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What is trail etiquette?

What is Trail Etiquette? 10 Tips for Great Mountain Manners

Have you ever heard of trail etiquette? It might seem like a strange concept – etiquette seems like something reserved for fine dining, not the wilderness. In reality, etiquette just describes a customary code of polite behavior, in this case for those hiking, biking, or otherwise using a trail. Following the proper trail etiquette reduces negative interactions and makes the trail experience more enjoyable for everyone in the outdoors. Here is a primer on this important topic to definitively answer the question, ‘what is trail etiquette?’

Table of Contents

What is Trail Etiquette? The Essential Rules to Remember

Trail etiquette developed gradually over the past 100 years, becoming significantly more important over the past 40 years as outdoor recreation has grown in popularity. They differ a bit from place to place to address concerns specific to certain types of trails or recreation. However, while there is no official, single list of trail etiquette rules, these ten tips cover the most important aspects that you should know.

1. Yield to those going uphill.

On mountain trails, you should always step aside and yield to those going uphill, as it is harder for them to pause and start back up (you have gravity assisting you if you are going downhill). This makes it easier for everyone to make it up to the summit without running into each other.

2. Bikers yield to hikers, everyone yields to horses.

On multi-use trails, the yielding rules get more complicated. Bikers should always yield to hikers by slowing down and walking their bikes around them. However, both bikers and hikers must yield to those on horseback to avoid accidentally scaring or spooking the animals.

3. Keep your volume down.

People head to nature to hear nature’s sounds, not your dub-step. Keep your voices down and leave your speakers back home. If you want to listen to music or podcasts on the trail stick to a good pair of earbuds instead so you keep it to yourself.

4. Clean up after yourself.

Nothing wrecks a wilderness experience quite like a pile of garbage on the side of the trail, or a big pile of human waste. Clean up after yourself and pack out your garbage so it isn’t an eyesore for others. If you bring a dog, do not leave their poop on the side of the trail, bagged or unbagged. Pick it up and pack it out.

5. Step off-trail to relieve yourself.

Similar to the above point, no one wants to walk through what you had for dinner or come around a corner to get an eyeful. Walk a few steps off the trail before you go to the bathroom to keep the trail clean, friendly, and sanitary.

6. Keep your dog under control.

Dogs are great trail companions, but they come with extra responsibilities. Keep your dog leashed and under control, especially when passing others on the trail. Don’t let them chase wildlife or run off-trail, especially when traveling through the alpine tundra.

7. Smile and say hello.

Let others on the trail know you’re approaching with a friendly greeting. This helps keep the trail positive and also avoids anyone getting taken by surprise. If people ask a question, do what you can to help. This is my favorite thing to keep in mind when considering the question ‘what is trail etiquette’.

8. Help others in need if you safely can.

Whether it’s answering a question about conditions or sharing some water with someone dehydrated, there are many situations where you can lend others a hand on the trail. Always follow the golden rule and help others if you can safely, or get help if it is too dangerous to do so yourself.

9. Observe trail guidelines and regulations.

Some trails have special guidelines beyond regular leave no trace practices. For example, some areas require a permit in advance to visit and have seasonal closures for wildlife breeding seasons. Help protect access to trails by always following guidelines and regulations from land managers.

10. Park responsibly at the trailhead.

This last point is often forgotten by those asking ‘what is trail etiquette’, but as more people head to go hiking it is becoming more important. Don’t take up too many spaces in the parking area, don’t sleep in your car overnight at the trailhead, and pay any parking fees that help support maintenance for the area. With limited parking in many areas, this helps keep the trail accessible to as many people as possible.

What is Trail Etiquette? Now You Know!

At the end of the day, trail etiquette is really just about being polite on the trail. With the right positive mindset it is easy to do! These ten tips will go a long way in helping you garner smiles  along your next hiking adventure. If you have any trail etiquette tips to add, please share them with us below in a comment – it could make it into the blog in an update! I hope you can now confidently answer the question, ‘what is trail etiquette?’ Safe travels on the trail!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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