Many Americans spent 2020 cooped up. The global pandemic kept some folks out of airplanes, cruise ships, and hotels. But the idle masses were still eager to do something . . . anything! Enter walking tours. They may not provide the thrill of a lifetime, but they’re a step in the right direction.
In March 2020, many tourist attractions and travel options closed down. Tourism-related businesses took the biggest hit. “It’s an interesting time to be in the travel industry,” says Riley Pearce of California-based Backroads Tours.
Would-be travelers sought safe, socially distant options. Many tour companies shifted to virtual tours. Others began offering small, private group or self-guided tours with audio and GPS information included.
Here’s a sampling of walking tour options from sea to shining sea:
Many cities offer walking tours for exploring historic buildings. The Chicago Architecture Foundation lists more than 85 guided architecture tours. One is called “Evolution of the Skyscraper.” In Los Angeles, walkers can tour Midcentury Modern homes designed by famous architects and now inhabited by celebrities. Washington, D.C., offers multiple architecture study options. An Embassy Row Walking Tour includes the Indonesian Embassy, a 50-room mansion built in the early 1900s.
Whether it’s the New York City pizza circuit, a Boston cupcake crawl, or Atlanta’s best southern eats, walking food tours are doubly popular. Many food tours also provide opportunities to meet chefs and shop owners who sometimes give insider ordering tips. “Get here early to order the fried goat cheese with pistachios and honey drizzle.” Yep, that’s a real tip from a Greenville, South Carolina, restaurant!
Nearly every city offers tours featuring historical tidbits. Banner Elk, North Carolina is a small town. Its population is only 1,445. But the mountain village has its own walking tour with an audio app. Larger cities offer dozens of fact-filled walkable outings.
For instance, Nashville’s free self-guided tours through Music City highlight historic restaurants, Music Row, and women’s suffrage. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum has walking tours based on the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series scandal. Another visits Underground Railroad stops in Cincinnati.
Need a COVID-friendly walking companion? Scott Cundy knows just the creature. He owns Arizona-based Wildland Trekking. The company’s trips feature llama-supported hiking and camping in remote areas in the American West. On these tours, kindly llamas lug most of the supplies. That frees guests to carry just the basics—and enjoy the journey.
Since their inception in 1916, U.S. National Parks have been favored vacation spots. Early in the COVID crisis, the National Park Service suspended entrance fees. The move boosted parks’ popularity for many vacation-hungry travelers.
According to Jamen Yeaton-Masi of Country Walkers, 2020 bookings in several parks rose as much as 50% over the previous year. “In many ways, our walking tours were made for traveling in the pandemic,” she says. “People are naturally spaced out on the trails, and we’ve always avoided busier places whenever possible.”
California tour guide Riley Pearce says visiting parks comforts people who feel that “modern life seems totally overwhelmed by COVID.” There’s a calming effect to experiencing spectacular natural sites untouched by the pandemic.
“Standing on the banks of a rushing river or under a wide-open, starry sky makes you feel small in the best possible way,” he says. “It helps me to be reminded that people . . . are in many ways just a small part of a big, wild, beautiful world.”