Across the country, COVID-19 is impacting every aspect of people’s lives, including their recreation. Millions of people across the country rely on parks for their physical fitness, relaxation, and access to nature. So, what does the outbreak mean for your local parks, and how can you stay healthy in the park?

Should I avoid parks and just stay inside?

Spending too much time indoors can be bad for your health. “Being inside every single day for weeks on end is going to be really, really tough,” said Dr. Craig Spencer, director of the Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Howard Frumkin, professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, cautioned that going outdoors “has to be done right, in accordance with CDC and health department guidelines.” Still he says “It’s a good idea to go outside now—a very good idea. [The threat of COVID-19] is compounded by the anxiety, depression, loneliness, and plain old cabin fever that many people are suffering, related to the social distancing and isolation,” adding that spending time “outdoors is an effective remedy for those ailments.”

Is my park even open?

Parks departments all over the country have been responding to the outbreak differently. While some agencies are carrying on as usual, others are choosing to shut down their parks entirely. Many parks departments are choosing a middle ground, leaving parks open for activities that allow social distancing (such as walking along a path or trail) while closing facilities that might put people at greater risk, such as basketball courts, playgrounds, or restrooms. Before planning a trip to the park, be sure to visit your city’s website to find out whether or not your local parks are open, and to understand any other restrictions on use.

Staying safe in the park

If you find out your local parks are open, follow the guidelines below (courtesy of the NRPA) to reduce your risk:

  • Do not use parks or trails if you are feeling any symptoms.
  • Follow the CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to and during use of parks or trails.
  • Prepare for limited access to public restrooms or water fountains.
  • While on trails, warn other users of your presence as you pass, and step aside to let others pass.
  • Follow CDC guidance on the recommended size of social gatherings including outdoor picnicking and other group hangouts, and maintain proper physical distance at all times.
  • Observe CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of 6 feet from other individuals at all times. If this is not possible, users should find an alternate location or depart that space.
  • Consult your local and state ordinances and guidelines for the most up to date recommendations on park and trail use.

Additional Resources

General COVID-19 Information

Answering 20 Questions about COVID-19, March 18, 2020
CDC: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Website, (Updated regularly)
CDC: Stop the Spread of Rumors, (Updated regularly)
NAMI: COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide, (Updated regularly)
COVID-19 ("Coronavirus") Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel, (Updated regularly)

Parks and COVID-19

In the coronavirus crisis, who gets to be outside?, March 30, 2020
How to Communicate to Your Public About Safe Use of Parks, April 1, 2020
Parks are cathedrals, especially now: Appreciating public spaces during a pandemic, April 1, 2020
Resources for Parks and Recreational Facilities, April 11, 2020
A Park Planner’s Perspective on the COVID-19 Pandemic, NRPA, April 8, 2020
CDC’s Face Covering Recommendation — Implications for Parks and Recreation, NRPA, April 6, 2020
What Does #PhysicalDistancingInParks Look Like?, NRPA, March 26, 2020
Protecting Child Health and Wellbeing During COVID-19, NRPA, March 26, 2020
Access to Parks and the Outdoors is Crucial for Mental Health in Our Communities, NRPA, March 20, 2020
This is Going to Leave a Mark, NRPA, March 19, 2020
Keeping a Safe Physical Distance in Parks and on Trails During the COVID-19 Pandemic, NRPA, March 16, 2020
Coronavirus: What Impact Will COVID-19 Have on Parks and Recreation?, NRPA, March 4, 2020
How Park and Recreation Leaders are Addressing Coronavirus — Episode 61, NRPA March 10, 2020
Statement on Coronavirus Disease 2019, NRPA, March 4, 2020

Other Tips to Get Outside

P.E. and Recess from Home, April 2, 2020
Tips for Keeping a Nature Journal, April 6, 2020
Tuning into Spring from Home, March 3, 2020
As COVID-19 spreads, how do you ethically get outdoors?, March 25, 2020
The Rules for Going Outdoors During Coronavirus, March 25, 2020