In order to keep the wilderness experience pleasant for everyone, there are some basic rules of trail etiquette worth following. Some are obvious, but worth repeating, especially as more outdoor newbies dip their toes into the hiking world. Let's look at some trail usage rules that hold true whether you're in the Rocky Mountains, cruising along a bike path in Acadia National Park, or anywhere in between.
Know when to yield
When out on the trail, you'll likely run into more than hikers; bikers and horse riders are frequent trail users as well. In general, the rule is both hikers and bikers yield to horses (because, well... come on, it's a horse!) and bikers yield to hikers. But depending on where you are, it might be easier for a hiker to yield the right of way to a speedy mountain biker. I usually do just that, since it's easy to step to the side as a hiker, but a bit trickier to stop a mountain bike and dismount.
Uphill hikers have the right of way
When you're huffing and puffing up a steep incline, steadily working a rhythm that puts one foot in front of the other, the last thing you want to do is stop to let someone gleefully cruising down pass you. The polite thing to do is for downhill hikers to yield to uphill hikers. They're doing more work, they need to keep a rhythm and some momentum, and it's a lot easier to get going on a downhill than it is to get moving on an uphill. Sometimes an uphill hiker will use this situation as an opportunity to stop and catch their breath, but let the uphill hiker make that call.
Road rules apply
This one's pretty obvious, but bears repeating: stay to the right, pass on the left, just as you would on a highway. If you're in a group, don't stretch full across the trail. Stay single file or, at the least, only take up half the trail width. If the trail is a single track and too narrow to pass on, avoid tramping what might be delicate forest vegetation. A simple, "Excuse me, may I pass?" is usually sufficient.
Stay on trail
This simple rule seems easy to follow, but despite it, we've all seen the damaging herd paths and side trails marring our favorite trips. Don't try to shorten your hike by skirting a switchback; not only are you causing damaging erosion and potentially destroying delicate foliage, but you're also undoing the hard work of trail maintenance crews and potentially creating a dangerous situation for future hikers by loosening boulders and rocks. And, chances are, you won't save any time.
Leave the phone in your bag
I was recently in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains, hiking a 14'er (a mountain that reaches higher than 14,000 feet) and encountered an individual having a loud conversation on his cell phone above tree line. His voice echoed, destroying the pleasant silence my hiking partner and I had been enjoying. Cell phones are a wonderful convenience that can be life-saving in a emergency, but if you're just chatting up your buddy or making dinner plans, do the rest of the trail users a favor and wait until you're back at your car. The same goes for folks who feel it's necessary to treat everyone on the trail to their blaring music. Pop in some headphones if you need some pump-up tunes.
Pack in, pack out
It's simple: if you brought it onto the trail with you, take it out when you leave. I'm regularly shocked by the litter I find on even the most remote of trails. That includes anything your doggy friend may leave behind. If you're not willing to clean up after your pooch, don't bring him. And if nature calls when you're out on the trail, use a baggie to pack out any toilet paper you use.
Keep these simple rules in mind and you'll be doing your part to keep the wilderness experience wild. And, don't be afraid to offer a friendly suggestion if you see someone disobeying them. Chances are, they don't know!