When Hiking Who Has the Right of Way?

With hundreds of parks available, there are many opportunities to go out hiking. That being said, there are many rules - spoken and unspoken - that every hiker should abide by. One of those unspoken rules is right of way. When hiking who has the right of way? When going uphill, you’ll have the right […]
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With hundreds of parks available, there are many opportunities to go out hiking. That being said, there are many rules - spoken and unspoken - that every hiker should abide by. One of those unspoken rules is right of way.

When hiking who has the right of way? When going uphill, you’ll have the right of way over the other hikers who must step aside to offer space so you can maintain momentum. These rules only ever change if there are horses or other pack stock on the trail. You should always yield to others when going downhill.

But there is more trail etiquette out there beyond that. I encourage you to read more about proper hiking etiquette below.

Right of Way Details

One of the most important details to know is the right of way when on a hiking trail. When you get to a park, it’s important for you to read the signs for the finer details on the right of way. These signs are going to vary from park to park but generally the guidelines of yielding are:

  • Hikers going uphill will always have the right of way. When descending, you’ll need to give them some space.
  • If you’re on a bike, you need to yield to both hikers and tamed animals alike. You’ll need to go to a full stop and be mindful of the surroundings while setting aside. Bike’s are the most variable with park rules so be sure to check the guidelines of the parks you are going to.
  • The exception to hikers having the right of way is around tamed animals. You’ll have to yield to them. When going downhill, you’ll need to go slow and calmly and stand on the side of the trail. When approaching from behind, announce your presence and intentions. Because you are dealing with horses and other animals, your goal isn’t to frighten them. Be sure to avoid sudden movements or loud noises.

Make Yourself Known

As I mentioned in the last point of right of way details, you want to make your presence known. Even when the other hikers don’t have animals with them, it is common trail etiquette to say hello or offer a head nod.

This makes yourself known, but it also creates a friendly atmosphere. Maintaining that on the trail is helpful as it encourages other people to treat you in the same way.

This is even more important if you plan to go to the same trail on a regular basis. You’ll see familiar faces and it’s smart to leave a good impression on people when on that trail.

It becomes more important in the event you are coming up behind someone. In these instances, have a calm and friendly tone and let the person or group know you would like to pass.

Stay on The Trail

As a general rule, never step off the trail that’s laid out. The exception to this rule is if you need to yield to someone and you need to give them more space.

The reason to do this is going off the trail could potentially cause damage or even kill plants or animal species. Something as simple as that can disrupt the ecosystem surrounding that part.

Another way you can look at this is to practice the principles of Leave No Trace. These principles are simple guidelines that when followed ensure you leave with no trace you’ve been there.

Things like leaving rocks, vegetation and other things on the trail where they are allows other people to enjoy the view as well. It also allows you to enjoy the same view on future visits too.

Do Not Disturb Wildlife

When you go to trails, you obviously need your space, so it's only fair you give space to everything else. From the trees and vegetation to the wildlife.

While you might not be running into constant bears or other predatory animals on the trails, keeping the distance allows you to not disturb the habitat of the wildlife.

Another thing to note is that some parks do have requirements about distance between you and wildlife. Before you plan to visit the park, check the rules and guidelines the park has.

I know that this particular rule can suck for some folks. I understand that sometimes you want to get closer or get a better picture of an animal at times. But to that I say there are some ways that you can go about this without disrupting the environment. Some of my suggestions are:

  • Avoid feeding the animals at all costs. As soon as you introduce other food to the animals, they’re going to get into their heads they’ll be able to get food here. In other words, as soon as you feed the animal, they’ll create a dependence on you showing up and feeding them around the same time. It sounds extreme, but it's the truth.
  • Keep trash stored in a safe place. Littering isn’t good. Even if you’re tossing apple cores and other organic food, it’s best to store it and toss it later.
  • If you see something, say something. Don’t go out of your way to get in contact with animals, but in some cases animals may approach you on their own. In that event, be sure to call a ranger. If you spot wildlife that is sick, dead, or acting odd, contact a ranger. On top of that, if you see other people who aren’t following the guidelines, tell them and contact a ranger if its needed.
  • Keep your eyes on the road. If you’re driving on these trails, keep a watchful eye on the road. As much as parks are a preservation of nature, we’ve still built these parks through animal habitats. This means that trails could be cutting into animal routes to their home or migration routes. If you’re driving, adhere to the speed limits and watch for wildlife. Even if you’re hiking, keep an eye on the trail from time to time to see if there is anything coming up.

Check Trail Conditions

Naturally trail conditions change based on what's going on in the weather and what the trail is like. If your hiking route is a gravel path, you should be alright for the most part.

However if the trail is way too wet or muddy, you’ll want to save your hike for another time. Muddy trails overall are dangerous in many ways.

Not only does it provide a potential risk from you but it can also damage the condition of the trail and the ecosystems surrounding it.

Be Sure to Listen

You’re out here to enjoy the outdoors more than anything else. With that in mind, make a point of keeping sounds to a minimum. It’s okay to be talking on the trail once in a while, but by keeping the peace and quiet you’re allowing nature to do all the talking.

This is so important as many people go on hikes to enjoy the quietness and appreciate the sounds of nature. Furthermore, many animals rely on making sounds to communicate as well. If you’re making noise, it’ll disrupt that channel.

Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

The last thing I want to cover on hiking etiquette is be mindful of your surroundings. Even though the trails are going to be quite safe overall, accidents can still happen, and you want to be able to keep you and your group safe.

This means being mindful of when you’re hiking in bear country or what to do if you encounter one. The same goes for other trails. Knowing the general terrain in advance can help you to be prepared for the road ahead.

Hiking is a great experience, but you can enjoy this more if you take these guidelines in mind. Not only will these keep you safe, but they can provide deeper appreciation for the things around you.

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