Become A Local Adventurer
As we practice Stay At Home and social distancing, it can be hard to let go of adventures that were planned for this time. Maybe it was a road trip around Utah for a circuit of the national parks or a weekend camping at a nearby state park, but we don’t want current disappointment to stop us from planning future excursions. So let’s look local!
FINDING THE PLACES
Now that social distancing is a priority, it’s time to search for underrated natural spaces close to your home. By finding these overlooked spots, you’ll be better able to: 1) stay close to home to prevent accidental spread of coronavirus between geographical locations, and 2) social distance since there will be fewer people on the trail. These spots may not be the most popular Instagram locations but they’re ready to be explored! It just takes a bit of extra digging to find them.
Create Your Own Google Map
One amazing organizational tool is My Maps by Google Maps which you can use to easily create a map with your own pins and locations on it. For example, I have maps for future travel ideas, future climbing locations, and places I’ve been to.
Start by creating a map and naming it. Depending on what you want displayed in the background, choose the Base Layer: map, satellite, terrain, etc. I often find new places to visit simply by scanning satellite photos of the backcountry (more on that later), so I choose Satellite view. Next, search for the first place you want to add to your map, click on it, and that’s it! Now you’ll be able to track all the places you’re interested in.
Start With A Trail App
Use a trail app to either directly find local trailheads (easy!) or as a starting point to find more obscure spots. Apps like AllTrails have become popular and fairly comprehensive in some places but the entries are added by people like you and me so not every trail that exists will be recorded. Here are a few resources for finding trails: AllTrails
Maps 3D Pro (also makes an interesting 3D model of your hike if you record it)
If you’re like me and want more remote trails with fewer people, these are great starting points. You can figure out which trails see higher traffic and where to start your search for less busy routes.
Google Maps Exploration
One of the finest ways to find new locations is to open Google Maps and just start looking at the area you’re interested in. Visually search near your home for green areas in the Map View that indicate “outdoor” areas. Then toggle between Map and Satellite Views to figure out what exactly is occupying those areas. Green areas can indicate different things from national parks and recreation areas to golf courses and cemeteries. Take extra note of areas with labels such as natural environment or conservation areas, research or wildlife refuges, or titles other than national park, state park, or city park. National, state, and city parks tend to be more crowded simply due to the fact that they are easily accessible and information is easy to obtain. Once you find a location that inspires you, start digging deep. You'll want to uncover as much information as possible:
Look for established trails on Google Maps or a trail app
Find the official website and read through the information provided there, looking specifically for published trail maps
Google the location and read personal visitation accounts such as blogs, reviews, etc.
Scan through social media hashtags (ex: search on Instagram for #location or for the location tag) for personal visitation accounts and visuals of what the location looks like
The locations you find may not be the most stunning places you’ve ever visited or size up to the Grand Canyon but you’ll be surprised at the number of beautiful places near your home that you’ve never even heard of. Think nothing near you is worth the visit? Try going at different times! A midday visit to the lake may be uninspiring but returning at dawn would be an entirely different experience. Sunlight peeking over the horizon illuminates mist drifting across the water and fish swimming lazily beneath the surface—things you don’t see in the heat of the day.
Instagram Hashtag Exploration
A more time-consuming way to find spots near you is to take a look at photos online tagged with locations near you. I suggest scrolling during a movie or another relaxing activity, as it’s a little less successful than checking out Google Maps. Choose hashtags that are broad enough to have plenty of photos tagged but specific enough that you’ll find places close by. If you live in a small state, the state hashtag may be enough (#delaware). City or county hashtags are usually good leads as well as local companies that have personalized hashtags (ex: a local outdoor gear shop). Here are some examples: #maryland #southernnevada #southerncalifornia #utahisrad Scan through the hashtags you’ve picked, click on photos of places that interest you (I suggest sticking with Top Posts instead of Recent Posts), and then figure out where it was taken at. Check the tagged location, the caption, and lastly the hashtags that are used with the photo. Even if it doesn’t explicitly say where it was taken, you can often find out from one of those three spots.
Once you find a few places, it’s time to check them out! I usually plan a reconnaissance, information-gathering trip first. Sometimes information has changed (especially with coronavirus closures at the moment) so plans may need to be flexible. I always suggest having a back-up location if this one is too crowded or not what you expected! It’s worth repeating that if you can’t seem to enjoy the less-traveled places near you, try different timing! An ordinary forest may reveal more beauty if you stop by during sunset when orange light bathes the sky and the crickets are starting to chirp. It may also be that you don’t enjoy certain scenes; figure out what sparks inspiration and chase that. Perhaps you don’t care for forests but a peaceful lake is the most idyllic place you can think of. You can also change what you do! Perhaps you can’t rock climb, ski, or kayak right now so it’s time to look at other ways to curate outdoor adventures that you enjoy. Bring a ball on your hike and throw it in an open field with your dog. Go for a photo or video walk to take fun snapshots. Look more closely at the native vegetation and try to identify plants.
Even when close to home, remember to stay safe through small actions. Lock your car, keep all valuables hidden, and let someone know ahead of time where you plan to be. Bring your phone and for backcountry trips, consider a locator beacon for emergencies, such as the Garmin InReach.
These local trails may be different from your previous outdoor experiences so it’s important to always stay alert and aware of what is going on around you. They may be either more or less off-the-grid than you’re used to with different challenges along the way. More remote locations may have less maintained trails, fewer resources, and require different skills should something go wrong. More urban locations will have stricter rules and potentially more people to keep an eye on.
Be aware of proper social distancing rules and travel regulations for the coronavirus as time goes on. We all want to get outside as soon as possible so have to do our part to flatten the curve and save lives. If you’re unsure whether your local parks and BLM are open, check their official website and social media pages. Many parks are utilizing Twitter and Facebook for more real-time updates on closures.
Enjoy your time outside!