We often think of the great outdoors as a wild place, and it can be. But even when you are in the back of beyond, there is a certain amount of decorum that accompanies hikers. After all, we don’t want to act like a bunch of heathens just because we are beyond the glare of an electric light. Keep the following considerations in mind concerning proper behavior on the trail.
Whether you’re on a county, state or national park trail, always remember that great care and resources (from nature as well as from your tax dollars) have gone into creating these trails. Don’t deface trail signs or trees. It takes a long time for trees to grow big enough to be carved into. There’s no need to let passersby know that you were here.
Hike on open trails only. Respect trail and road closures. Ask if you are not sure. There’s usually a valid reason if a trail is closed — storm damage, mudslides, wildlife breeding area, etc. Avoid possible trespassing on private land. Imagine if that private land was yours. Obtain all permits and authorization as required. For example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a backcountry permit for overnight backpacking.
Leave only footprints. Be sensitive to the ground beneath you. This also means staying on the existing trail and not blazing any new trails. Mudholes can get wider and wider if walked around by everyone.
Have you ever reached an overlook only to find trash accompanying your view? Pack out what you pack in — and more. No one likes to see the trash someone else has left behind.
Never spook wildlife. An unannounced approach, a sudden movement, or a loud noise startles most animals. A surprised animal can be dangerous to you, to others and to themselves. Give them plenty of space. After all, the wilderness is the only home they have.
Honor leash laws. Most trails require keeping Fido on a 6-foot leash. Some pet owners think their dog is special and leash laws don’t apply. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been jumped on by a dog with muddy feet while their owners are simultaneously yelling at the barking canine, creating a chaotic and unpleasant scene for everyone. Think of your fellow hikers before setting your dog free. Unleashed dogs will also chase wildlife and perhaps become lost.
Plan ahead. Know your equipment, your ability and the area where you are hiking — then prepare accordingly. Be self-sufficient at all times; carry necessary supplies for changes in weather or other conditions. Most hiking accidents/rescues start with ill-prepared walkers overestimating their abilities. They become tired or worried, then make poor decisions, turning a bad situation worse. In contrast, a well-executed trip is a satisfaction to you and to others. It builds your confidence and makes you desirous to return again.
Finally, be courteous to other hikers, bikers, equestrians you encounter on the trails. Bikers should yield to hikers and equestrians. Hikers should yield to equestrians. If encountering a horse, get well off the trail, be still and talk in smooth tones. Horses can sometimes be scared of hikers with packs on, so if wearing a pack, step to the downhill side of the trail to make yourself seem smaller.
A little etiquette at home — and on the trail — can go a long way to smooth out the rough patches in life.