engagement Manager

We could all use a little adventure, especially after strictly following the State of Utah “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive. But just as our everyday lives have changed in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the way we recreate must necessarily be different, too.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t go camping or take outdoor trips.

Under Project Orange guidelines, Outdoor Adventures, the U’s outdoor equipment rental and trips program, is expected to begin renting “hard goods” such as rigid and inflatable watercrafts (kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes), life jackets, bikes, and helmets on May 18. Rentals will be through reservation only, with scheduled pick-up and drop-off times, and must be paid by credit card. Tents, sleeping bags and pads, and other “soft goods” are not available at this time because of sanitation concerns. Check the Campus Recreation Services website for current updates.

Alli Hughes, co-manager of Outdoor Adventures, said going camping can be safe if you have “realistic expectations,” including continuing physical distancing and wearing a mask.

“You can go camping with those who are under your own roof or who you have been distancing with—it’s safer than opening it up to other friends,” Hughes said. “The other thing to keep in mind is if you know the location. Check the closures in advance. And if you are able, bring a mask—even cloth ones.”

Parks are reopening. For current status, check with Utah State Parks, the National Park Service, or use Outdoor Adventures’ trip planning site. Hughes points out that as parks reopen, they will go through a stabilization phase before returning to past levels of operation. Coronavirus impacts, such as staff reductions and loss of fees, will reduce services, including trash removal and bathroom cleaning, and affect park safety. There may not be rangers or other on-site staff to help with emergency calls. Additionally, any search and rescue calls force rescue professionals to break physical distancing guidelines, as well as increase hospitalizations. Hughes said that back country permits are largely unavailable, so going in those areas is also high risk.

Crowds should also be avoided. Many people will go to “family friendly” trails that are short and flat, so those who are able should look for alternate options, Hughes said. Trails are busiest during midday, so hiking early in the morning or after the afternoon rush will help goers maintain physical distancing.

Despite the need for increased safety measures, going on hikes or camping can provide an important release for those suffering from cabin fever. 

“I love the brain break provided by getting outside,” Hughes said. “When you get out of the city, you don’t see garbage or billboards. It gives your brain a minute to not be overwhelmed with everything in your environment, words, pictures, social media, and media in general. All of that goes away when you go outside. I like the peace it brings me.”

If you are planning a trip to the great outdoors, keep these tips from Hughes in mind:

  1. Go where you know: Services, including on-site support for contacting help, are limited. Stick to the locations you know best, and do not push beyond your own limitations.
  2. If feeling sick, stay home: Your health—and the health of others—is more important than going hiking or camping. If you have a fever or other symptoms, stay home and plan your next adventure.
  3. Stay at least 6 feet apart: When hiking or camping, maintain physical distancing of six feet or more from other people and groups. Wear a mask if possible.
  4. Avoid hiking at peak hours: Trails get crowded during the midday. Try going earlier or later in the day to avoid people.
  5. Practice leave no trace: Trash services are limited due to lack of staff and fees for maintaining waste removal. Remember to pack it in and pack it out.

Enjoy the outdoors—safely.

Summer Camping

Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern

Summer is finally upon us and I know we’re all itching to pack up our gear and go somewhere new. Camping is an excellent way to enjoy summer weather and get a break from the fast-paced life in the city. Here are three of my favorite camping spots perfect for summer break. As always, be sure to follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace and have fun!

Devils Kitchen – The Needles District

Devils Kitchen is, and always will be, one of my favorite camping spots. Located in the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, this 4-spot campground offers scenic views and plenty of hiking trails right from camp. A few of the camp spots even come with their own cave, perfect for starting a day of exploring. As for hikes, a must-do is the Joint Trail, a slot canyon located in Chesler Park you can hike to straight from camp.

In order to get to Devils Kitchen, you may choose to backpack in or four-wheel-drive on Elephant Hill road, one of the most technical four-wheeling roads in the state.  If you decide to drive over Elephant Hill, be sure to have an experienced four-wheel driver who is also prepared to scratch up their car a bit.

Pack in a lot of water, as your last opportunity to get some will be in the visitor center. Be sure to get a permit in advance, which can also be picked up at the visitor center.

Amethyst Lake  

Amethyst Lake is a beautiful 13-mile round trip hike in the Uintas. You will begin your hike in Christmas Meadows, eventually turning left at the junction where you will begin your ascent to the lake. You will gain elevation very quickly, so be sure to take advantage of breaks to take in the views. Before making the final climb to the lake, there are meadows perfect for setting up camp. Amethyst Lake is the perfect destination if you love scenic views, mountain lakes, fishing, or even cliff jumping.  You may even be lucky enough to see some mountain goats.

Remember to be bear-aware when exploring this area and secure your food appropriately. Be prepared for any weather and enjoy!

Boulder Mountain

Boulder Mountain is a perfect summer destination due to its beautiful hiking and biking trails and close proximity to Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante.  Boulder Mountain has a few campgrounds to choose from, my favorite being Pleasant Creek on Boulder Top. Once you’re unpacked and settled in, I highly suggest hopping on your mountain bike and riding the Tantalus Flats trail. Tantalus Flats begins at the turnoff for Lower Bounds Reservoir at the Rosebud Trailhead. I love this trail because it starts off on Boulder Mountain and ends in Capitol Reef National Park. With that said, you will need to have a shuttle at the end of the ride, unless you are planning to bike back up the mountain.