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Trail Etiquette for Hikers

There’s nothing more awkward than a trail encounter with two parties heading opposite directions, neither of which is sure who has the right of way. That confusing, “I’ll go right,” “No, you go right,” shuffle is always embarrassing. Luckily, you can avoid these situations on the trail if you read up on proper trail etiquette, which will let you know who has the right of way and when. 

On the trail, the generally accepted rule is that mountain bikers yield to hikers, and both hikers and bikers yield to equestrians. If you’re passing someone that’s engaged in the same activity as you, then the person traveling uphill has the right of way. 

When you see another party hiking up, or are approached by someone on a horse, simply step off the trail (try to find a bare spot so as not to destroy any sensitive vegetation), and let them pass. When allowing an equestrian to pass, be sure to talk calmly and not make any sudden movements so as not to spook the animal. 

Many times you’ll encounter others who are unaware of, or simply won’t adhere to, the right-of-way guidelines for the trail. Many times, a descending mountain biker will expect ascending hikers to step out of the way, or a climbing mountain biker approaching a group of hikers from behind will expect the same thing. While this goes against the predetermined guidelines, the mountain biker is generally working harder on the way up or going faster on the way down, and it can be a common courtesy to let them by. Regardless, if you go by the letter of the law, hikers have the right of way, no matter what. 

When it comes to hikers passing hikers on the trail, make sure to remain friendly. Everyone is out on the trail for similar reasons, and being standoffish is off-putting to everyone. A simple, “hello,” to gain the attention of another party in front of you when you’re ready to pass should do the trick. 

There are other etiquette tips and tricks to take with you on the trail to help preserve the environment around you for others and just ensure a pleasant experience for all. Practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles when on the trail, leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs. Leave cairns alone, don’t add to them, and don’t destroy them. Many people use them for navigation. 

You love your music, but others may not appreciate it blaring from your speakers. Use earbuds if you simply must listen to your tunes on the trail and keep any audio low so you can hear oncoming people and wildlife. The best practice is to tune out while you’re on the trail, the sounds of nature are way more soothing than “Thunderstruck,” anyway. Turn off the phone, keep the music paused, and enjoy the moment.