Trail Etiquette

1. Hikers and Bikers

The first thing that you need to know is that there is a hierarchy on the trail. Horses have priority, followed by hikers and then bikers. It’s pretty simple to remember and makes encounters much more pleasant when everyone knows who gets to go first. Always check to see what other kinds of travelers will be sharing the trail with you before you start. If horses or bikes are allowed, then be mentally prepared to encounter them. When being passed by horses, it is important to step off the trail, on the downhill side if possible.

2. Yield to Uphill Traffic

Always yield to uphill traffic. Going uphill is hard work and changing up your speed can ruin your momentum; therefore, people traveling uphill have the right of way. Of course, some hikers welcome any opportunity to stop and rest and we will often signal for downhill hikers to pass us. Just remember that it is up to the person going uphill to make the call. Otherwise, yield.

3. Stay to the Right, Pass on the Left

The trail is a lot like the road in this respect. Keep to the right side of the trail when you are being passed.

If you want to pass someone from behind, get their attention by shouting out “On your left.” However, you don’t need to be overly formal or gruff, a friendly “Hi there. Can I get around you?” works just as well.

If you are hiking in a group, it’s best to hike single file, allowing some room for other users on the trail to pass.

Solo hikers should move aside for big groups.

4. Leave No Trace

This rule can be observed in several ways.

The most apparent way is to clean up after yourself and pack out anything that you brought in. Even things like banana peels and apple cores can take quite a while to decompose and they don’t improve the scenery one bit.

This goes for dogs, too. If you’re unwilling to clean up after your dog, then don’t take the dog on a hike.

Another way to leave no trace is to stay on the trail. Making shortcuts can damage fragile plants, erode trails, and loosen rocks and boulders that may injure you or people below you.

Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at trees with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks, thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable.

Taking pictures is a great way to remember the flowers, trees and beauty of your hike instead of picking flowers.

Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In National Parks and some other areas it is illegal to remove natural objects.

Cultural artifacts are protected by the law and it is illegal to remove or disturb archeological sites, historic sites or artifacts such as pot shards, arrowheads, structures and even antique bottles found on public lands.

Learn about wildlife and plants through quiet observation. Observe wildlife from a distance.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed or force animals to flee. One exception is in bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears. Do not touch, get close to, feed or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. If you find sick animals or an animal in trouble, notify a game warden. Remember that you are a visitor to their home.

5. Tech on the Trail

Phones are good to have on hand in case of an emergency but their use should be limited to such. If you absolutely must make or take a phone call, keep the conversation short and your voice low.

6. Be Friendly and Have Fun

Your fellow hikers are out to have a good time just like you are, and a friendly “howdy” or “hello” can go a long way toward fostering a positive atmosphere among everyone on the trail. The benefit of saying hello, introduce yourself and chat about your plans is for safety reasons. Especially if you are on a long day hike, an overnighter or hiking solo, this could be the difference between having someone know where you are in case of an emergency or having no one to help direct rescuers at all. It is also good to share trail conditions for safety.