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Trail Etiquette

You are hiking up a trail and someone is hiking down… who has the right away?

Horses on a hiking trail? It happens!

Whoooosh… was that a mountain biker that just flew by?

While we love it when we are the only ones on a hiking trail, realistically the chances of running into others are there no matter how far into the backcountry you are.

When you meet another person, do you know the trail etiquette of who has the right of way?

What about the “unspoken rules” of the trail?

Trail Etiquette

Trail etiquette is an essential aspect of enjoying outdoor activities, especially hiking. Proper trail etiquette ensures that everyone can enjoy the trail without disrupting other hikers, wildlife, or the environment. In this article, we will cover various trail etiquette guidelines, including hiking with dogs, meeting horses, encountering bicycles, playing music on the trail, minimizing noise, wildlife encounters, and leave no trace principles.


Excessive noise can disrupt other hikers and wildlife, so it is essential to keep your noise level down when on the trail. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Speak softly when on the trail. This helps prevent disturbing other hikers and wildlife.
  2. Avoid using loud equipment, such as speakers or radios, on the trail.
  3. If you encounter wildlife, be quiet and avoid disturbing them.


Encountering wildlife can be a thrilling experience, but it is essential to follow these guidelines to ensure your safety and the safety of the animals:

  1. Observe wildlife from a safe distance. Do not approach or attempt to feed them.
  2. Make noise when hiking to alert wildlife of your presence. This can help prevent surprise encounters.
  3. If you encounter a bear or other large animal, remain calm and slowly back away. Do not run or turn your back on the animal.

Leave What You Find

The Leave No Trace principles are essential to preserving the environment and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the trails as much as we do. Here are the seven Leave No Trace principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. Before hitting the trail, research the area, and plan accordingly. Bring enough water, food, and clothing, and pack out all trash and waste.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Stick to established trails and campsites, and avoid trampling on delicate vegetation.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Properly dispose of human waste at least 200 feet from water sources, and use a cathole or latrine where appropriate.
  4. Leave what you find. Do not disturb historical or natural objects, including plants, rocks, and artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impact. Use established fire rings, or bring a portable stove. Use only small sticks and twigs, and never leave a fire unattended.
  6. Respect wildlife. Observe from a distance, and never approach or feed wild animals. Store food and trash securely, and respect seasonal wildlife closures.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Respect others’ experience, and avoid loud noises and excessive crowding. Yield to other hikers and respect private property boundaries.

We All Have “To Go”

My local hiking group has a code for “going off-trail” to go to the bathroom. For whatever reason, the ladies say they need to make a stop at Starbucks and the guys say they are grabbing wings at Hooters. Odd but that’s our local lingo. When nature calls, here are some of the “rules” and tips to help you respect nature:

  • Walk at least 200 feet away from the trail, your campsite, or any water sources. If you are like me and cannot visualize 200 feet, it is the equivalent to about 40 paces.
  • I keep small bags in my backpack to use to pack out used tissue and wipes.
Trail Etiquette

Music on the Trail

Playing music on the trail can be an enjoyable experience, but it can also disrupt other hikers and wildlife. Therefore, it is essential to follow these guidelines:

  1. Keep the volume of your music low. This allows you to enjoy your music without disturbing others.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings. If you encounter other hikers or wildlife, turn off your music until you pass them.

Hiking With Dogs

Dogs can make great hiking companions, but their presence can also be disruptive to other hikers and wildlife. Therefore, it is essential to follow these guidelines when hiking with your furry friend:

  1. Always keep your dog on a leash, even if it is well-behaved. This not only ensures the safety of your dog but also helps prevent them from chasing or disturbing wildlife.
  2. Be aware of the rules and regulations regarding dogs on the trail. Some trails do not allow dogs, while others require them to be leashed at all times.
  3. Always clean up after your dog. Carry waste bags with you and dispose of them properly.
  4. Keep your dog under control at all times. If you encounter other hikers, wildlife, or other dogs, make sure your dog does not interfere or harm them.

Hikers and Bikers

When encountering bicycles on the trail, it is crucial to follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone involved:

  1. Always yield to bicycles on the trail. Step off the trail and allow the cyclist to pass safely.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and listen for approaching bicycles. Always look both ways before crossing the trail.
  3. Be mindful of your speed when hiking. Avoid sudden movements that can startle the cyclist.

Horses on the Trail

When you encounter horses on the trail, it is essential to remain calm and give them plenty of space. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Always yield to horses on the trail. Step off the trail and allow the horse and rider to pass safely.
  2. Speak softly to the horse and rider as they approach. This lets the horse know that you are there and helps prevent them from being startled.
  3. Never approach a horse without the rider’s permission. Horses can be easily spooked, so it is essential to give them plenty of space.

Trail Etiquette

In conclusion, trail etiquette is crucial to ensuring everyone can enjoy the trails while minimizing disruptions to wildlife and the environment. Follow these guidelines when hiking with dogs, encountering horses or bicycles, playing music, minimizing noise, and encountering wildlife, and follow the Leave No Trace principles to preserve the environment for future generations. Happy trails!