For over forty years, our trail community has helped the PNTA to create and maintain the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, a world-class pathway that provides much needed opportunities for ALL to get outdoors and explore the scenic public lands across the Northwest.
This year, traveling outside of our hometowns to enjoy the trail involves greater risks to ourselves and others. And while we are all united in the fight against COVID-19, we must all recognize that each community along the PNT may be at a different phase of the crisis and may have different measures in place to keep all of their residents safe and healthy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask every PNT visitor to #RecreateResponsibly and take extra care to help us protect the trail — and the trailside communities that make it so special. Please follow these simple steps before any visit to the PNT this summer. If you are planning an extended trip this season, additional guidance will follow.
General Guidance for Visiting the PNT in 2020
- Know Before You Go: Check the status of the place you want to visit on this website. If an area is closed, don’t go. Some recreation sites are currently open for day-use only. Make sure travel and camping are welcome before you plan any overnight trip.
- Observe all travel restrictions and stay close to home where it is required. Be aware that conditions will vary county-by-county along the trail corridor. Some recreation sites are closed or only open for day-use activities.
- Play it Safe: Bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. Choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury or becoming lost. Many search and rescue units and local medical facilities have limited resources to help right now.
- Be extra careful with fire this year. Wildland firefighters may have limited resources to suppress wildfires this season. Be sure to check for temporary fire restrictions in late summer when conditions become drier and the risk of wildfire increases. Avoid alcohol stoves. Their use is banned on the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF and they are often temporarily prohibited during the dry summer months in other areas on the trail.
- Practice Physical Distancing. If you are sick, stay home. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth. Yield to other trail users to give them space. Take a face mask or cloth face covering with you. They are required in Washington and in many businesses along the trail, and are recommended by the CDC. Many folks do not realize that It is possible to spread COVID-19 without knowing it. Those that have been exposed to the virus and are presymptomatic (or do not feel sick yet) can still be contagious to others.
Additional Guidance for Longer Trips on the PNT in 2020
Although most of the Pacific Northwest Trail corridor is still in its shoulder season and the prime hiking season does not traditionally start until July, there is no guarantee that access to the entire trail system will be restored this year. Authorities in the Northwest are basing decisions about access on current health data — and not fixed timelines or arbitrary dates — which makes trip planning very difficult this season.
As of June 30th, many recreation sites along the PNT have reopened under phased reopening plans. However, some areas in Olympic National Park and Glacier National Park remain closed to all access until further notice and other areas are open to day-use visitors only. Please be aware that areas that are currently open may close again without notice as new outbreaks occur.
When and where overnight camping trips are permitted on the PNT, it is clear that they will be very different this season. Please consider this additional guidance before planning any extended trip on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
- Planning a long-distance hike during a pandemic involves a lot of personal responsibility and a lot of research. Requirements may vary from county-to-county, and between recreation sites along the trail. Restrictions can change very quickly without notice as new outbreaks occur. Please put the safety of communities and other trail users first by learning and following the latest recommendations of local health authorities and land managers along the trail by visiting our COVID-19 Updates webpage.
- Self-reliance is always a part of the long-distance hiking experience on the PNT. This year, you should be prepared to be completely self-sufficient and to think about visiting trail towns to resupply as a luxury and a privilege. Expect to have less support from good samaritans that live in vulnerable communities along the trail. Many restaurants and stores may be closed or operating with limited hours and services.
- Transportation and logistics can be challenging in some parts of the PNT at any time. Many trailheads and towns are located in very remote rural areas. Glacier National Park’s free shuttle system is not operating this year nor are many private shuttles. Locals may also be less willing than usual to pick up hitchhikers. You may also not feel comfortable riding in the enclosed space of a car with someone whose exposure history is unknown to you. Unless you are being supported by a friend willing to drive great distances to meet you at trailheads, a long-distance trip on the PNT this summer is likely to include some extra challenges when traveling between town and trail. In situations where you are not able to find a ride, you should be prepared for some additional long and potentially dangerous road-walks to resupply.
- Camping is still not permitted in many recreation sites — and even in some counties along the PNT. In Washington State, camping may not be permitted until a county is approved to move to Phase 2 or Phase 3, in some cases. Other areas severely impacted by the COVID-19 may not be able to welcome campers at all this year. In the three National Parks along the PNT, backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays on the trail. As of June 30th, backcountry permit offices are closed in Olympic National Park. It is not known when backcountry camping will be permitted again, or when permits will be issued for every backcountry campsite along the PNT in Olympic National Park. The east side of Glacier National Park is closed to all access. This includes 34 miles of the PNT between Brown Pass and the eastern terminus.
- This year, it will be every PNT visitor’s personal responsibility to check with the state or local health department where they are, along their route, and at their planned destination. Just because there are no travel or quarantine restrictions at the time they plan to leave does not mean there won’t be new restrictions in place when they arrive. Following these restrictions will be much more difficult for folks traveling from out-of-state and for long-distance hikers than for local users, those traveling with personal transportation, than it is for those with constant access to news and information available in the frontcountry.
- In the event that new outbreaks of infections occur, individual states, counties, or recreation sites may have to shut down or restrict travel. Every PNT visitor should be prepared for this event and should stay flexible with trip plans. If an area becomes closed, change your plans and don’t go. If you are a long-distance hiker, expect it to be very difficult to bypass these areas to continue your trip in the next open area, or to return home this year.
- As always, PNTA recommends carrying an extra set of supplemental overview maps so that you can find “bail-out routes” if a section of trail closes unexpectedly. This year, it’s possible for an entire county to announce a no-visitors or quarantine policy. Plan ahead and think through what, if any, travel arrangements might be available to you if you have to come off trail in a remote area — potentially with no cell service — and get back on trail in a different remote area, potentially hundreds of miles away.
- The PNT passes through some remote rural communities that lack the kind of medical infrastructure needed to adequately fight outbreaks. Early on in this crisis, some communities like Sun Valley, Idaho and Shelby Montana were hard-hit with outbreaks initiated by out-of-state tourists. Planning a responsible resupply strategy this year may involve avoiding the most vulnerable communities along the trail. For example, you may choose to carry extra food to travel greater distances to reach larger cities without stopping for supplies at small, remote communities without any local medical facilities.
- If you are exposed to the virus and develop symptoms, you may not be able to safely travel home to self-quarantine without potentially endangering everyone along your route. You need to be prepared, financially and mentally, to stay in a private hotel room for 14 days if you are exposed, and have a plan for how you will get food delivered to you (many small towns have limited, if any, delivery services), or to have a trusted loved one drive great distances to pick you up and transport you back home to self-quarantine.
- In the event that you develop severe symptoms of COVID-19, or if you require emergency medical attention for any other reason, you may likely find yourself in a remote rural community with limited or no medical facilities. You will need to be financially prepared to travel great distances at great expense to reach medical care.
Last Updated: June 30, 2020