Trail etiquette

I went hiking alone recently, which has its good and bad points. It’s usually all good because I enjoy the solitude, and I never keep myself waiting at a junction. I can take all the pictures and jot down a few ideas in my notebook. Don’t get me wrong; I like hiking with groups as well. Both options come with benefits.

I chose a lower elevation mountain, hoping to escape the snow and wet trail conditions. Sometimes things work out as we plan, while other things don’t. A beautiful day can usually make up for anything. The parking lot and trailhead were busy, so I knew I would be getting a mixture of personalities with my fresh air and sunshine. As usual, there was a lack of trail etiquette.

I sat in my car watching a young couple stand at the trailhead. They were having a significant discussion. I watched them while they watched other people start on the path. I finally got out of my car, went to the register, and signed in. I asked the couple if they wanted me to leave the book open for them to sign. Their previous discussion was about whether or not they wanted their privacy invaded by signing the register. One person wanted to follow in the footsteps of the hikers seen not signing the record, while the other wanted to know why signing the trail registry was necessary.

A straightforward conversation led to a walk up the trail. I shared the most basic information, such as no one is gathering personal data from the trail book, but registering shows trail usage. A ranger has a starting point if a person is lost or injured. I asked if their family knew their whereabouts? I informed them of the practice of letting someone know their destination. We touched on staying on the trail, following the markers, and bringing back all trash. It was a fast tutorial, and I answered a lot of questions. The part that saddened me was the number of people they said they approached who laughed at their questions or just ignored them.

The phrase “trail etiquette” comes with a lot of weight and judgment. Those two little words set the tone for a list of dos and don’ts when strung together. You are deemed worthy of entering the trail if you know the list. Perhaps birds sing, and rivers part with your trail knowledge. (It’s because you’re out in nature, not because you’re performing a miracle.) Trail etiquette can be off-putting. It can be filled with the “if you know, you know” crowd. It isn’t a simple process. Trail etiquette is more than just a “leave no trace” philosophy and safety guidelines. It’s about being polite, an eagerness to share, a willingness to learn, and the ability to exchange knowledge without judgment.

I’ve never assumed I’m the most experienced person on the trail. My husband, his father, lots of friends, and most acquaintances have more experience than I do with wilderness training. Each friend is always patient and willing to educate. Let’s continue to demonstrate the etiquette portion so we can share trails with everyone. No judging, please.


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