Trail Etiquette – rules of the trail and how to treat others with respect

Trail Etiquette – what are the rules of the trail and how to treat other hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians with respect

As I was hiking along the Goat Rock Trail in Hot Springs National Park last fall with my sister and pup, a man and woman on horseback came riding up behind us. I knew horses have the right of way on the trail, but I couldn’t remember what side of the trail to step off on. Was it uphill or down hill? We took a guess and moved off the trail on the uphill side, which was not correct. And it made me realize I need to not only brush up on my trail etiquette, but remember it when needed.

As the outdoors becomes more popular, you are more likely to encounter a situation like my sister and I had. Trail etiquette is not only polite, but necessary for safety.

So who has the right of way?

Most hiking trails are not very wide so when encountering others it’s important to know who yields to whom and where to step off the trail.

Hikers, Bikers, Equestrian

Some trails are only for hikers but many are shared between bikers, hikers, and equestrians. It’s important to know who has the right of way in order to ensure a safe time for everyone.

Because bikers are generally considered to be more maneuverable than hikers and it is easier for them to get out of the way, they yield to hikers and equestrians.

Both hikers and bikers yield to horses because they are harder to maneuver. If the trail is not wide enough for them to safely pass, then step off the trail on the downhill side. You are less likely to spook the horse if you are physically below him than above him. Also, a spooked horse tends to run uphill and in the event that the horse does get spooked, you are not in its path.

So in short – bikers yield to hikers and horses, hikers yield to horses, and horses do not yield.

Trail Etiquette – what are the rules of the trail and how to treat other hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians with respect
Now, here I am on the uphill slope of the trail, but if you notice there was no room on the downhill side of the trail.

A shared-use trail is a trail for every type of activity, and it is always important to remember that any activity allowed on the trail belongs on that trail.

Big groups versus small groups

So what if you are in a small group, or you are a solo hiker and meet a large group on the trail. Who should let the other pass?

Because it’s easier for a single person or small group to step aside and let a large group pass, the large group has the right of way. Large (and small groups for that matter) should always hike in a single file line so they do not accidentally step off the trail and trample vegetation. By stepping to the side and allowing them to pass, you keep them from bunching up to let you pass.

Meeting someone on an incline

Trail Etiquette – what are the rules of the trail and how to treat other hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians with respect

The uphill hiker always has the right of way over the downhill hiker. Now, uphill hikers may decide to take advantage of meeting someone on the trail and step aside to let downhill hikers pass, but that is their decision. I know I certainly have forfeited the right of way on an incline to take advantage of a good rest.

Be mindful of others’ ears on the trail

I know your indie rock is an amazing sound, and you think everyone should be exposed to it. But the truth is they probably don’t want it to in the middle of nature. Many people escape into nature to get away from people and modern life. If this doesn’t describe you or you are at a point on the trail where you need some extra motivation, keep your music confined to your earbuds.

But I do have to say, be extremely cautious when hiking with headphones. When you do this, you drown out all the surrounding sounds that can alert you to dangers, like wildlife. You will also want to pay extra attention to your surroundings.

Give wildlife space

Speaking of wildlife, we don’t just share the trail with our fellow hikers, bikers, and equestrians. We share it with the animals that call it home. Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat can be a treat and part of the reason we are out there, but we need to be sure to observe them at a safe and proper distance.

Trail Etiquette – what are the rules of the trail and how to treat other hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians with respect
Observing a moose from a safe distance with a long lens in Wyoming

Know what types of wildlife you might encounter and how to react if the situation turns dangerous before you go into the wilderness.

Practice LNT

The absolute best way to be courteous to future hikers, bikers, and equestrians is to practice the Leave No Trace policy. No one likes to go into nature to escape people and society only to see evidence of the person who was there before you in the way of trash alongside the trail, graffiti carved into trees or painting on rocks, and other ways we leave our marks on nature.

Use the “restroom” 200 feet from the trail and water sources

And nothing can ruin a view of a beautiful forest more than evidence of people who have used it as their toilet. When nature calls, it is polite to be 200 feet from a trail and water source. No one wants to see someone taking care of business while hiking.

Be friendly with others on the trail

I’m not saying you have to have a long conversation and discuss how to accomplish world peace, but smile and say “Hello” to other on the trail.

The importance of trail etiquette

Practicing good trail etiquette isn’t just being polite and treating others with respect. It can also keep accident from happening. Speaking to fellow hikers, bikers, and equestrians can help alert you or you can alert them to potential dangers up ahead.

Trail Etiquette – what are the rules of the trail and how to treat other hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians with respect

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