Living by numerous hiking and biking trails means plenty of outdoor enjoyment and recreation. But before you hit the trails, it’s essential to understand common trail etiquette, which means you understand how to respect others who are using the trail as well as the trail itself. Trail etiquette helps everyone stay safe and protects our trails for years to come. Whether you’re hiking, mountain biking, or even horseback riding, here are things you should know about trail etiquette.
1. Know who has the right of way
The beauty of a hiking or biking trail is that it’s away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. But you’re still going to encounter other people. Since it’s not always possible to squeeze everyone on the trail at once, you’ll need to understand basic right of way on hiking and biking trails. Much like our highways, faster-moving trail users should pass on the left. As most trails are used by hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, it’s essential to know right of way etiquette for each user. In general, horses always have the right of way, followed by hikers, then by bikers.
Right of way for hikers
- If you’re an individual hiker, move to the side for larger groups since it’s easier for one person to pause than a whole group.
- When you’re going downhill, yield to those going uphill. This is a courtesy to uphill hikers, since it takes much more energy to go uphill than down.
- Although mountain bikers are technically supposed to yield to hikers, it’s better to be safe than right. Pay attention to other trail users and you’ll avoid unnecessary injury.
- When you’re hiking, yield to horses on the trail, since horses can have a harder time maneuvering the trail. As you encounter a horse, position yourself downhill and be friendly with the rider. Talking to the rider will help the horse know you aren’t a wild animal. Step off the path on the downhill side because horses who bolt on the trail have a tendency to bolt uphill.
Right of way for mountain bikers
- When you jump on your mountain bike and hit the trail, it’s essential to understand you need to yield to everyone else. Bikes are faster and easier to maneuver than a horse or someone on foot.
- Pass on the left. Shout, “On your left” as you go around others so they know you’re coming.
- Bikers traveling downhill should yield to all riders headed uphill unless the trail is designated one-way or downhill-only traffic.
- Keep your speed in check and use a bike bell when you go around blind corners to announce your presence to other trail users.
2. Leave no trace
Anytime you’re in the great outdoors, you should expect to follow the rules of Leave No Trace. These principles include:
- Prepare. Do your research ahead of time so you know what to expect from the trail and the weather. Bring what you need for a safe and fun adventure.
- Always use durable surfaces. If you’re going to hike or camp, do so on existing trails and campsites. When the area you’re in doesn’t have existing trails or campsites, do your best not to leave a new one.
- Proper waste disposal. If you pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave any trash, even things like apple cores or banana peels. They aren’t good for wildlife. Use the bathrooms provided, or dig a hole 6-8 inches deep about 70 steps from trails, campsites, and water sources. Leave your waste in the hole and cover it up, but pack out feminine products and used toilet paper.
- Don’t take souvenirs. Gotta have something? Take a picture.
- Minimize campfire impact. Know whether or not campfires are allowed in the area. Only use wood scraps from dead trees and don’t allow your fire to get out of control.
- Respect wildlife. Keep a safe distance. Don’t feed them or leave garbage that could hurt them. Keep your dog under control so it can’t hunt or hurt the wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful of others’ space and belongings. Don’t play loud music that could disrupt others.
3. Say "Hello!"
4. Take care of your dog
Dogs love the great outdoors. They love going with you when you’re hiking, trail running, or mountain biking. But before you bring them with you, keep the following in mind:
- Check if dogs are allowed on the trail you’re planning to use. Not all trails are dog-friendly, so be sure to check.
- Bring a bag to gather your dog’s waste. It’s not fun, but it keeps the trail nice for everyone. Plan to carry the bag out with you. The last thing you want to see when you’re trying to enjoy the outdoors is a trail littered with multicolored bags of dog poop — or the poop without the bag.
- Bring a leash. You should plan on keeping your dog leashed while on the trail. It’ll be less likely to spook horses, chase wildlife, or even get lost.
Following common etiquette on hiking and biking trails doesn’t have to be difficult. And you don’t have to follow every rule to perfection. Be courteous and respectful and use common sense. Just remember that you’re trying to protect the safety of others and preserve the trail for generations to come.