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The confusion over masks in National Parks [NEW 2021 ORDER]

| Updated Jan 27, 2021

The White House has issued an order that some say requires wearing masks in national parks and BLM land when we are outside.

But does it really?

It is an understatement to say that there is a lot of confusion over the new COVID rules put in place by the Biden administration requiring the use of masks on federal land.

Does that mean we need to mask up while hiking in a national park or hanging out at our BLM campsite?

When we are outside?

That’s what we’re going to try and answer this week on episode 329 of the RV Podcast.

Plus we have lots more RV news, tips, your questions, an interview about a new service that promises to help RVers who have breakdowns on the road, and, of course, another great off-the-beaten-path report from the Burketts.


Do campers have to wear a mask when outside or hiking in National Parks or Federal land?

image of glacier national park
There is confusion about whether you need to wear masks in National Parks

Last week one of the first things the new Biden Administration did was issue an executive order requiring all people to wear masks on federal land – even when outside.

In order to stop the spread of COVID-19 the order states: “individuals in federal buildings and on federal lands should all wear masks” which, if taken literally, seems to imply everyone in a national park or camping on land owned by the federal government popular with boondockers would fall under this order.

I know, other RV writers and websites have been really stressing the literal application of the order but it’s been my experience that few things in life are to be taken literally and I would like to suggest we look more at the intent here than the most extreme application.

The fact is, right now many details are lacking. For example, it is not clear exactly when this order takes effect, how it will be enforced, or what the penalties are for violating it.

Actually, President Biden signed two orders. One requires that masks be worn at airports and on many planes, trains, ships, and intercity buses. That is pretty clear.

The Order About Wearing Masks on Federal Property

The second order requires masks on federal property.

Let me quote from it:

“Accordingly, to protect the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce, and to ensure the continuity of Government services and activities, on-duty or on-site Federal employees, on-site Federal contractors, and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines. 

Who must wear masks in national parks?

So the intent of the order is to protect federal workers and those interacting with them. That could include rangers, campers, the folks who staff registration booths, concessionaires. Campground volunteers. Got it. that’s clear.

So the requirement is that masks and social distancing be required inside buildings. Understood.

What about masks “on federal lands?”

But besides buildings, it also says “and on Federal lands.” That is where the confusion comes.

Some sensational reporting in the RV media…maybe to get ore clicks… imply that means you now would have to always be wearing masks while anywhere in a National Park or BLM lands. That is NOT what the order says.

“Should” instead of “Must” regarding wearing masks in National Parks

Let me read what it says: It says “should all wear masks.” Not must. Big difference. It also references that people should follow the CDC guidelines.

Well, guess what those guidelines say about wearing masks outdoors? It says masks need not be worn outside, when not in close proximity to people.

What the CDC says about outdoor mask use

Here’s the exact CDC quote:

Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with other people who live in your household. However, some localities may have mask mandates while out in public, please check for the rules in your locality.

How is the mask requirement on federal lands to be enforced?

Also, the President’s order goes on to leave the implementation and enforcement of this to the heads of agencies, giving them discretion to “make categorical or case-by-case exceptions.”

When the media asked the White House if the order specifically means that, campers, for example, will have t wear masks in National Parks and federal land, a Biden administration official said such decisions will be left to their overseeing agencies to implement, while also following “science.”

The COVID science changes each week as the medical and public health community learns more about the disease. As I read the order signed by the President last week, I don’t think campers and boondockers need to be concerned about wearing masks on a hike or when they are out exploring… unless they come into contact with others.

Realistically, the order is broad and vague and its enforcement is very up in the air. But don’t expect rangers to be hiking behind boulders ready to cite you for not wearing a mask when you are out in the boonies hiking.

We will keep monitoring this and report back as the order becomes clearer and more guidelines are developed

More RV News …

Pay attention to when popular state and federal campgrounds open (for some it is Feb. 1) and book now!

Many popular state campgrounds are opening their reservation lines and it is important to pay attention if you're seeking to camp in a popular spot this summer.

Feb. 1 is the day Nebraska (click here) opens up for summer reservations; Maine has one park open Feb. 1 (click here) with reservations for others opening shortly thereafter. Colorado is also open (click here) and filling up.

Failing to reserve now may mean you can't find a spot later. Recently when we predicted trends RVers should expect in 2021, one was campgrounds will be booked out by the end of February 2021. To review that story and other ways to prepare, click here.

Learn more about America's newest national park in West Virginia

Many campers make it a point to visit as many national parks as possible, and so we thought you may enjoy learning more about the beauty of America's newest national park: New River Gorge National Park and Reserve (click here).

The park and reserve sit on 72,000-plus acres in West Virginia, and IT became a national park as part of December's COVID-19 relief package. The park has rock climbing, white water rafting, and the longest steel arch span bridge in the western hemisphere where people parachute off the 876-feet from the bridge to the river below every October on Bridge Day.

Camping is permitted, though it only offers primitive campgrounds currently. This is definitely a place Jennifer and I will want to visit. To see our 10 tips for visiting a national park in an RV, click here.

Constitutionality of Maine's quarantine order for out-of-state travelers upheld by federal court

Two campground owners in Maine who sued their governor over an executive order requiring out-of-state campers to quarantine for two weeks lost their appeal in federal court.

The campground owners had argued in part that the COVID-19 executive order barring people from traveling freely between states was unconstitutional. Maine's governor was one of many last year that put a quarantine requirement on out-of-state travelers that devastated those who make a living in the hospitality industry – like campground owners.

While the full case is pretty complicated, and it sounds like the matter is not over,  Maine's governor has since modified her order. Now most out-of-state visitors must test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival or quarantine for 10 days once they arrive in Maine.

Why hiking is good for your brain

Many of us RVers got into the lifestyle because we enjoy nature. When we are outside and on a hike, it can be the ultimate de-stressor. But did you know hiking is actually scientifically proven to be good for your health? (click here)

A hike provides exercise, which is good for your body, but navigating a trail is much better than walking a treadmill because of the cognitive work required to not get lost and stay aware of your environment. Plus, the study said, simply being outside does wonders for your health.

And of course, if you find yourself at a campground today, and decide to head out for a hike, it is also important to keep safety in mind. Click here to read our story on what every hiker should know.


This message left on the RV Podcast voicemail number from a listener named Nancy:

Hi Mike and Jen. it's Nancy. I've been following you for quite a while and I really enjoy your podcast and your Facebook page.

I’m one of your pretty common campers. We started with a pop up lightweight travel trailer, went to a bigger travel trailer, and recently a motor home. Now that I'm into the motorhome and actually haven't used it at a winterize it right after purchasing it, there's a lot of features and each level is more complicated.

Even a tent came with instructions, but one out of particular comes to mind that pop-up came with a video. I always liked the fact that their company gave us this video that I could put in and look at watching it being demonstrated and today not just because of COVID 19, but because time is short for the training and the walkthroughs,  everyone feels pressured to go quick and everyone else is telling them, don't let them, you know rush you through.

But that's very hard to do and you know, what would even be better is walking away with a demo DVD.

I just think that the more complicated of the more expensive the unit, it should be almost a given and I would love to see manufacturers do videos demonstrating off all the different features.

And they can actually offer that with the unit to the next owners. So they're not at a loss when they come into a used unit.

I keep a binder and that goes to the next person. I don't know if everyone does I think it would be wonderful to have a video demonstrating the uses of all the different really cool features.

It's more a digital world and I just think it would be really great to have that on a video.

Have your voice heard on the RV Podcast!

Do you have a question you’d like us to answer or a comment on the things we’re discussing? If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990.  If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.


Our guest in the podcast Interview of the week is Phil Pietrowki, CEO and founder of Rescue My RV, a new emergency service that is aimed strictly at RV owners who experience problems on the road.

The three major benefits of Rescue My RV are:

  • Not having to search for help in an unfamiliar area. One call to their emergency number will have a tow or service tech dispatched to you, 24 x 7.
  • All their tow truck operators are certified RV towing specialists. When you call a typical roadside assistance service there is no guarantee the person they dispatch for mechanical road service is familiar with RVs or knows how an RV should be towed.
  • Besides towing when needed, Rescue My RV will dispatch RV service techs who can help you with RV-specific issues, such as a stuck slide-out, an AC unit that has stopped working or typical plumbing and electrical problems related to an RV.

The service costs $49 a year. NOTE: If you use the promo code RVL2021, they will give you a 10% discount.

Click the player below to listen to the interview with Phil. His section starts about 28:00 in.





Errol Morris may be the best known documentary filmmaker of our time.  His work focuses on the human side of stories and doesn’t stint when it comes to raw emotion and truth. 

He’s best known for The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, but we were most interested to see his film about the town of Vernon, Florida.  We’ve been to Vernon, and it has some very interesting history and a few can’t miss things to see. The confusion over masks in National Parks [NEW 2021 ORDER] 1

So why was Morris interested in the town?  Well, in the 1960s, when Vernon was in the depths of economic depression, it achieved a singular distinction.  For several years in that decade, two-thirds of the insurance claims for dismemberment in the USA came from this zip code. 

Here was a story Morris couldn’t resist.

Morris arrived in town to make a film he intended to call Nub City. 

The finished product focuses on several town characters—a turkey hunter, a worm farmer, and a man who keeps a variety of wild animals in enclosures in his front yard, his pets, he calls them. 

We watched it, and it was fine.  An interesting film about an average small town.  The question was, why did someone like Morris choose to make it. 

In comparison to his other films, the drama, the intrigue, the central mystery was missing.  It wasn’t until later we found out why.

When he began to ask questions it became clear the local residents did not want this period of their history revisited, on film, or in conversation. 

The confusion over masks in National Parks [NEW 2021 ORDER] 2

Shortly thereafter the filmmaker received several death threats and, as a result, his film took on a different tone.  Sort of a travel video for a place no one would see as a destination.  As you might imagine, it was a perfect stop for the likes of us. 

On the green central square of the town, out in front of the Sam Mitchell library, a 1941 Suburban sits under a protective roof.  It’s the town’s homage to Gene Mitchell, who served as a rural mail carrier and occasional taxi driver to the folks of the region for a dozen years.

Hands, never mentioned in Morris’ documentary, play another part in Vernon’s story, unrelated to the loss of them.  Just outside town is the Moss Hill Methodist Church. 

If you’ve ever managed a fireplace, wood stove, or campfire, you may be familiar with fatwood.  This is the heartwood of several species of Southern pine, loaded with sap that makes it light fast and burns hot.  The resins that permeate the wood are a bit sticky. 

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Handprints from the original builders can still be seen on these pine walls on the Vernon, FL church

The builders who made the church, many of them slaves, left their handprints on the wood, and those very personal marks are still visible today on the interior ceiling and walls.

The church, still in use for regular services, is practically unchanged since it was built in 1857.  Kerosene lamps still hang over the simple wooden pews, and sitting down for a rest it’s easy to imagine yourself back in your grandparents’ youth. 

On the lawn out front, Tom discovered a pre-Revolutionary wooden cannon, and the cemetery includes the grave of a Civil War veteran who died at the ripe old age of 125.

About twenty miles away from Vernon, you can spend a few pleasant nights at the Sand Pond campground in Pine Log State Forest. 

Many of the campsites sit on the shore of Lake Agnes, and there’s a very nice loop trail, as well as hot showers and a couple of historical displays. 

We’ll have to go back to see what more the area has to offer, but we found quite a bit on this visit, including what to talk about and what not to talk about in a small town in Florida while you’re exploring out here, off the beaten path.


Want to find more RV adventures on the road? 

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-01-27

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

3 Responses to “The confusion over masks in National Parks [NEW 2021 ORDER]”

February 02, 2021at10:33 am, Sunny said:

The CDC can not make laws. The president can not make laws. Your state Governor can not make laws. There are NO laws that require masks. “Mandates” are not laws. Know your rights. There is an abundance of GOOD research that clearly shows that masks do NOTHING but make you unhealthier. We were born with the god given right to breathe and to travel freely. Check out the World Doctors Alliance and the World Freedom Alliance. Sending you all peace, love and healthiness.

January 27, 2021at5:09 pm, William Tucker said:

You may not be correct in your interpretation of the guidelines for mask wearing. “Should”, “shall”, and “must’ are usually mandatory requirements, unless noted otherwise, in government codes, standards, and procedural instructions I have used in my profession.

January 31, 2021at11:36 pm, Dennis said:

I like to take words for what they mean. “Should” is not the same as “shall” or “must.” Should means to me optional. I will stick by that. If they can’t get the specific wording and leave it nebulous, then so shall it be. Should means that I have the option. Period… especially when out camping and hiking.

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