Sitting on a trailside rock, eating my lunch and throughly enjoying the cool breeze, I happened to witness an encounter that reminded me of how “unofficial” and sometimes just plain confusing the world of trail etiquette is.
A young couple were barreling down the trail, obviously dog-tired from a long day of hiking. A single backpacker was determinedly making his way up the steep slope.
After an awkward moment, the young couple, evidently reluctant to lose their downhill speed, didn’t slow their pace, forcing the backpacker to quickly step aside and teeter on the edge of the trail.
Was what the couple did wrong? Will the hiking police be pulling them over around the next bend (at a speed trap)? True, there isn’t a codified “rulebook” of trail etiquette, but here are a few pointers that are generally accepted as polite and will help us all get along a little better on the trail.
1. Hikers going uphill have the right of way. Hiking up a steep slope requires more energy. It’s polite to let them continue their momentum.
2. Hike to the right, just as when you drive. Stay to the right of other groups when you are passing in opposite directions.
3. Pass slower hikers on the left. Give them a friendly verbal acknowledgement, like, “On your left,” just in case they don’t see you.
4. Hikers yield to horses on the downhill side of the trail. You look more threatening uphill. As the horses go by, remain quiet and don’t make sudden moves.
Horses are prey animals by nature, and some are more nervous than others. Stay far enough away to be clear of kicking range.
5. Please stay on the trail. Don’t cut through switchbacks and cause trail and slope erosion. Wet and muddy trails are especially vulnerable to damage. Play your part in keeping our trails in one piece.
6. Stopping? Step to the side of the trail, and stand on durable surfaces that won’t get trampled.
7. Don’t trash the wilderness. If you brought it in, make sure to pack it out. If you want extra brownie points, pick up some of the litter from others.
8. Be quiet. It can be fun to chat with your fellow trailmates, but keep the decibel level appropriate to that of a normal conversation at a family barbecue, not a rock concert.
9. Know any local rules, including permits or passes. Read the trailhead guidelines.
Sometimes we all need a friendly little reminder of trail etiquette. A lot of true trail etiquette is just applying common sense and acting with respect and consideration to all those with whom you share our wonderful wilderness.
Practicing a few common sense tips will help you enjoy your hikes and our trails.