Hiking | Information | Nature

Trail Etiquette

June 15, 2023

Here in Central Washington, experiencing the outdoors is in our nature. Whether you’re riding the slopes of Snoqualmie Pass, taking in the breathtaking views of Lake Easton State Park, or hiking the landscapes of Roslyn, Central Washington has so much outdoor adventure. Swim in Cle Elum Lake, bike through the historic streets of Downtown Ellensburg, or enjoy a scenic drive on the Kittitas Highway, Central Washington welcomes adventurers of all kinds.

Locals and visitors share a love of exploration and a wanderlust that calls them to the mountains, lakes, and trails all around our scenic area. We invite you to visit and grow a passion for the wilderness with us; all we ask is that you do your part to care for our natural spaces during your time in them. We are happy to help you inspire your appreciation for the wilderness, learn how to navigate it safely, improve your on-trail experience, and lessen your impact on the places you love. Click here to see a list of local trails in Kittitas County!

With spring just around the corner, we too feel the need to opt outdoors. Whether you are hiking, snowshoeing, mountain biking, or trail riding, being aware of proper trail etiquette can make or break your or someone else’s experience outdoors. Although trail etiquette is synonymous with common courtesy, we feel it is easier to understand the unwritten rules of the trail when written plainly.

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KNOW YOUR RIGHT OF WAY

With so many different ways to enjoy a trail, it is important to understand the rules of right away to protect yourself, others, and the trail’s ecosystem. Check signage for the trail you are hiking, and follow the correct right-of-way yields. 

Make yourself known. When you encounter other hikers and trail users, offer a friendly “hello” or a simple head nod. This helps create a friendly atmosphere on the trail. If you approach another trail user from behind, announce yourself in a friendly, calm tone and let him/her know you want to pass.

RIGHT OF WAY FOR HIKERS

  • If you’re an individual hiker, move to the side, if the trail allows, for larger groups since it’s easier for one person to pause than a whole group. Especially if they are following proper trail etiquette and walking in a single line.
  • Yield to those going uphill. This is a courtesy to uphill hikers since it takes much more energy to go uphill than down. They also have a smaller, narrower view and they may not have as much time to react.
  • Although mountain bikers are technically supposed to yield to hikers, it’s better to be safe than right. If the trail allows, step to the side and let them and their momentum pass.  Use common sense and you’ll avoid unnecessary injury.
  • Yield to horses on the trail, since horses can have a harder time maneuvering the trail and can also be less predictable. Step off the path on the downhill side because horses who react on the trail are more likely to move uphill. It is polite and important to greet the rider. Using kind and friendly tones also comforts the horse and lets them know you are not a threat.

RIGHT OF WAY FOR MOUNTAIN BIKERS

  • When you jump on your mountain bike and hit the trail, it’s essential to understand you need to yield to everyone else. Bikes are faster and easier to maneuver than a horse or someone on foot.

    • Pass on the left. Shout, “On your left” as you go around others so they know you’re coming.
    • Yield to all riders headed uphill unless the trail is designated one-way or downhill-only traffic.
    • Maintain safe speeds for yourself and others. 
    • Announce yourself as you approach a corner.

WHAT IS TRAIL ETIQUETTE FOR DOGS?

  • They may be cute, but your furry friend also has trail etiquette! Always hike on dog-friendly trails and take note to follow the marked signs, especially ones that only permit leashed dogs. If dogs are allowed off-leash, always keep your dog under control and within a line of sight. Do not let untamed, aggressive, or ill-mannered dogs off leash. When another hiker approaches — dog or dog-less— make sure your dog is under your command (either by leash or voice) and step to the side. Be polite and let them know if your dog is friendly or not.
  • As a part of the Leave No Trace guidelines, always clean up after your dogs and keep them on the trail. PLEASE don’t leave your poop bags lying around for others to pick up (even if you intend to pick it up on the way out). 
  • Do not let them bother or intrude on the wildlife. In addition, do not let them trample on vegetation. That is the definition of poor trail etiquette.

GOING TO THE BATHROOM

Everybody has to “go” once in a while when you’re out hiking. If that’s you, set your pack off to the side of the trail so it doesn’t block the path, or take it with you so your food and belongings are not left unattended for wildlife. 

  • Then, according to Leave No Trace, best practice is to do your business 200 feet away from any trail, campsite, or water source and do your business. Use your best judgment if 200ft is out of the question or looks to be unsafe. 
  • Do your best to find a private spot behind a rock or a tree so passing hikers aren’t caught off guard. Be like a cat, and bury it!
  • And PLEASE, pack out any used toilet paper.

STAY ON THE TRAIL

Wandering off-trail can damage or kill certain plant or animal species, and in turn, will hurt the ecosystems that surround the trail. Always practice Leave No Trace principles: Leave rocks, vegetation, and artifacts where you find them for others to enjoy. Only step off the trail when yielding to other trail users.

LEAVE THE WILDLIFE ALONE

It’s exciting to view wildlife in their natural habitat. Be courteous and leave them to their business. Don’t approach, feed, or disrupt wildlife. Protect yourself, the ecosystem, and other animals by staying on the trail, following Leave No Trace principles by packing out what you’re taking in, and don’t disrupt flora and fauna.

BE MINDFUL OF TRAIL CONDITIONS

It’s important to check ahead for weather and other local advisories. If a trail is too wet and muddy, turn back and save the rest of the hike for another, sunnier day. Proceeding along a muddy trail can be dangerous, damage the trail’s condition, and damage the ecosystems that surround the trail.

TAKE TIME TO LISTEN

Be respectful of both nature and the other users, and keep the noise from electronic devices low if you use them. Not only will other visitors appreciate the peace and quiet, but so will the wildlife. Beyond disrupting the peace, wildlife and other trail users need to hear for safety.

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS.

Always be vigilant when hiking. It will help keep you and any members of your group safe, and it will help keep wildlife and their habitats safe and healthy. Know the rules for hiking in bear, cougar, and other aggressive wildlife country, and know what to do if you are in an undesirable situation. Play it safe and be knowledgeable of your area. Check out safety tips for spring here!

Central Washington offers a wealth of natural beauty and outdoor experiences, and we encourage you to have an amazing time while showing our lands and people plenty of love, kindness, and respect. Please join us in taking the Plan to Play Pact to be mindful and respectful of the extraordinary landscape of Central Washington. Be a part of the change and join the movement by taking the pact and following our guidelines for responsible recreation. Learn more at https://play.centralwashingtonoutdoor.com/

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