Old Speck ahead

Winter Hikes Update: How to Get Out in the A.T. Landscape Safely

As we close out the warm season and start digging through our closets looking for winter hats, gloves, goggles, microspikes, boots, soft shell pants, long underwear, snowshoes and more, the Maine A.T. Land Trust wanted to provide an update on our Winter Community Hikes program and also send out some guidelines for recreating safely during winter on trails in the Appalachian Trail region of Maine.  Winter is a fantastic time to be out – there’s the sense of solitude, the stark beauty of a snowy forest, the quiet of dampened noises, and the lack of crowds on trails.

First, the bad news: as with was the case during the summer, this organization will not be able to run our Winter Community hikes program during the current COVID-19 pandemic.  Cases continue to rise and the logistical hurdles to running our hikes are still present.  With the rise of community spread and the falling temperatures, many of the practices that might have been viable during the summer (sharing a vehicle over short distances while wearing a mask) are no longer practical.  This is not a decision the board of directors takes lightly.  We value engagement with the outdoor recreation community in all its forms and cancelling this program takes away one our our best tools for doing so.

At the same time, we want to encourage everybody to get out on the trails this winter – in a safe manner – as much as you can.  To help this we wanted to post some guidance on how you do so, with the understanding that these are best practices only and you should always, always check with trail managers, land trusts and state agencies on what to do.  We will also be sharing any applicable information from them as it becomes available.

Here are some guidelines for getting out there this winter:

  1. Make sure your trail is open.  Check in on Maine Trail Finder to confirm – don’t assume that one trail is open because another is.
  2. Prepare.  During the pandemic, take extra precautions.  Unless you are hiking with household members or those you are podding with, it can be difficult to maintain adequate distance on a trail.  You absolutely do not want to but yourself or others in danger by needing outside personnel to aid you in the backcountry.
  3. Do not hike alone.  Things are different in the winter – you will probably not survive an unplanned night out in a remote area as you would in the summer.  Even something simple like a dead car battery can turn into a desperate situation during the winter hiking season.  Be prepared for every eventuality.
  4. Do not carpool.  Unless with your household – with is the recommended way to recreate this season.
  5. Do not plan a large hike with ten friends where all of you are driving separately.  Aside from the environmental impact without carpooling, Maine A.T. trails are generally not as accessible during the winter as they are during the summer.  Many parking areas are not plowed, pull-over spots have limited space and in some places you have to park much further from the trailhead than in warmer months.  With too many cars you will run the risk of not having room for all your party.  This is also a courtesy to other hikers – do not take all the parking for your group alone.  Others want to hike too!
  6. Stay close to home for most hikes.  Trails closer to towns are usually less crowded during the winter anyway!  And you won’t have to circulate in gas stations, rest areas and food stops in remote locations that might be limiting services to stop the pandemic.

Following these guidelines and others from your state and local health agencies will ensure that you can still get out in the winter – and we’ll all need to – while making sure that you and those close to you stay safe.

In the meantime, keeping checking our Hikes page for new StoryMaps on great places to head out this winter!