The key takeaway here is to be respectful of the land and other hikers! Whether you’re hiking alone or in a group, be sure to follow the written and unwritten rules of the trail. Proper hiking etiquette helps instill respect for other trail users, and it promotes stewardship of the land. The best thing you can do when hiking is to remember the “golden rule”: treat others the way you would want to be treated — this can help make your hike and the hike for others more pleasant. Among some commonly observed practices are:

Be considerate of others

  • Hike peacefully and let nature do all the talking. Speak in low voices and silence your cell phone (or turn it off). Enjoy the sounds of nature and respect other hiker’s wishes of peace and solitude as well. Consider loud voices and loud music noise pollution — you got away from that to enjoy the outdoors, so why bring it with you?
  • If taking a break, move off the trail to allow others to pass by unobstructed. If you must move off the trail, do so with minimal impact.
  • When bringing a pet on a hike, be sure to keep it on a short leash and under control (and always pack out pet waste).
  • If hiking in a group, don’t take up the whole width of the trail; allow others to pass.
  • When relieving yourself outdoors, be sure to do so 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources.

    Know your right-of-way

    On some trails, you’ll see signage displaying the correct right-of-way yields, but keep these in mind for any trail:

    Hikers coming uphill have the right-of-way. Hikers going downhill yield to those hiking uphill. The uphill hikers are exerting more effort to get uphill, and they should be able to maintain their pace unimpeded. Hiking downhill is much easier and you can afford to stop or move out of the way for those headed uphill.

    Bicyclists yield to hikers and horses. When hiking, those on bikes (faster moving) must yield to hikers and horses (slower moving). When bikers approach or pass hikers, it’s courteous for them to announce themselves or how many more in their party the hikers should expect to see so there’s no surprises further down the trail.

    Hikers yield to horses. Slowly and calmly step off the downhill side of a trail to make room for these large animals and their riders. If you approach from behind, announce your presence and intentions. Horses or other pack stock may frighten easily so avoid sudden movements and loud noises.

    Make yourself known

    When you encounter other hikers and trail users, offer a simple but friendly “hello” or a head nod. This helps create a friendly atmosphere on the trail. If you approach another hiker from behind, announce yourself in a friendly, calm tone and let others know you want to pass. Often, conversations will start after saying hello and it’s a great way of getting to know other park visitors, where they’re from, and maybe tips on what you should do or see next in the park!

    Be mindful of trail conditions

    If a trail is too wet and muddy, turn back and save the hike for another day. Using a muddy trail can be dangerous (think frequent slips and falls) and damage the trail’s condition. Widening a trail by going around puddles is bad for trail sustainability. Besides, it’s no fun trying to navigate a slippery, muddy trail and get muddy in the process.

    Stay on the trail

    Going off trail can damage or kill certain plant or animal species, and can hurt the ecosystems that surround the trail. And because it might look easy to cut the corner off of a switchback, doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Help preserve the trail by staying on the trail — they were built with foot traffic and sustainability in mind.

    Do not approach, feed or disturb wildlife

    They need their space, and you need yours, too. Keep your distance from the wildlife you encounter. Some parks require you to stay a certain distance from wildlife, so check park regulations before your visit. Never leave the trail to try and get a closer look at an animal because it can put you in danger — while many animals stay hidden, others are not so shy. Giving wild animals food only disrupts their natural foraging habits and creates a greater chance of an attack or them having to defend themselves.

    Be aware of your surroundings

    Always be aware of your surroundings when hiking and practice your situational awareness. It will help keep you and any members of your group safe, and it will help keep wildlife and their habitats safe and healthy. Know what to expect on the trail, and know what to do if you encounter potentially dangerous wildlife.

    Leave what you find

    Get into the habit of thinking about and practicing the Leave No Trace principles: leave rocks, vegetation, and artifacts where you find them for others to enjoy. The only souvenirs a hiker should come away with are photographs and happy memories.

    Pack out what you pack in

    Don’t toss your trash — not even biodegradable items such as orange peels. While some items are biodegradable, they can remain for a long time as they slowly decompose — and bright orange peels or banana peels stick out in the wild like a sore thumb. It’s never fun to see litter on the trail, and discarded food items are no different. If you packed it in, pack it back out.