Trail Etiquette; Showing Respect for Open Space and Other Trail Users
July 6, 2011
This article first ran in Life at Ken-Caryl in October 2009 and was reprinted In May 2010. Trail etiquette is perhaps more relevant now due to ever increasing conflict between trail users. Trail etiquette guidelines have been around for some time but, for the most part, have not been enforceable by Park Rangers. As conflicts between trail users increase some open space agencies, including Jefferson County Open Space, have incorporated specific rules about how to pass and yield to other trail users. The Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space Committee discussed the possibility of adding “Yielding” rules to our Open Space Use Rules at their June 2011 business meeting. The Committee decided that this was not an appropriate action at this time because of the relatively small amount of conflict between trail users at Ken-Caryl Ranch as compared to public open space parks. The Committee did ask the Rangers to increase its efforts in educating trail users about proper trail etiquette as an alternative to mandates.
Conflict between trail users is not solely a function of the number of other people using the trails. While trail user density is an important factor in determining the overall trail experience one has, a more significant factor is the behavior of other trail users one encounters while on the trails.
If trail user density were the only factor that determined the quality of a person’s experience on a trail then presumably the Ken-Caryl Ranch Trail system would be free of conflict since use of most of our trail system is only open to the residents of Ken-Caryl Ranch. Trail counters at various locations around our Open Space record the number of people using trails at Ken-Caryl Ranch. The highest use recorded on a trail in a single day was 80+. By comparison, South Valley Park, a public open space park managed by Jefferson County Open Space sees 88,000+ visitors in a year.
Unfortunately the Rangers do receive reports of conflicts on the trails and while the number of these reports is relatively small it’s obvious from the details that the people reporting these conflicts were very negatively impacted by the experience. One way to address the problem is to build more trails which reduces trail user density. This has been an effective tool with trail managers but only addresses one dimension of the problem. Every trail user needs to recognize the effect of their behavior on other trail users.
Trail etiquette is the term used to describe proper trail use behavior. Perhaps the one principle of trail etiquette most familiar to everyone addresses yielding. The universal, trail user yield symbol (printed along with this article) is commonly used to indicate which trail users have the right of way. The triangle uses icons to symbolize the different user groups. The arrows, depending on which direction they are pointing, indicate who yields to whom. The basic translation is that bicyclists yield to everyone, hikers yield to equestrians and equestrians yield to no one.
This is of course is a simplistic description of how it should work. The symbol tries to capture the essence of the concept but there are gray areas. What about wider trails where there is room to pass? What about steep trails when downhill and uphill traffic meet?
There are expanded lists of trail etiquette that can be found on the Internet that address these specific situations and address many other issues as well.
Read trailhead guidelines. There may be specific rules for the trail you are on.
Be friendly and courteous. One of my favorite quotes which is relevant to this point is by Albert Schweitzer, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Share the trail. Ride, walk or run on the right, pass on the left. An important addendum to this point comes from the hiking dude Web site: “Whenever you stop for a view, a rest, or to yield, move off the trail so it is free for others. If you are selecting the spot for a rest, get off on a used area or a durable surface such as a rock, dirt, or snow. Don’t just trample off the trail into a nice soft field of grass and flowers.”
Stay on the trail. Creating your own trail or cutting switchbacks creates erosion, damages habitat and causes new trails which can’t be maintained. Off- trail use, while not encouraged at Ken-Caryl Ranch, is not prohibited. Certain areas are closed for resource protection (See closures in South Hogback) and areas can be closed if impact from off-trail use is deemed harmful to wildlife or other Open Space resources. Don’t leave any markers when hiking off-trail. Cairns, ducks, or little piles of rocks are not needed. Markers tend to concentrate traffic which creates more unmanaged trail scars. Become the eyes and ears of the trail system. Report problems, e.g. washed out bridges or downed trees and debris to the Rangers. Give back to the trails you use — get involved with the trail maintenance.
Bicyclists yield to equestrians, runners and hikers. Keep your bike under control and at a safe speed.
Runners and hikers yield to equestrians.
Downhill traffic should yield to uphill traffic. When in doubt, give the other user the right of way. This applies to those within a user group, hiker to hiker, etc. Otherwise refer to universal yield symbol for encounters between user groups.
Use unpaved trails only when they are dry, not muddy or wet, to avoid leaving ruts or prints. At Ken-Caryl Ranch the best trails to use in the winter are service roads like the Manor House Trail, North Hogback Trail and Cathy Johnson Trails which can absorb more damage and usually dry out faster than single track trails. Avoid higher elevations trails like Tincup and trails in softer soils like the Lyons Trail. Also, avoid high snow melt times. Trails are generally more solid in the early morning hours. Trails tend to be sloppier in the afternoon.
Warn people when you are planning to pass. Use your voice to warn equestrians, not bells or horns. Bells or horns may frighten horses. Jefferson County Open Space has added specific language in their rules about passing on natural surface trails: “At no less than fifteen (15) feet of approaching other trail users from any direction, slow to a speed comparable to the trail user being passed, communicate and gain their attention. Pass safely, single file and when oncoming traffic is clear. Stop when necessary to allow safe passage.”
Anticipate other trail users around corners and blind spots. Be especially cautious on trails in the foothills: Manor House, Lost Canyon, Bradford and Shaffer Trails.
Ride within your ability at all times.
Respect wildlife, especially in the winter when energy reserves are depleted. A deer running from a dog or bushwhacker could be fatal during this time. Use caution when using headphones. You may not be able to hear people trying to warn you. This is becoming more of an issue with open space managers. National Park Service is considering a ban on ear buds.
When a horse approaches, move off the trail and ask the rider for instructions. Get off the trail on the downhill side. Horses will tend to bolt uphill when spooked. Also, your waiting on the uphill side looks more like a predator waiting to pounce. Quietly greet the rider and ask if you are ok where you are. Stand quietly while the horse passes. Make sure your horse has the temperament and training for riding on congested public trails. Busy multi-use trails are not the
proper place for schooling green horses. Remove your horse from the trail if you begin experiencing behavior problems.
Leave no trace. Pack out your litter, including dog waste.
Dogs should be kept on leashes and under control. Non-compliance on this one can result in a ticket. Leashes cannot be longer than 10 feet.
Respect private property. Willow Springs Open Space, our immediate neighbor to the north, is private. You can gain access by becoming a member of the Ken-Caryl Ranch Trail Club. Go to www.ken-carylranch.org for details.
by KCRMA Open Space Manager Sean Warren