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How to avoid crowded hiking trails during the pandemic

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Aug. 1, 2020 at 10:14 a.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utahns are taking to the mountains to escape their own homes and avoid other people, but you’ll likely find the trails are more popular than usual this summer. One avid hiker has a few tips to help you find less populated trails.

It's not uncommon for Megan Hansen to be up before the sun. "The rattlesnakes aren't out yet. The people aren't really out," she said laughing.

On this day she is hiking Lake Mary, up Big Cottonwood Canyon, for the very first time. She makes it a priority to spend as much time as she can outdoors. She says the mountains are her safe space.

"It's just like refreshing. You get the wind in your face, you have the sun, you have the rain, the snow, whatever it is," she described.

Hansen loves to hike all the time, but says it's been especially therapeutic during COVID-19. "It's stressful and it can be scary like not knowing what's gonna happen," she said.

But being on top of a mountain changes Hansen's perspective. "I feel like you get to stand on top of everything and see everything below," making the stress of COVID-19 not seem so overwhelming.

At a time when everything seems unfamiliar, Hansen says nature provides her with a sense of stability.

"It doesn't matter what's happening — you can still like escape it all and just kind of relax and not worry about what's gonna happen tomorrow," she said.

But with school out and people working from home, she's noticed increased traffic on the trails. She said the key to avoiding crowds is hiking really early in the morning. "We'll usually start between five or six," she said.

But if waking up early to avoid crowds isn’t for you, try using Intermountain Healthcare's online tool Healthy Hikes and Rides to find trails that might not be as popular.

The website allows you to filter your search by trail difficulty, length and accessibility, and also features mountain biking and kid-friendly trails. Each trail description hike shows pictures of the hike and a map of the trailhead.

Although Lake Mary is a well-known trail, Hansen said she only saw a few people at that hour. "I can usually count (them) on one hand," she said, helping her stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Hansen says it’s worth waking up early to enjoy a spectacular view. "Absolutely 100% recommend it," she said. "It's gorgeous."

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