Hiking etiquette: Do you know who has the right of way?

Natasha Lovato

A hiker enjoys Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space.Douglas County Outdoors

Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver

(Douglas County, Colo.) When hiking this summer, remember trail etiquette helps instill respect for other trail users and the land. Groups like the National Park Service and the American Hiking Society compiled their thoughts on the unwritten laws of the land. They recommend checking each park or trail's written rules at the trailhead before embarking on your journey.


  • Hikers going downhill yield to those hiking uphill. If you're descending the trail, step aside and give space to people climbing up.
  • When taking a break, the proper etiquette is to step to the side of the trail to allow others to pass by unobstructed.
  • If hiking in a group, walk in a line rather than take up the trail width so others can pass.
  • Bicyclists yield to hikers and horses. Stop and step to the side to give the right of way. Be mindful of plants or animals near the trail if you step off the trail. Bicyclists should always ride within their abilities. Before your visit, check individual park regulations to ensure biking is allowed.
  • Hikers yield to horses. Slowly and calmly step off to the downhill side of a trail. If you approach from behind, calmly announce your presence and intentions. Horses can frighten easily, so avoid sudden movements or loud noises.

Stay on the trail

  • Stay on the trail unless you must yield. Going off-trail can damage or kill some plant or animal species and damage the surrounding ecosystems.

Hike quietly

  • Turn cell phones down or off and keep conversations low. The park service encourages hikers to enjoy the sounds of nature and let others do the same. Visitors and wildlife appreciate the quiet. Some species rely on natural sounds to communicate, and disrupting those sounds can hurt their chances of survival.

Carry trash

  • Place trash in pockets or backpack until you can properly dispose of it. Even biodegradable items such as banana peels or apple cores are unsafe for animals to eat.

Hiking with a pet

  • Dogs must remain leashed unless it's an off-leash park.
  • Remember to pick up and properly dispose of pet waste.

Interacting with wildlife

  • Feeding wildlife is not permitted. The park service says feeding wildlife disrupts their natural foraging habits.
  • Stay away from wildlife. Some animals can charge or attack in self-defense, which can be dangerous.
  • Don't leave the trail to get closer to animals. Doing so can damage the habitat, harm the animal or put you in danger.

Take pictures, leave footprints

  • The only souvenirs hikers should bring home are photographs, happy memories and maybe an improved fitness level.

Relieving yourself

  • When relieving yourself outdoors, be sure to do so 200 feet away from the trail and any water sources.


  • When you encounter other trail users, offer a friendly verbal greeting to announce your presence to let other hikers know you are ready to pass them on the trail.

Be mindful of trail conditions

  • If a trail is too wet and muddy, turn back and wait to hike another day. Using a muddy trail can be dangerous and damage the trail or ecosystem.

To practice trail etiquette and enjoy Douglas County's open spaces, check out this list of trails.

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Lovato covers local news for Douglas County, Colo.

Douglas County, CO

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