Can I camp or backpack in Pennsylvania under coronavirus? Should I?

What’s legally open, and what’s ethically doable?

A view from the Appalachian Trail near Hamburg in April 2019. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

If you’re like me, early spring is a favorite time of year. As temperatures warm, I head down to the basement to dust off and take inventory of all my camping and backpacking gear. Living in Philadelphia, French Creek State Park and Hickory Run State Park are typically my first targets, where I’ll spend a night or two to get back in the swing of things before targeting parks or backpacking trails farther afield.

This year however, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in all those plans. Many campgrounds are shuttered, and there also seems to be a gray area between what’s legal to do and what’s recommended. I’ve seen this gray area spark many wars of words in online backpacking and hiking groups. So I’ve attempted to assemble a useful guide here of what’s open and closed, along with the do’s and don’ts.

Should I be camping or backpacking?

Let’s start here. And let’s be clear: we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. While it’s certainly annoying and dispiriting that COVID-19 is impacting our ability to do the activities we love most, that burden pales in comparison to those who are fighting for their lives or love somebody who may have already lost theirs. A chunk of warm weather lost to camping is far less valuable than a lost life.

But, health experts and leaders in government obviously do recognize the value of getting outdoors. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown order explicitly allows for “life-sustaining” activities like exercise and hiking.

So what’s what?

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