By Anne Abbott, Iowa Center for Evaluation Research on Monday, April 27, 2020

How do I practice social distancing outdoors?

With recreation facilities currently closed or operating at limited capacity due to COVID-19, many people are engaging in recreational activities outside.


This is causing some outdoor spaces like parks, trails, sports fields/courts, and even neighborhood sidewalks to become increasingly crowded. This increase makes the CDC's six-feet social distancing recommendations harder to maintain.

Outdoor spaces offer options for exercise and recreation, but they must be used responsibly to limit the spread of COVID-19. There are some simple tips that can help you and others stay healthy when they are spending time outside – these tips may not always be fun to follow, but they are very easy to do! 

Give new-to-you and less-busy routes a try
Iowans are lucky to have a variety of parks and trails to try. If you’re a biker, you may be able to avoid heavily-used trails all together by biking on the road (following traffic laws). If you’re on foot, try a new route on the sidewalk of a new neighborhood. If you’re going for a hike in a county or state park, call ahead to see what trail traffic is like. If you get to a trailhead and its packed, turn around and try somewhere else.

RELATED: 5 ways to make your bike ride more exciting

Time your trip correctly
You can likely beat crowds by using parks/trails/paths and even neighborhood sidewalks during times of the day when not as many people are out and about. Early morning or late evening are good bets, but this may vary locally so adjust as needed.

Avoid gatherings and groups for now
Do not use spaces like park benches, picnic shelters, playgrounds or even the grass to hold social gatherings with people who are not part of your household. Even if you are six feet apart this is not recommended. You should also avoid sports and games with individuals outside your household.

social distance sign

Stay single file when routes are busy
Trying to avoid busy areas is key, but if you’re on a path or trail and you start running into a lot of other people – it’s important that everyone in your group is considerate. Walking, biking or scootering two-, three- or four-wide down a trail may be fun for you, but you are preventing others from maintaining six feet of distance.

LIVE 5-2-1-0: Get one hour of physical activity every day

Use a wide passing route
We should all get in the habit of letting other trail/path users know where we are. Let people know before you pass them by saying “on your left” or “on your right.” When passing, you can use the surrounding grass, the other side of the path (if it's wide enough) or even the street depending on your surroundings.

Use a mask as much as you can
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 2 wear a mask when they are in public. This might feel uncomfortable or weird at first, but the chances that you transmit COVID-19 to another person go down when you have a mask on.

COVID-19 Trail Etiquette Signs 

If your community is interested in posting signage about some of these tips, check out the following materials from the UI College of Public Health Prevention Research Center.

trail signs