Good Mountain Manners - Trail Ethics Guide

By Local Lexi Sep 1, 2020
Let's not trash the trails! This helpful guide covers the basics of proper trail etiquette so we can all enjoy our escapes to nature.
Good Mountain Manners - Trail Ethics Guide

As the popularity and accessibility of outdoor recreation continues to expand, it’s more important than ever to be a thoughtful and respectful trail user...

Adhering to the following principles of outdoor ethics will protect the environment, preserve the trails where you escape the grind, and ensure all users feel welcome and safe. If everyone takes the responsibility to learn a little basic trail etiquette, the outdoors will continue to provide a welcome and relaxing escape.
Outdoor aficionados should take a little time to learn the guiding principles of Leave No Trace ethics. These tenants establish etiquette towards other users, wildlife, and the environment you are enjoying. We encourage you to take some time learning LNT ethics, but here are a few basic recommendations to get you started: 

Pack It In, Pack It Out

Always pack out your trash, including food waste. By keeping trails clean and pristine, we lessen the probability that other users leave their trash behind. Food waste (especially citrus and banana peels) take a long time to decompose in mountain environments and can interfere with the natural behavior of wildlife. Litter and trash is not only unsightly, but it can also be deadly too! Plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing line, food, and other trash can be dramatically harmful to wildlife if left to fester in nature.

Be a hero and pack out your trash. Bonus points and high fives are due if you pack out any additional trash left behind by other users! Many of our parks, monuments, and local trails are underfunded and understaffed. You can help these places and their managing organizations save money and maintenance fees by packing out your trash instead of using the dumpsters or trash receptacles on hand. With more users out on the trails, bins are filling up more quickly which increases maintenance fees. Why not pitch in a little by pitching it all out at home?
Wildlife Is Wild 
Appreciate any wildlife you encounter with quiet and respectful observation. Do not approach critters as this can cause stress or result in a negative interaction for both parties. How many times per summer do we have to read the same story about a bison goring a clueless tourist in Yellowstone!? Disturbing or harassing wildlife can create unnatural behavior patterns and stress which inhibits survival and health. 
It is also critically important to never feed wildlife—another reason to be vigilant with your food scraps and pack them out. If that adorable ground squirrel learns that strutting his cute little stuff earns him some trail mix, he’ll repeat that behavior and possibly perish this winter when he fails to spend his summer days storing food and preparing to hibernate.

Courtesy toward other outdoor visitors is a cornerstone of ensuring everyone enjoys their time in nature. Loud noise, uncontrolled animals, trash, erosion, picking wildflowers, and damaged surroundings detract from the majesty of the great outdoors. Approach your outdoor use with accountability and a thoughtful attitude by reflecting on how your actions impact the environment, wildlife, and other trail users. 

To brush up on all 7 LNT principles, visit their website - CLICK HERE

A few more helpful LNT hints and tips:
  • If you need a breather, look for an area off the trail where you won’t damage vegetation or obstruct other users. Look for a durable surface like a large rock or a gravelly patch where you wont trample the flora.
  • Leave what you find, this includes wildflowers! You should only be taking pictures and memories with you.
  • Relieve yourself at least 200 feet (about 70 large steps) away from any trail or water source and pack out your T.P.
  • Bikers should avoid heading out when trails are wet or muddy to prevent damage to the trail. If you encounter mud or a puddle, slowly walk through it rather than around it. This prevents unnecessary widening of the trail and deepening of the puddle.
  • Never cut switchbacks because this can cause erosion, damage vegetation, destroy soil stability, and create drainage problems. Trail cuts are also unsightly and cause users to expend a lot more effort than simply using the switchback as intended.
  • Pass other trail users just like you would on a car if possible, keep to the right and pass on the left. Like a car using a blinker, communication is key.  

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Horses, Hikers, & Bikers—Who Goes First?

Most importantly, know that there is an unwritten code for trail traffic. This code is designed to keep all trail users safe and addresses trail encounters in a practical manner. Adhering to the code keeps the trails safer and ensures all trail users enjoy their time outdoors. Keep in mind that common sense should prevail in all trail encounters—more on that below…
The basic summary is: All trail users yield to horses, and bikers yield to hikers. However, trail encounters are a little more nuanced than this, so read on for the details and tips. 

As the least-predictable trail user, all others should immediately yield to horses. Horses are far less maneuverable than hikers or bikers, so common sense dictates that these large animals earn the right-of-way. Hikers and bikers should give horses as wide a margin as possible and avoid making loud noises or sudden movements. To prevent startling or spooking these majestic beasts, speak calmly to the rider so the horse recognizes you as human. It’s also helpful to seek guidance from the rider and ask them what to do, as they are familiar with their horse’s typical behavior patterns. On steep or narrow trails, move to the downhill side if possible as horses tend to head uphill when spooked. 


When Motobikers encounter horses, they should shut off their bikes and remove their helmets; this is to prevent the horse from assuming you’re an alien and triggering a pony panic attack. Because you have no idea of the horse's prior exposure to motorbikes, it’s safest to adopt a conservative approach by shutting off your ignition and allowing the animal to calmly pass. 
All the same rules apply to pack animals such as alpacas, llamas, and mules. For the safety of you, the rider, and the animal, please resist the urge to reach out and pet the creature, even if it is fuzzy beyond all possible belief. Visit a petting zoo if you need a furry fix. 
Hikers shall always yield to horses and though mountain bikers are expected to yield to hikers, oftentimes it is easier for the hiker to yield the right of way to bikers, especially if the biker is traveling quickly or climbing uphill. Make a common-sense judgement call here. Bikers should never expect hikers to yield, but savvy hikers may realize it takes them less effort to quickly move aside and let bikers pass. Hikers should remain aware of their surroundings, as bikers may be moving quite a bit faster and could arrive on the scene unexpectedly (just another reason to avoid using headphones or blasting music on the trail).

When hikers approach other hikers, the hikers heading uphill have the right of way.
This doesn’t always seem obvious, but hikers on an incline are typically focusing on a narrower field of vision and will be working harder to maintain their momentum. 

If you’d like to pass another hiker or group from behind, a friendly “hello” may be enough to prompt them to pull over. If not, offer a simple request with a "please" and "thank you." Seemingly oblivious folks likely haven’t learned the ways of the wild just yet and a friendly encounter will help guide them to the correct behavior. If possible, find a durable surface like a rock or sandy patch of soil to prevent erosive action while letting others pass. 
It’s important for groups of hikers to remain in single-file and stay on the trail. Over time, if groups hike in bunches, those prints can widen the trail, exacerbate erosion, destroy drainages, damage water quality, and ravage switchbacks. It’s a little tougher for conversation, but single file is the best way to preserve and protect our trails! Should a group encounter a single hiker, it is usually best for the single hiker to step aside and yield to the group as this is safer and causes less damage to surrounding vegetation. 

The code dictates that bikers shall yield to all other users, regardless of what this will do to your Strava time. However, as mentioned above, common sense may dictate that it is easier for a hiker to step aside and let the biker pass. Bikers should not expect this and should prepare to yield in all encounters. If others do yield, extend a polite "thank you" and inform the hiker(s) if there are any additional members in your party behind you.


A bell is incredibly helpful for bikers to add to their handlebar. The bell can be used to signal riders ahead that you’d like to pass and it also alerts other trail users to your presence. This can be especially useful on trails with thick vegetation or tight switchbacks. I highly recommend the Timbre Bell as it has a useful ON/OFF switch. 

Bikers heading downhill shall always yield to bikers climbing uphill, since they will have a far easier time getting started back up than the rider who is heading up. It is safest to stop or hop off your bike on the uphill side of steep or narrow trails, if possible. This prevents you from toppling downhill if any mishaps should occur. Again, inform any rider who yields to you how many bikers are in your party so they know what to expect and can safely proceed. 

Doo’s & Don’ts of Doggos

Doggos are not exempt from adhering to polite trail usage, and since they can't speak human, it's up to dog owners to step up. The trails around Salt Lake City are unique in that many areas are designated watersheds where dogs and pack animals are not permitted. For more information on watershed areas, see our article here. But don’t worry, there are plenty of trails where you can bike or hike with your pooch.

Other than avoiding watershed areas, it’s best to respect leash laws and ensure your dog is always under verbal control and within sight on leash-free trails. When approaching other trail users, with or without dogs, be courteous and let them know if your dog is friendly or not. If you cannot control your dog with voice commands, it should be leashed. I’ve had my fair share of scary dog interactions because the owner was unable to reign in Rover and it makes for a stressful encounter.

Dog owners, I know this is a tough one and I could make some enemies here...

Buttt, in keeping with Leave No Trace principles, it’s not polite to leave a dog poo bag trailside!
Even if you have every intention of returning to remove it—and many of you do...or should I say doo?—it’s simply unfair to every other individual using the trail to leave bright, unsightly, smelly bags of plastic-sheathed poop lying around. It detracts from the natural surroundings and it isn’t considerate behavior toward all other trail users.

If you abhor carrying poo so much, grab a nifty pet vest from and make your pet carry it—seems fair enough since they made the mess! Responsible dog ownership means that you shouldn’t detract from another trail user’s experience, and while I’m sure your dog is lovely and I would enjoy giving it all the pets, it’s not so lovely to see crap wrapped in plastic all over the nature path. Sack up and pack it out. 

Potty Talk

“The Mountains Are Calling And I must Go.” 

Everybody poops and it’s important to know how to safely and responsibly take care of business in nature. Leave No Trace principles dictate you should relieve yourself at least 200 feet (about 70 big steps) from any trail, campsite, or water source. Toilet paper takes a long time to decompose in the wild, so make sure to pack it out; a Ziploc bag can assist this endeavor. If you do need to #2, dig a cat hole at least 6-8 inches in depth and bury your evidence. Click the LNT post below to learn more about responsible waste management in the wild and how you can prepare your own bathroom kit.

Tech Talk

People head outdoors to escape technology. It’s not polite to other users to crank the tunes, fly drones, use cell phones, or scream/talk loudly. It’s also downright unsafe to use headphones, as they drastically reduce awareness of your surroundings. 

Please be considerate of others and leave the tech behind. Keep the airwaves clear so the sounds and solace of nature can be appreciated. 

If you do need to use your tech, do so sparingly and discreetly and ensure you maintain awareness of your surroundings. Drones are an incredibly effective way to shatter the solitude of a natural setting. Please don’t be that person, swooping an ear-splitting drone around and buzzing about in an atmosphere-destroying cyclone of rudeness. Drones are forbidden in all National Parks and many state parks, nature trails, and preserves. Do your homework and try not to destroy other users' experience with your high-pitched gadgets. 

Flower Power

Utah’s wildflowers are incredible. (Don’t believe us? Click here for excellent Utah Wildflower Hikes and Walks and check out our Wildflower Identification Guide.) While it’s tempting to unleash your inner Julie Andrews and frolic about the meadow while belting out “The hills are alive with the sound of muuuuuuuusic!,” this is a bad deal. Trampling or picking wildflowers removes food sources for critical pollinators like butterflies, bees, insects, bats, birds and small animals. With one seemingly innocent pluck you are removing seeds, pollen, and nectar from the food chain!

Snagging that perfect Instagram shot with a wildflower crown means robbing butterflies of their breakfast and surely you aren't that cruel!? Enjoy the scene with your eyes and nose but please don’t pick or crush the plants. Remain on the trail and snap pictures not wildflower stalks. Imagine for just one moment if each visitor picked a flower; there would be no blooms left if everybody plucked one. Think of the pollinators and bee excellent to each other. 

And I'm only going to say this one more time...