Put away the tents and sleeping bags, but you can still get a thrill on a snowboard or explore a hiking trail to get outdoors.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started earlier this year, Southern California’s natural areas have become a place where people seek a spot away from crowds, a way to get out of the house safely, and enjoy a bit of respite in nature.
But this latest round of regional shutdowns by the state has some outdoor areas closed off to avoid transmission of the virus, though there is still plenty that remains open for now.
No matter the recreational activity, maintain a physical distance of six feet or more, wear a face mask when you can’t and stay just with people in your immediate household, officials urge.
Here’s what outdoor enthusiasts can and cannot do:
The California State Parks system announced campgrounds in the region will temporarily close and refunds will be given to those who had reservations in upcoming weeks.
That includes overnight stays at Leo Carrillo campgrounds north of Malibu, Lake Perris in Riverside County, Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County and the historic cottages at Crystal Cove in south Orange County, popular getaways even during California’s colder months.
“California took an important step to address the alarming pace of COVID-19 case rates that are threatening to overwhelm the health care delivery system,” State Parks Director Armando Quintero said in a statement.
Dave O’Connor was one of the last remaining campers at San Clemente State Park on Monday, Dec.7, with only a dozen or so recreational vehicles and air-streamers still parked throughout the mostly empty campgrounds.
The Mount Baldy resident showed up a day earlier in his RV, just hours before the shutdown went into effect, and was allowed to keep his two-night stay at the campground.
Camping is one of the things that can be done safely, he said.
“I don’t understand it. Look how far apart you are from spot to spot, you’re well over six feet and you’re outdoors. I think that’s about the last thing that should go,” he said. “I don’t see why California is doing that. I understand a good portion of what they are doing – but I don’t understand campgrounds.”
He has his own bathroom and kitchen set up in the RV and doesn’t need to interact with others. But he shrugged off making sense of the campground closure.
“Who knows? This has been such a crazy time,” he said. “But it’s all good, I understand what they are doing.”
The always popular campgrounds at Joshua Tree, managed by the National Park Service, have also temporarily closed, as well as all park ranger programs. Campfires are prohibited at this time and museums and exhibits are closed in some areas, including the Joshua Tree Visitor Center.
Trails, most bathrooms and wilderness backpacking remains allowed, and visitor center bookstores and information desks will be open. A section of the Indian Cove and Black Rock campgrounds will remain open to hikers, but not to overnight campers.
Hannah Schwalde, spokesperson for Joshua Tree National Park, said people should follow the CDC, state and county guidelines and “if they come recreate in the national park, to do so safely.”
“People can come and do day trips,” she said. For those doing wilderness backpacking, they should be experienced.
“I just want to remind people the desert can be a dangerous place, for the backpacking country it is best to go with someone who is experienced and not to just camp on the side of the road,” she said.
There are local hiking spots throughout the region people can take advantage of for a socially distanced bit of exercise outdoors.
“While the new regional stay-at-home order is asking Californians to stay home as much as possible and for campground sites in impacted regions to close, the state also recognizes that outdoor activity is critical for mental health and physical health,” Quintero said of people still being allowed to visit their nearby natural sites for the day, while using caution.
Beaches, parks and trails are open
In the earlier shutdowns, most beaches were off limits. Remember when you had to keep moving doing “active recreation” and putting down a towel and sunbathing was prohibited?
In Los Angeles County, the hard shutdowns kept people off the beach for more than six weeks. While some beaches in Orange County saw similar closures, some cities resisted such stringent steps, going with more of a compromise, and a few even filed suit against the state to fight closing the coast.
The crowds seen during hot summer days won’t likely happen during the cooler months, but surf spots continue to be packed due to the rise in popularity of the sport.
Outdoor swimming pools are allowed to stay open, but must close slides, rides or other attractions.
Likewise, trails and parks will remain open, though playgrounds are off limits again.
State Parks manages 280 parks, 340 miles of coastline and 4,500 trails.
“We welcome you to recreate in the outdoors provided that you stay local, plan ahead to find out what is open, wear a face covering, practice physical distancing and avoid gatherings with people outside the immediate household,” Quintero said.
Boaters should not raft up to other boaters or pull up on the beach next to others. For off-roaders, do not ride next to others or pull up next to someone else, the state’s advisory cautions.
Also be prepared to keep clean. Not all restrooms are open to the public, so always bring soap and hand sanitizer.
Snow resorts to remain open
You get still head up to the snow-covered slopes.
Local snow resorts will still be running lifts, unlike the first round of shutdowns that closed off the slopes during end of the last season.
Local snow resorts have implemented several modification to their operations, such as limiting the number of people on the slopes, requiring face masks and having tickets be bought online.
Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Resort, which includes Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, and Mammoth Mountain have all announced they remain open for business.
Source: Orange County Register