With the weather warming up, more people are hitting trails all over the United States. Hiking can be a solitary release from the pressures of everyday life. Lonely hikers often wander off to gain some space and quiet. Most trails, though, are community experiences. A lot of people, both alone and in groups, use public trails. For this reason, it takes a community effort to make sure our trails continue to be places of joy for everyone.
Trail Right of Way
Picture this: You are walking down the trail, your group taking up the whole trail and having a fantastic time. Another group is coming up the trail and it is pretty obvious that this trail isn’t big enough for everyone. Which group should move?
Hiking etiquette is that the group going downhill should step off the trail and let the group going uphill pass. Or, if you are on level ground, the group returning down the trail should step over for the group that is heading into the destination.
This makes sense: Those going uphill have the more difficult task and it helps if they can maintain momentum. Oftentimes, those going uphill will kindly step out of the way and let those going downhill pass. Let’s face it – having the more difficult task will prompt a willingness to take a break. If you are hiking uphill, do not feel obligated to maintain ettiquette if you really do need a break.
My husband likes to remind me, “Savanna, you do not have to be the loudest person on the trail.” I do not try to be the loudest person on the trail. I am usually just getting very excited about a conversation we are having and as the conversation goes on, my voice level goes up. But he makes a good point. Everyone did not gather here to listen to my opinions about modern education or Utah traffic. They came to have their own conversations, listen to the birds, or just enjoy quiet. I do not mean that nobody can talk. I mean only to keep in mind that a public trail is not the place to use your “outdoor voice” that we have all been storing up since 2nd grade. Respectful tones go a long way in creating a hiking environment everyone can enjoy.
Practice Leave No Trace
Growing up, my parents would take my sisters and me to a nature center in my hometown. There is a sign at the start of the nature center that reads, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” This has been a reverberating motto in my head ever since. This phrase makes up the two components of “Leave No Trace” hiking.
Leave only footprints. I will take this one step further and say, “Be mindful of where you leave your footprints.” Trails are created for human use. The surrounding spaces are fragile ecosystems protecting a vast variety of wildlife. Staying on the designated trail will protect our wild spaces, allowing them to thrive. This will maintain their integrity for future generations to enjoy.
Clean up after yourself. A good rule of thumb that most hikers have heard before is, “Pack it in, pack it out.” Clean up all trash, wrappers, and, yes, human waste and take it out to the trash when your hike is over.
I hiked a trail in Colorado that was supposed to be a beautiful, popular trail for locals. Translation: Crowded trail for dog-walking. And this is totally okay! The problem was that the pet owners were wrapping up the dog poop in plastic bags then leaving the bags on the side of the trail. Every ten feet was another doggie bag for the entire trail. This detracted from the natural beauty of the hike and just kind of made the whole thing gross. So, yes, even doggy-doo gets packed out.
Keep The Peace
Usually, hikers have entered the outdoors to experience nature. They are leaving behind the noise and distraction of modern living if only for a few hours. There are few more disturbing things than a hiker intentionally disrupting the peace of nature by playing music on a speaker for all to hear. Some people love hiking with music, and that is okay. Please respect others by using headphones.
I remember one instance when this became a particular nuisance. A friend of mine and I were hiking a beautiful, albeit crowded, trail. Since the trail was crowded that day, we got stuck in a row of people navigating a particularly narrow part of this trail. This line continued for a good half a mile before the trail finally opened up and allowed people to gain some distance from each other. The entire half-mile or so we were stuck behind a family that was playing pop music on Bluetooth speaker.
The animals that inhabit these trails call them home. Care for their home by following the “leave no trace” rule. Also, practice caution around wild animals. I love spotting wildlife! I get so excited to get a glimpse and take their picture. Kenon constantly has to remind me to keep a safe distance. He is very aware of how quickly a seemingly serene animal can turn aggressive. Animals are not present along trails for our entertainment. They are just continuing on through an average day. Enjoy wildlife at a safe, respectful distance.