Hiking Etiquette: Rules for the Trail

Our nation’s parks, trails and public lands are a gift for all of us to explore and enjoy. Like any masterpiece made by nature, these areas should be protected to leave great destinations for later travelers to visit. To help the preservation of the best places on Earth, I put together a list of basic rules to live by to help keep these things top of mind.

Talk to the Visitor Center
I may be biased because my office sits on top of a Visitor Center, but these resource-hubs are free and often under-used, and have updated information for locals and travelers alike. One of the most responsible things you can do before getting outdoors is to educate yourself on what issues you might face, and what to do in case of an emergency. Visitor Center’s are a go-to location for obtaining driving and hiking directions, weather forecasts, and information on area services including lodging, dining, and other attractions. By stopping by a city or park Visitor Center, you will also have a “base camp” of physical necessities including the following.

  • Restrooms 
  • Water
  • Maps
  • Backcountry permits

Not to mention, good conversation with people who know what they are talking about and can give you the best tips on how to make the most of your experience.


Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints
When you are exploring outdoors, keep in mind that you are a guest in nature. Feel free to enjoy yourself, but please have respect for your surroundings. You are allowed to touch the beauty around you- feel your fingertips on the rugged bark of the redwoods, or splash some creek water on your face to cool off, however, do not take, destroy, or drastically move any of the natural elements. Imagine if everyone who visited a trail picked a few wildflowers- there may be none left for the next person to see.

Appreciate the Animals- Don’t Act Like One
Public lands were created to protect all their special individual features from human disturbance. There may be a moment where you come face-to-face with a wild animal but keep your distance. Try to stay at least 100 feet (30 meters), or about two bus lengths away from elk, deer, wild cats, or other large animals. Keep at least 50 feet (15 meters), or about one bus-length away from other smaller wildlife like squirrels, birds, and reptiles. Do not use flash photography, or try to feed and touch the wild animals. It can be hard to believe that a safe distance is as much about the animal’s welfare as it is about yours, but it’s true- keep wildlife wild.

Be Conscious of your Surroundings
When exploring the wild as a guest, your safety is something easily forgotten when soaking in the artistry of nature. Keep your mind alert and pay attention to your surroundings- sometimes a peaking root or a wild animal can come up suddenly. By staying alert, you can prevent injury to yourself and others, and prevent the need for medical care. 

In any forested area, stay on the trails and do not climb on large rocks. Be careful at all overlooks and cliff edges. A fall on a trail may mean a skinned knee, but a fall at an overlook could mean that you won’t make it home for dinner with your family. 

Have fun!
Wild areas are here for us to have a chance to step out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life and breathe in the authentic air of our raw, gorgeous world. Grab your loved ones, pack your travel items in the car, and absorb all that the outdoors has to offer now that you understand the common etiquette for being a good visitor. Get inspired on where you can practice these rules by checking out my other posts. 

Thanks for reading,
Madison Ford

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