Over the last five years or so, there has been huge influx of people on trails in Western Washington. The population in the Seattle area is rapidly increasing, and along with it comes a loss of solitude on popular trails nearby. Generally speaking, I’m not bothered by it. I want people to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, and I just try to limit my hikes to weekdays or more remote trails whenever possible. However, I really struggle to silence my inner curmudgeon when I encounter other hikers who completely disregard common trail etiquette. I’m not referring to some of the lesser-known expectations common among seasoned hikers and backpackers, but rather general common-sense respectful behavior towards others sharing the forest. Hiking etiquette also becomes increasingly important as trails grow more and more crowded. So, here is a list of basic trail etiquette that I hope will make it into the hands of some less-seasoned hikers who want to explore the magic that is the forest.
I can’t really believe that this needs to be called out, but PLEASE do not litter. On the trail, at a lake, on a mountain top. Take your garbage home, including compostable items such as banana peels and apple cores. There are few things more frustrating than spending time to fit everything into a bear canister and find a perfect spot to lodge it between logs a sufficient distance from surrounding campsites, only to come back to my site and realize that someone has left pistachio shells and gummy bears all over the ground after their lunch by the lake. Trash is detrimental to the surrounding environment, attracts wildlife that needs to stay wild, shows disrespect for the environment and other hikers, and is just ugly.
I find this to be one of the more frustrating aspects of busy trails. If you want to play music while hiking, I could not care less. If you do so it is respectful to use headphones. Please don’t play music through bluetooth speakers for the rest of the mountain to listen to. Many people go to the woods to enjoy the sounds of the forest and get away from the noise of the city. Playing music out loud shows a lack of respect for the experiences of those around you. Even if others enjoy music on the trail, there’s a pretty good chance they have different taste from you. So, stick to headphones and help keep the woods peaceful.
Right of Way
The person going uphill has right of way. Step to the side as much as possible until they pass. Of course, if you are going uphill and would prefer to stop and take a break, just say so and let the other person pass. For shared trails, horses have the right of way, followed by hikers, and then bikers. If you are moving quickly and want to pass someone, let the person ahead of you know that you are coming up behind them, and always pass on the left if possible.
This can be a tricky one. Legally, dogs need to be on a leash at all times and you risk being fined substantially if you come across a ranger who is strict about dogs. In reality, many people don’t leash their dogs and I don’t have a problem with that as long as the dogs are very well behaved. If your dog is prone to chasing wildlife, going off-trail, or running up to other hikers (even in a friendly manner), keep her on a leash. My dog stays within 5 feet of me at all times, doesn’t chase animals, stays on the trail, and ignores people and other dogs. I let him off his leash when I’m on uneven or rocky terrain, as it’s much safer for both of us if we navigate unstable surfaces independently. I also put him back on his leash immediately if I see other hikers, particularly if they have a leashed dog with them. Some people are vehemently against dogs ever being off leash and probably would be upset with me for saying it’s ever ok to unleash your pet. But I think it’s an issue of practicality and safety and is unique to each dog. That said, every time I let Newton off his leash I know that I am running the risk of being ticketed. And always pick up after your dog. This is for the benefit of other hikers and the protection of the environment.
It is important to preserve plants and wildlife habitat by staying on designated trails. Don’t cut switchbacks or make new paths. And to the extent possible, try not to step too far off the trail when letting others pass.
Greet other hikers, be friendly, and respect every person’s nature experience.
So go out and enjoy the woods! And maybe keep these elements of trail etiquette in mind as you begin your next adventure.