There are no written rules for the great outdoors, but courtesy still applies. We have all experienced a time when we’re embracing the sounds of Mother Nature and enjoying the familiar scrape of dirt beneath our boots….and then we take that next step forward and suddenly someone comes running around the bend, music blaring, forcing you to hug the side of the trail while off they run with your calm sense of wonder. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys spending your free time outside hiking, biking, running or other activities, then you most likely understand the importance of trail etiquette and how quickly it can make or break an outdoor experience.
Right of Way
We’re not cars right? Most of us don’t come with blinkers indicating which way we’re turning. But right of way still applies while hiking. This can seem a bit tricky, especially when you’re on a tighter trail path, but the hiker who is traveling uphill gets the right of way. Pushing up an incline can be devious and challenging; so, the hiker moving forward with upward momentum is the patron that gets to kindly move past the downhill groups.
Hierarchy of Passage
There are some hierarchies of passage when on a trail. Hikers and bikers should yield to horseback riders, in that horses can be a bit more difficult to move or turn around. Also, keep in mind that horses can be frightened easily by sudden movements or loud noises, so if you’re approaching someone on a horse, calmly announce your presence. Let’s not give Seabiscuit a panic attack.
Generally, bikers should yield to hikers. But let’s be honest – a bike’s speed is much faster than a set of legs, so you may see hikers yielding to a biker, who may be going downhill or using extra momentum to push up an incline. Always give a friendly ‘excuse me’ if you happen to have the need for speed on your cruise to give the other people on the trail a heads up.
When hiking in a group, it is best to walk in a line and keep the trail open for other runners or bikers. If a group is hiking downward, the solo hiker should yield to the group hiking. This ensures everyone follows the Leave No Trace protocol, minimizing the amount of foot traffic off the trail. Staying on the trail helps minimize trail growth and erosion and we all can do our part by following trail courtesy.
The example below is a sign you will see on trails indicating who has the right of way.
The hierarchy of passage on a trail:
- Hikers and bikers yield to horses
- Bikers yield to hikers
Make yourself known:
When encountering others on a trail, it’s kind to offer a friendly hello or a simple head nod. If you‘re approaching someone from behind, it’s courteous to announce yourself in a friendly way to let the person know you’re there and need to pass through. With tighter trails and different walking speeds, it is nice to communicate your presence without startling anyone who is enjoying a peaceful moment outside.
Make yourself known but don’t become a trail DJ and give a mini outdoor concert. If you want to enjoy some good tunes, get your groove on; but keep those jams in your headphones. Playing loud music or extending your voice on a trial disturbs others and can disrupt the natural wildlife living along the trail. If you wear headphones, keep the volume at a reasonable level so you can still hear others on the trail, And you’ll be able to hear if Mother Nature gets moody and the weather takes a thundering shift.
Stay the Course
There are plenty of trails to enjoy in Colorado and more trails are being developed every day. Staying on a trail path (and not wandering off into your own worldly adventure) can conserve the surrounding land and environment. There’s a reason that the trail was constructed the way that it was, so bear that in mind before you decide to meander from the path and disturb the local flora and fauna.
It’s important to be mindful of the trails and the surrounding area. Moving rocks or large sticks/logs may cause someone else to get lost. Some of these elements are used for navigational purposes and should be left where they landed. If there is a fallen tree blocking the path, don’t take it upon yourself to move it. Take note of how far in the blocked path is and call a local forest ranger so they can provide the proper assistance to dispatch the tree in the way they see fit.
Try to be cautious of trail conditions. If a trail seems muddy and wet, turn back, and save the hike for another day. Walking through wet conditions like mud can damage a trail and potentially turn it into a hazard after it dries. All it takes is one deep boot print to dry up and create a hole to trip in or roll an ankle. Ouch!
If you come across wildlife while on a trail, it is best to keep your distance and refrain from getting a closer look. Many animals get stressed from quick movements or loud noises and you don’t want to force them to flee from their homes.
Do not feed any wildlife, even if they look cute and hungry. Sorry Bambi! It’s best to let the wildlife gather or hunt for their own food. We know how adorable or majestic these little critters can be, but don’t touch, pet, or pick up any wildlife. Wild animals may have rabies or other diseases that can be passed on to humans if scratched or bitten and some creatures won’t return to their nests if they can smell the scent of a human on their babies.
If you come across an animal that is hurt, please contact your local game warden and give them the location or whereabouts of the injured animal or critter. Remember – you are visiting their homes and environment, so it is best to leave them be.
Leave what you find
Calling out all you rock collectors out there! Yes, most of us are all guilty of putting a shiny, smooth rock (or two) in our pocket. Or maybe you’re the type who saw some beautiful wildflowers that caught your eyes, and you couldn’t resist the urge to pick a few to bring home. Either way, put down those really cool rocks and snap a photo of the breathtaking flowers to enjoy later on.
Leaving nature alone is for the best and we can conserve the trails and surrounding areas better by leaving the elements and nature where you found it. The wildlife that live alongside the trails use objects like sticks for creating nests or leaves for shelter and leaving these elements where they are will only help the environment flourish and survive longer.
Avoid showing affection by carving your significant others’ initials into a tree trunk. Carving anything into a tree is very harmful to a tree’s growth and lifespan and cutting into the bark of a tree disrupts the flow of water and nutrients the tree needs to survive. It can also encourage others to think it’s acceptable to damage other trees. Buy them a box of chocolates instead, eh? Or maybe try skywriting.
Don’t be Trashy - Leave No Trace
That’s right folks! Take out everything you bring in, especially garbage. Did you know that it takes up to 450 years for a plastic beverage bottle to decompose? It is important that we keep the trails clean. If you bring anything with you in a backpack or other gear, be sure to bring it out with you or dispose of it. Many areas have a trash can available in the parking lot. Always, always, always, leave the area better than you found it. Pick up and pack out any trash that you may find, even if it isn’t yours. It’s good practice to travel with an extra plastic bag so you’re not touching other people’s trash. Our earth is a sacred place, and it is up to us to keep it clean and protect it. There is no substitute for Mother Nature.
Snack it in, pack it out
If you decide to enjoy some lunch mid-hike, soak up the beauty while snacking but make sure to take all your leftovers and trash with you. Yes, even that apple core. It also isn’t a bad idea to look around the rest area and double check you didn’t forget your jacket or hat. Did you know that nylon fabric (like a jacket) can take 40 years to decompose? We need to do our part to keep our forests and parks clean, healthy, and strong so we can continue to enjoy the great outdoors.
Not every trail will have a restroom, so if nature calls, the proper disposal of human waste is important. No one would enjoy coming across it (or the smell) and if it is not disposed of properly, we could pollute nearby water sources. In some locations, burying human waste is the most effective but take that toilet paper with you and throw it out when you find a garbage can. Yes, that TP will eventually decompose (12 weeks later), but it is vital to practice long-term sustainability of our shared planet and be respectful of nature.
PET WASTE, PET ETIQUETTE
Who doesn’t enjoy the great outdoors with their best pal walking beside them? If you and Fido are going for a hike, make sure to keep your furry friend on a leash. This keeps your pet from blocking the trail to other hikers and helps keep them safe. Allowing your dog to be off leash can lead your pet and even yourself into a dangerous situation. Keep in mind there is wildlife that lives along the trails and Fido may assume they want to play or chase another critter, and this could end up as a trip to the vet’s office.
Just like humans, dogs have to do their business too. Picking up after your pet and disposing of it is a common courtesy. No one will enjoy the smell under their boots on the car ride home and it can attract nearby wildlife. By abiding by the Leave No Trace protocol, this includes your pet’s waste.
Trail etiquette is pretty straightforward and by being consciously aware and polite on the trail, it can make everyone’s experience more enjoyable. Check out our interactive trail map and find where your next outdoor adventure will take you!