In 2017, the num­ber of folks who report­ed hav­ing gone hik­ing or back­pack­ing in the Unit­ed States tal­lied a whop­ping 47.2 mil­lion. That’s a lot of boots on the trail, and a lot of poten­tial ground to cov­er when it comes to our expec­ta­tions for polite behav­ior. Whether you’re brand new to the out­door lifestyle or would just like a quick refresh­er, here are our tips for basic hik­ing etiquette.

Fig­ur­ing out who yields to whom on the trail can be a lit­tle com­pli­cat­ed, espe­cial­ly since the rules typ­i­cal­ly aren’t as hard-and-fast as, say, the rules of the road. The first thing you’ll want to be aware of is with whom you’re expect­ed to share the trail. Some per­mit foot traf­fic only, but oth­ers are mul­ti-use trails designed for hors­es and moun­tain bik­ers too, and come snow sea­son you may also be look­ing at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of skiers, snow­shoers, and snow­mo­biles. As a gen­er­al rule, vehi­cles, bik­ers, and snow­mo­biles always yield to hik­ers, and every­body yields to hors­es. Addi­tion­al­ly, down­hill hik­ers yield to uphill hik­ers. This is a cour­tesy that allows uphill hik­ers to main­tain their pace and momen­tum. Yield by step­ping just off the trail on the down­hill side where pos­si­ble, or to the right if the ground is even.

A quick note about groups: if you’re lucky enough to hike with a group of bud­dies — when it is safe to do so — it’s impor­tant to go sin­gle-file on estab­lished trails. This gives oth­er hik­ers room to pass on your left, whether they’re out­pac­ing your group or sim­ply com­ing from the oppo­site direc­tion. And while more may be mer­ri­er, keep in mind that larg­er groups tend to be nois­i­er, so take extra care to keep the vol­ume low so that both you and your fel­low out­door recre­ation enthu­si­asts can appre­ci­ate the nat­ur­al sounds of the wilder­ness around you.

Woman Hiking With Dog

Leave No Trace
Some of the most basic hik­ing eti­quette requires adher­ence to the prin­ci­ples of Leave No Trace. Remem­ber the say­ing “take only pic­tures, leave only foot­prints”? That’s the gist of it. Remem­ber that you’re a vis­i­tor in that wild blue yon­der, and take care not to leave evi­dence of your pas­sage. This means no graf­fi­ti, includ­ing scratch­ing your sweetheart’s name into pic­nic tables or tree bark. Also, no lit­ter­ing, includ­ing uneat­en food and bags of dog poo you total­ly intend to come back for lat­er. And speak­ing of poo, if you’ve got to go and you’re not in an extra-sen­si­tive area where you’re expect­ed to pack it all out, dig your cathole about forty paces off the trail. Oth­er­wise, stay on the path. Cut­ting switch­backs might save you time, but it’s not worth adding trail ero­sion to somebody’s main­te­nance back­log. Leave cairns as you found them, espe­cial­ly if they’re mark­ing trails, and don’t build new ones. If you’re back­pack­ing or in trails-what-trails back­coun­try, walk and camp on durable sur­faces to avoid dam­age to vegetation.

Leave Wildlife Wild
If you’ve ever been dive-bombed by an over­ly-aggres­sive gull at the beach, you’ll under­stand why some folks get irate when oth­er folks just can’t help but feed the adorable squir­rels. Look, we get it, the siren call of Insta­gram love for pics of cute crit­ters eat­ing right out of the palm of your hand is mighty tempt­ing. Just keep in mind that those adorable squir­rels are prob­a­bly laden with han­tavirus, and those grey jays are prob­a­bly car­ry­ing sal­mo­nel­la. Deer kick, chip­munks bite, and by def­i­n­i­tion, no wild ani­mal is “safe.” Feed­ing them just embold­ens them to approach and harass hik­ers, back­pack­ers, and pic­nick­ers. Also, the food you’re giv­ing them is prob­a­bly bad for them anyway.

Be Friend­ly
Last but not least, say hel­lo! You’re not required to become BFFs with every­one you meet on the trail, but par­tic­u­lar­ly on more seclud­ed or less well-trav­eled routes, it can make the out­doors feel just that lit­tle bit friend­lier when folks are will­ing to see one anoth­er and offer a kind greet­ing. Plus, if you find your­self in need of res­cue, those folks just may be the last peo­ple to have known your where­abouts, so it pays to make a good impression.

Shi Shi Beach

From Sun­set Cliffs to Cape Ara­go, some of the best hik­ing trails run along the coasts of Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton. Here are sev­en must-hike trails along the West­ern coast.

Shi Shi BeachShi Shi Beach, Washington 
The hike on this beach could be one of the most gor­geous walks you will ever take. Sit­u­at­ed on the Wash­ing­ton coast, this stretch of sand fea­tures tide pools, sea stacks, and head­lands, all sur­round­ed by coastal forests. This eight-mile hike round trip starts at the trail­head near the fish hatch­ery on a new­ly refur­bished part of the trail. You’ll even­tu­al­ly cross bridges and board­walks as you descend deep­er into the Olympic Nation­al For­est, Even­tu­al­ly, the sand will dis­perse. After walk­ing anoth­er mile you will arrive at Point of Arch­es, a mile-long parade of rocky sea stacks. Be sure to check in at the ranger sta­tion for park­ing and permits.

Ecola State ParkEco­la State Park, Oregon
This Ore­gon State Park has a net­work of trails includ­ing an eight-mile seg­ment of the Ore­gon Coast Trail, and a two-and-a-half-mile his­tor­i­cal inter­pre­tive route called the Clat­sop Loop Trail. Whichev­er you choose, you’ll encounter tide pools, surfers, elk, bald eagles and drift­wood bleached white by the sun and the salt water. Views are breath­tak­ing and be sure to watch out for migrat­ing whales in the win­ter and spring.

Lost Coast, CaliforniaThe Lost Coast, California
The Lost Coast is so named because of the dif­fi­cul­ty of putting a road through, and even walk­ing over the cliffs and the beach below is a slow-go. For­tu­nate­ly, there are some trails along the coast­line that will get you down to the beach where the sand is both soft and rocky at points. The trail stretch­es 25 miles, from Mat­tole Beach in the north to the vil­lage of Shel­ter Cove in the south. You can walk small stretch­es of the trail in an after­noon or grab your back­pack and take your time. Be sure to watch the tides and the weath­er, because both can put a damper on your hike if you don’t pay attention.

Point ReyesPoint Reyes Nation­al Seashore, California
Just a 90-minute dri­ve from the city of San Fran­cis­co in near­by Marin Coun­ty is Point Reyes Nation­al Seashore. After cross­ing the Gold­en Gate Bridge, you’ll find your­self wind­ing through farm­land with dairy cows and folks sell­ing organ­ic milk by the side of the road. All along the road the trails are marked, and there are plen­ty of them; the nation­al seashore has about 150 miles of hik­ing trails, so there’s a path for every lev­el of hik­er. If you’re up to it, con­sid­er hik­ing the Toma­les Bay Eco­log­i­cal Reserve, a 9.5‑mile trail with 482 acres of salt marsh and tidal flats con­sist­ing of pick­le­weed, arrow grass, gum plant, salt­bush, and salt grass, as well as plen­ty of birds includ­ing Osprey. This is only one of the trails at the nation­al seashore, so if you have a month to wan­der the shores of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, this is the place to be.

Salt Point Bluffs State ParkSalt Point Bluffs Bluffs State Park, California
The panoram­ic views of this 20-mile trail will take your breath away. Pound­ing surf, mas­sive kelp beds, and open grass­land forests can be enjoyed by hik­ing, horse­back rid­ing, and camp­ing. The trail boasts six miles of rugged coastal trails that lead to the ocean. Sand­stone from these bluffs were used to make the streets of San Fran­cis­co back in the 1800s. The weath­er in San Fran­cis­co is always unpre­dictable, and even more so along this trail, so pack for cold and wet weath­er even if the sun is shin­ing as you set out for your hike.

Cape FlatteryCape Flat­tery, Washington
This trail is found at the fur­thest north­west tip of the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States and is a won­der to behold. It starts on a grav­el road, and quick­ly leads into a for­est and then onto a board­walk so that hik­ers won’t be stuck in the mud. Make sure you check in at Washburn’s gen­er­al store for a per­mit, which is run by the Makah Tribe. This area is one of the most pop­u­lar on Wash­ing­ton State’s Olympic Penin­su­la and this trail, while short at 1.5 miles, is worth run­ning into a few oth­er hik­ers to enjoy this coastal beauty.

Tillamook HeadTillam­ook Head, Oregon
Like many trails in this area, the Lewis and Clark expe­di­tion was here and the men were awestruck by the grandeur of the Pacif­ic North­west. Upon arriv­ing at Tillam­ook Trail, Clark mar­veled, “I behold the grand­est and most pleas­ing prospect which my eyes ever sur­veyed.” For the best hikes at Tillam­ook Head, it’s best to start at the Indi­an Beach pic­nic area, which is clear­ly marked. After walk­ing 1.2 miles, you will find an area for back­pack­ers with open sided shel­ters and bunk beds. You will also pass a World War II bunker cov­ered in dark green moss, and even­tu­al­ly, end at an aban­doned light­house nick­named “Ter­ri­ble Tilly.” You can return the same way, fol­low­ing some switch­backs that will take you past Clark’s favorite viewpoint.

If you plan on spend­ing any time what­so­ev­er off con­crete, odds are that you will be walk­ing on a trail.  If you aren’t walk­ing on one, any repeat­ed cross­ing on the same ground will, in fact, yield a trail soon­er or lat­er.  If built right, trails can last indef­i­nite­ly.  The key phrase here is “built right.”  If it is built poor­ly, then trails can have a very dam­ag­ing effect, erod­ing the sur­round­ing environment.

btWith the right prepa­ra­tion and care you can build a trail that can han­dle hik­ers, bik­ers, hors­es, and any­thing else that can tread on dirt.  A few sim­ple tips will mean the dif­fer­ence between ero­sion and per­ma­nent enjoyment.

Step 1: Know your slope

If you think about the slope of a trail, you may think sim­ply about the direc­tion peo­ple will be walking/biking etc.  But the angle of the fall line, or basi­cal­ly the slope that water flows, is very impor­tant to the trail that cross­es the slope.

Any trail that fol­lows the fall line will not be a trail for long.  The slope will just attract water and that will become the next river/creek/stream etc down the hill.

The main rule to fol­low is the half rule.  The half rule is sim­ple: a trail’s angle (grade) can be no more than the grade of the slope it is cross­ing.  So if the hill you are on has a 30 degree slope, your trail can have no more than a 15% grade for it to last.

The oth­er key is to have the down­hill side of your trail slight­ly low­er than the uphill side, so that any water can con­tin­ue to run down the hill.  Doing the oppo­site is a sure­fire way to become a mud magnet.

tbStep 2: No short­cuts allowed! 

If any­one has ever told you to “take the path of least resis­tance”,  it was prob­a­bly meant fig­u­ra­tive­ly.  But in life every­body will take the lit­er­al “path of least resis­tance” if they can.  This means cut­ting cor­ners and switch­backs, or tak­ing a bet­ter route around a rock/tree if the trail is not eas­i­est.  It is for this rea­son that you need to be think­ing 5 steps ahead, and work­ing along­side the ter­rain’s nat­ur­al ebbs and flows.

If a cer­tain route can’t be avoid­ed but you are sure that the route will be com­pro­mised, it might be a good idea to put some obsta­cles in the way, such as a dead log, rock (or a col­lec­tion of rocks), or oth­er items that would deter peo­ple from  veer­ing off the path.

Step 3: Stunts are your friend!

This applies most­ly to moun­tain bikes, but can also apply to walk­ing trails — albeit on a much less “gnarly” scale.  But if there is sen­si­tive ter­rain such as a wet­land, marshy bit, or water cross­ing, you can mit­i­gate the human ero­sion fac­tor by build­ing some fun fea­tures such as a lad­der or rock bridges, plat­forms, teeter tot­ters, etc… any­thing that keeps the trail user(s) from inter­act­ing with the ground.

yhFor a hik­ing trail a sim­ple board­walk can suf­fice.  It is rel­a­tive­ly easy to con­struct, and depend­ing on the juris­dic­tion you live in, you can like­ly use dead wood lying near the trail to make the ulti­mate in sustainability.

There are many oth­er meth­ods for build­ing a sus­tain­able trail, and I rec­om­mend the book Trail Solu­tions: IMBA’s Gudie to Build­ing Sweet Sin­gle­track, put out by the Inter­na­tion­al Moun­tain Bicy­cling Asso­ci­a­tion (IMBA).  It is eas­i­ly the best resource out there, despite it’s lim­it­ed availability.

Hope to see you out on the trails!  Remem­ber to check with the local author­i­ties before build­ing your masterpiece.

The bike that’s being rid­den in this video has no sus­pen­sion, no hydraulic disc brakes, no car­bon fiber, and def­i­nite­ly lacks a drop­per seat post. Back in the day, it all began with beefed up cruis­er bikes being pushed to the top of hill by a bunch of Cal­i­for­nia hip­pies. They called it “Klunk­ing,” and this was the birth of moun­tain biking.

Tech­nol­o­gy has come a long way, but it’s safe to say that these OG’s were hav­ing just as much fun play­ing in the dirt as we are today on our high­ly engi­neered rigs. Check out this video of UCLA foot­ball play­er Carl Hulick get­ting back to his roots, and prov­ing that hav­ing fun on the trails is not all about rid­ing the lat­est and great­est gear.