Trail Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts

As Colorado trails continue to get more popular with hikers, bikers, equestrians and other lovers of the wild, conflicts are sure to arises. It does not have to be this way. Biker, hiker, nature lover and all around wild man, Zach White Breaks down how we can all just get along out there.

Equestrians get top billing out on the trail, whether that seems fair, safe or otherwise. Sure, they poop all over the trail, leaving big, stinky piles for runners, hikers and cyclists to deal with. And, coming across such a huge animal out on singletrack can make anyone a little nervous, especially for those of us who have no experience with horses. But, the reason we’re supposed to yield to horses is because they can scare easily, making a dangerous situation for both their rider, and any trail users nearby. So, approach horses with caution, and expect to yield the trail to them. It’s also proper etiquette to talk to equestrians in order to let the horses know that you’re a person, and not some strange monster on wheels.

While mountain bike groups and organizations generally donate the most volunteer hours to trail building and maintenance, we’re at the bottom of the trail food chain when it comes to yielding to other trail users. Years ago, I had a woman lay into me on a busy Front Range trail on a Sunday afternoon because she didn’t think I yielded properly to her llama. Seriously. But, as mountain bikers, we all contribute to our reputation, which is often that of speed demons from hell. So as lame as it may seem at times, know that as a cyclist, you need to give other trail users the right of way when coming up on opposing traffic. However, if you catch up to other trail users going the same direction, they should allow you to pass if it’s safe. Be aware that there are definitely hikers out there who feel cyclists shouldn’t be on the trail, and confuse their rights with opposing traffic as a right to not be passed at all. If you run across someone like this, be friendly, and focus the conversation towards being an individual person enjoying the same trail they are, verses getting sucked into the whole “bikers verses hikers” thing. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard “you bikers” from disgruntled foot traffic when it was just me. Usually in these situations, I introduce myself, tell them that I’m a firefighter (that was true until about a year ago), and am just out exercising in order to stay in shape for work. You might not have the same story, but you get the idea — remove yourself from their idea of essentially being in some sort of gang, and things generally go more smoothly.

When cyclists come upon other cyclists, uphill traffic has the right of way. This doesn’t mean that as a downhill rider, you should simply carve a new line off the trail and around the climber. Instead, downhill traffic needs to slow down or stop and allow uphill traffic to pass. Keep your tires on the trail, put your upslope foot down and lean off the trail to give the uphill rider as much room as possible. Remember, it takes a minimum of about a six-foot width to allow two riders to pass each other. If you’re riding uphill, but struggling — specifically, if you’ve put a foot down, or hopped off your bike entirely — you still have the right of way, but be cool and let downhill riders enjoy the descent.

Hikers and runners have a much easier time at their slower speeds and more off-trail friendly feet to step off the trail to let mountain bikers by, even though they don’t really have to. So, as a mountain biker, be thankful for foot traffic that allows you to keep your flow. And, as a pedestrian, please realize that while you have right of way, sometimes it’s more dangerous for a beginner rider to yield to you than you realize.

A Few Other Things

Stay on the trail, otherwise, it’ll eventually turn into a big, wide pathway similar to the paved multi-use paths in town. The challenge and thrill of riding, hiking and running narrow singletrack is something we should all embrace as it’s only available in limited quantities — especially for us mountain bikers. “Yeah, but what if there’s a mud puddle?” Walk, ride or point your horse right through the center of it, and leave the new trail building to the pros and official volunteers.

Bring what you need, and know how to use it. This spring seemed to set a record of new mountain bikers walking out of the trail with a simple flat because they didn’t have a spare tube and pump. It happens to all of us at some point, but don’t just roll out of the trailhead assuming any problem you may run into will be solved by someone else. Water, food, extra clothing, tools, medications — think about what you’re doing, and how remote you may be, and pack accordingly.

Leaving no trace is a great start, but if we all picked up a piece of trash while we’re out in the woods, or even at the trailhead, we’d all make a big difference.

As busy as our trails are becoming, it’s important that we all understand proper trail etiquette while we’re out there trying to enjoy them. If you know new trail users, take a minute to discuss what’s expected and appropriate out there, as things like downhill traffic yielding to uphill traffic aren’t the most obvious idea to many. Most importantly, let’s all be nice to each other, and appreciate that we’ve scraped enough time out of our busy schedules to get some quality trail time in, which deserves a friendly nod and smile to and from each and everyone out there, regardless of how we’re getting it done.

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