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Where might I look for places on which to go for a medium length (3-5 miles) or longer walk -- and where I'd minimize my chances of encountering other people?

The Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing, and I've been trying to observe "social distancing" as strictly as possible. But it's become apparent that for my health I should really try to get outside more.

I live in a mid-sized American city (Columbia, SC) and have access to a car. Thus far I've just been going for short walks in my neighborhood. This has been okay, but there are a fair number people around and I feel somewhat uncomfortable being outside for longer than necessary.

There are a state forest and a national park nearby, both with hiking trails -- but the national park is closed and I'm informed the state forest is crowded. Are there other options I might not have considered? I'm happy to walk in wilderness, the city, or the countryside as long as I can easily avoid other people and cars. And I'm happy to do my own internet research on what's nearby, but I'm not exactly sure what to look for.

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    Comment only, since this is from Europe and I don't have firsthand experience from your part of North America, but: Does the state forest have trail sections that are further than, say, 5 km away from the nearest parking? If so => prepare yourself like for shopping downtown and endure the masses for the first hour. After that, the forest is probably yours. If it has "boring" trails, go there. I don't know the local customs about agricultural land and forests, but maybe it is possible to leave your car at a suitable place where it doesn't disturb passing machinery where the road turns gravel... – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 30 at 14:05
  • ... and start a "boring" hike from there (over here, e.g. forest paths are open to the public also in privately owned forests unless closed for specific reasons such as dangers like tree felling, or breeding places for endangered species, but these are very local closures, and many do not affect the larger paths/roads. Also the field paths are usually public land - and for trails on private land there is often a public right of way) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 30 at 14:09
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX Thanks for your comment. Not quite 5 km, although there some relatively distant trails. The pandemic is especially bad in the US now, so I'm feeling reluctant to "endure the masses", although that would probably be a good option soon. – academic Apr 30 at 14:16
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    If you are flexible with time, consider e.g. a weekday morning hike at dawn. It may still be worth while finding out how crowded this crowded really is: I live in rural Germany, I can say that the field paths are unusually crowded right now. But where I am, this still boils down to having passed on my bike commute village -6km-> small town office during the last 3 weeks or so: several (≈ 5) other bikers (I'd put the normal number around 2), 2 or 3 riders some field away, a jogger, in short while I see maybe twice as many people as usual, that's still less than 1 encounter per day... But yes, – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 30 at 14:42
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    I'm definitely flexible with time. (Am a college professor and the semester is about to end.) Thanks for the suggestion! That's a good idea. – academic Apr 30 at 15:11
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The Weekend Section of the Washington Post today has an entry about the Garden of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, which, despite living here since 1965 I had never heard of.

It has extensive gardens, woods and paths and you can bring your dog. It's free. Clearly this is out of geographical range for you, but Columbia must have hidden gems like this.

Maybe you should buy a guide book to Columbia? Of course, now that it has been in the WP, it probably will be crowded this weekend. But you have to look beyond federal, state and the popular local parks to find the hidden gems. Happy Hunting!

Take a look at Only in Your State for 14 epic hiking trails in SC. I hope some of them are close enough to you to be practical.

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Hiking trails are not the place to go. I've seen large numbers of cars parked where they cross the road: In fact more than on a normal day. The paths are narrow and you won't be able to keep a Social Distance away from others - joggers also run up from behind, breathing down your neck, and overtake very closely. The safest place is where you can avoid anyone you see walking towards you such as the beach or a large open park with vast expanses of grass.

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