After four months of being cooped up in the house, when shopping at Costco seemed like an adventure, my family was finally going on a trip. But not the one we had planned.
Originally, we had a two-week vacation booked in the Pacific Northwest, flying into and out of Portland on American Airlines. Instead, I was packing for a road trip.
Why We Changed Our Means Of Travel And Destination
We were all looking forward to a break from the heat of the Phoenix desert, a vacation by the beach, and the cool mountains. When things started opening up, we confirmed our stay.
As soon as we did, Arizona became the hot spot for coronavirus, and we found ourselves banned from many states. Though technically we could still go to Oregon, I felt irresponsible about leaving the state.
To make things worse, American Airlines reversed its policy of blocking off the middle seats, filling up their planes again. Flying, under those circumstances, felt like the wrong decision. So, we canceled our trip.
A Road Trip Instead
We still had vacation time on our hands and needed a break from the scorching heat, which was reaching over 110 degrees daily in Phoenix, making even a short walk outside impossible.
So, we decided on a road trip to Colorado. The trip would be outdoor-focused, with hikes in the wilderness (if you want to do the same, you can read about the most stunning hikes in Colorado here). We would bring our own food and be as self-contained as possible.
After a grocery pickup, we filled three coolers with all the food we would need for our stay so we wouldn’t need to eat out.
I packed multiple face masks for everyone, plus hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to use on hotel surfaces.
Safety In Durango
As soon as we entered Durango, we noticed signs saying “Facemasks are required in all public areas in Colorado” replacing the voluntary “Let’s mask up, Arizona” signs. We noticed that people were wearing them on the busier streets.
At the hotel, everyone was wearing a mask, and plexiglass separated the counter from guests. At the elevator, signs asked guests to only take it with their own parties and wait for another one if someone was using it. We used the stairway though, which was always empty.
They didn’t offer room cleaning service for the duration of our stay, minimizing our interactions with their staff. Instead of serving breakfast in the morning, they offered a bagged pick-up option, though we never took it.
With all their safety measures, I still took my own, disinfecting the doorknob before we entered and all the surfaces we touched in the room.
When we wanted a meal from a restaurant, we ordered carryout instead of actually dining out.
A paved walking trail surrounding Durango passed by the hotel, and we walked it a few times. We wore the masks on it when we met someone; I noticed others doing the same.
Spending Time Outdoors
We drove over the San Juan Mountains on the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton and Ouray. Each day we found another lake or wilderness area to explore. In most places, we were alone.
At Andrews Lake the parking lot was full, but we didn’t meet anyone on the trail; we only saw people from afar. The picnic area where we stopped for lunch had another car parked, but the tables were far enough from each other to offer privacy and opportunity for social distancing.
Silverton And Ouray
Our experience in both Silverton and Ouray was different, though. While the masks required signs were posted on every corner, I saw few people wearing them. The restaurants offered only outdoor seating, but the tables were all full and close to each other.
Both towns were busier than I expected, even without the narrow-gauge scenic train in Silverton (the train is not back in operation yet) and the hot springs closed in Ouray.
Though it felt good to see people on vacation, laughing, having fun like a normal year, I had no desire to join in. We came for the scenery.
In Silverton, we walked along the Animas River Trail that surrounds the town. We only met one other family there but stayed far enough for social distancing safety. In Ouray, we drove up to one of the trailheads, where I was surprised to see no one (I remembered it as a popular trail), and took a short walk.
Worrying About COVID, I Forgot About Elevation Sickness
I always have problems with elevation sickness, and on a normal trip, I remember to take precautions to prevent it. This time, though, I was so worried about keeping my family safe from COVID, I forgot about it. So, I suffered from an almost debilitating headache for most of the trip, besides not being able to hike as much as I normally would’ve. But by the second day, it was better, and by the time we were leaving, I was almost okay.
Safety On The Trip: Driving Versus Flying
Overall, I felt that the driving trip, especially one that focused on the outdoors, was a much better choice at this time than air travel would have been. Alone on most of the trails, social distancing was not an issue. Even when we met other hikers, we could easily avoid each other. On the city trails, where we would meet others, we put our masks on as soon as we got close.
It was also possible to be self-contained, carrying our own food and drinks and only getting takeout from restaurants. I was happy with this decision, and it was easy to do while on a road trip.
While I think the safest way to travel would be camping, as long as you feel comfortable with their safety measures, it should be no problem staying at a hotel. Add a few extra safety measures as I did.
I would stay away from known tourist destinations, though. They seem to get crowded; at least Ouray and Silverton did. People were close to each other, and few were wearing masks. Although, if the town has plenty of outdoor trails, I see no reason not to hike them.
Would I Do It Again?
While I wouldn’t get on a plane any time soon, I felt that the trip we took was safe with minimal risks. We were happy with it and would do it again. In fact, we started planning our next road trip as soon as we got back. When we noticed an opening of a cabin at Bryce Canyon National Park, we booked it. Stand-alone with their own entrances, these cabins are perfect for social distancing. And the park has plenty of hiking trails to enjoy the outdoors without interacting with others.
Want more inspiration? Check out all our road trip ideas, plus the best hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park.