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Understanding Hiking Etiquette: Who Has the Right of Way on Trails?

There are more people than ever hitting the trails on various modes of transportation and speeds. Since the unspoken rules of hiking etiquette can be a bit confusing, understanding how to behave in certain situations will keep the trails enjoyable for all users. 

Understanding who has the right of way in various situations can be a bit confusing, so we help you break it down. 

Horses

Horses have the first right of way on the trails. If you are on a known shared trail with horses, keep an eye out and step to the side if you see horses on the path. Horses spook easily, so remain calm and quiet while they pass to keep everyone safe.

If you have a dog who is easily excited by horses, step as far away from the path as you can and leash them if they might go up to the horse. A horse kick can kill a dog and injure a rider.

Mountain Bikers

Proper trail etiquette says that bikers must yield to hikers, however, given that it’s much easier for a hiker to step to the side than for a cyclist to find a good spot to stop and pull over, it’s nice to give the biker the right of way.

Mountain bikers with good trail etiquette will ring a bell to indicate arrival and often will let hikers know how many are riding in their group.

Uphill vs. Downhill Hikers

In this case, uphill hikers have the right of way. This is due to the fact that they likely have a more narrow field of vision going uphill, and may also be in a good rhythm and want to continue to push up the hill without interruption.

Of course, someone going uphill may want to take a break, so if they indicate that the downhill hiker can go ahead, then it’s fine to pass by them.

Hikers vs. Hikers

In the case of two hikers approaching each other from opposite ends of the trail on relatively flat ground, the general rule is that the smaller group pulls over to allow the larger group to pass.

With solo hikers or pairs, one group or person just needs to make a decision to pull over to allow the other to pass.

If you spot a trail runner coming your way, pull to the side, since they are traveling faster than you are. They’ll be in a stride and will appreciate not having to stop.

Passing Other Hikers

Nobody likes to be surprised from behind! Announce your presence to hikers ahead by using a phrase like “on your left” or “two hikers approaching from behind.”

Usually hikers of two or more will already make their presence known from their conversation. Solo hikers can really sneak up on people, so be sure to speak up!

Hikers with Dogs

Hiking with a dog is great fun for both the human and their dog and maintaining control of your dog at all times is key to safe and peaceful hiking for everyone. Remember that not everyone loves dogs as much as you do and many dogs don’t appreciate strange dogs in their face.

For those who hike with their dogs, the person with the dog should pull over to allow others to pass, unless any of the above rules apply (you’re the one going uphill, there is a horse or mountain bike, etc.).

When passing another hiker with their dog, put your dog on the outside and use your body to serve as a buffer between your dog and the other dog. This will eliminate any unwanted interactions. If you pull to the side, you can use your body to block other dogs from approaching.

Hiking in Large Groups

Getting a large group of friends together for a hike or backpacking trip can be a feat in and of itself! Since larger groups take up a lot of space on the trail, both physically and audibly, here are a few tips for following good hiking etiquette practices:

  • Hike single file or two-by-two on wider paths
  • Keep voices down as much as possible
  • Keep to the right to allow others to pass
  • Stay on the trail to avoid trampling flora and fauna

There you have it! These are the basic rules of hiking etiquette and right of way on the trail. Remember that not everyone may know the rules or choose to follow them, be kind and treat each other with respect.

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