June 21 is the longest day of the year, the start to summer and …National Naked Hiking Day.
Started as a diversion by those through-hiking the long-distance Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, the immodest unofficial celebration has developed a modest following on trails across the country in recent years.
Will people actually be out trekking in nothing but socks and hiking boots on the summer solstice in Pennsylvania?
Yes, even though, to be sure, anyone who does runs the risk of being cited for public lewdness.
“Folks that have never tried it don’t understand,” a man from Warren County responded to my query on Facebook. “It’s not what you see, or anyone else sees. It’s about what you feel: freedom, liberation, connection.”
“I’m down with it,” a Lancaster County man said, though he didn’t provide details.
Several practicing naturists contacted me to emphasize that their reasons for preferring being naked in nature has nothing to do with prurient interests and decried America’s uptightness over the sight of the natural body.
“We believe that being nude is freeing and relaxing in the right setting,” a home remodeler from the Lehigh Valley said. He and his wife, a nurse, camp, hike and swim nude on remote private property and secluded locations in state forests and game lands in Pennsylvania.
If you are tempted to take a walk on the wild side on Friday, be forewarned that there is no public trail where it is legal in Lancaster County.
Lancaster County parks? No, it not only is not encouraged but being caught would be a violation of park ordinances, reports Paul Weiss, the county’s parks and recreation administrator.
Not the Lancaster County Conservancy’s 46 nature preserves. “It is as illegal and inappropriate to walk naked in a public park or nature preserve as it is to walk naked on a public sidewalk. Indecent exposure is indecent exposure,” said Phil Wenger, the nonprofit organization’s president and CEO.
State game lands? Nope. “Nude hiking on game lands generally is not encountered, but it would likely result in a citation for disorderly conduct or indecent exposure,” said Travis Lau, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
How about state forests, which are much more plentiful and have remote trails? The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources doesn’t have a policy addressing nude hiking and its rangers don’t beat the backcountry looking for it, said spokesman Terry Brady.
However, the state crime code against indecent exposure and open lewdness makes a citation possible, especially if other forest visitors take offense. State parks operate under a rule that requires clothing on one’s genitals and female breasts below the top of the nipple.
“This activity certainly doesn’t fit in the family atmosphere we strive for in state parks, nor with what we suggest hikers wear when they do go out hiking,” Brady said.
So, if you don’t have access to private property, you may have to travel to seek out federal land. Nudity is technically legal in all national parks, nor is it banned in national forests or vast lands owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Still, local officials have the right to issue citations to “free hikers” on a case-by-case basis. Some groups on National Naked Hiking Day post flyers at trail heads, giving clothed visitors a heads up.
Many of those responding to me on Facebook were inquisitive more than anything else. How do you guard against sunburn, bugs and scraping against rough rocks sans clothes?
Others, tongue in cheek, noted the benefits. “Well, it would be easier to find ticks on you,” wrote one man from Unionville. “This year’s event sponsored by Deet,” quipped another. A woman asked seriously if pack straps don’t rub skin raw without at least a T-shirt on.
But a woman from Beaver County wrote that she spends as much time as possible on her 20-acre property gardening, hiking and exploring. “Everything is easier when you don’t have to wrestle extra things that get caught on everything,” she noted.
Most said they don’t care if people want to experience nature nude one day of the year as long as they avoid surprising unsuspecting families on the trail.
To learn more about where to safely be naked in the outdoors, try the American Association for Nude Recreation (aanr.com), which espouses “the freedom of being without clothes.”
Ad Crable is an LNP outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.