With Spring, comes the moment where everyone wants to go play outside and enjoy their favorite mountain trails. But not everyone is using the same means of transportation to play in the mountain. However, everyone must keep in mind that they have to be sharing trails. Yep, otherwise specified, trails are for everyone: bikers, walkers, runners, even dogs and horses.
When I originally wrote this piece several years ago, fat biking or winter biking wasn’t a popular sport yet. However, today, the rules of trail sharing are also applicable during the winter. And in fact, all year round.
Basic Rules for Sharing Trails
Everyone can have a good time in the mountain if all respect some basic rules for sharing trails. They’re not hard to remember as they are simply common sense. Furthermore, they are applicable everywhere, on the trails, on the road, and on any kind of path. And regardless of if you’re on a bike or on foot.
1. Respect the Signs!
Above all: read the signs and understand them. And of course, respect them. That’s the first rule of the mountain trails. The signs are not there just for the fun of it. They’re there to inform you and guide you. Not all trails are for bikers, neither are all trails for walkers.
When arriving to an unfamiliar trail, start by looking for the trailhead sign. Go through it, you’ll learn a lot about the trails and the surroundings. Also, not permitted uses. Observe posted trail rules; they will let you know of any special restrictions that apply to the trail you are on. In fact, these rules are not there to annoy you, but to protect you. Indeed, if a trail is closed, it’s for a reason, and not just to bug you.
2. Right of Way: Walker, Runner, Biker, Horses…
Who has the right of way? In most cases, the right of way goes simply to the slowest. So, a walker has priority on a runner. But a runner as priority on a biker. And a biker going uphill has priority on a biker going downhill. However, horses will have priority on a biker and walker, as they are easily spooked. In fact, when crossing a horse, you should always be careful not to frighten it. Let the horse know you’re there in a gentle manner and ask the handler the best way to pass them if you are in a very restraint area.
In mountain biking there is one other rule to remember regarding the right of way. If you are on a green trail (easy or beginner trail), the slowest rider always has the right of way.
During the winter, a snowshoer will have priority on a skier. And a biker going uphill has priority on a biker going downhill. However, a cross-country skier will have priority on both. Why do you ask? Simply because you skiers cannot stop as fast as a bike or walker.
Those same rules about sharing trails should also be applied outside of the mountain. Like on the public road. A walker as priority on a biker, and a biker as priority on a car. However, always be careful with cars. They are tons of steel and can do a lot of damage to a cyclist or pedestrian. Always make sure that the driver has seen you before passing.
3. Stay to the Right, Pass on the Left
Being on the trail is a lot like being on the road. Indeed, you should always travel on the right and pass on the left. That’s the secret of sharing trails properly. So, when someone wants to pass, you should always move to the right, and let them go on the left. If you want to pass someone from behind, get their attention first. Depending on the situation, you can simply be friendly and say: “Hi there. Can I get around you?” Other times you’ll need to shout out: “On your left.” Either way, be sure they’ve heard you and that it’s safe to pass, for you and them. And always pass them on the left.
As mentioned before, on a green trail, the slowest rider always has the right of way. So, you should be staying behind them until they let you know you can pass. Which they should do as soon as they are able to either stop on the right side or feel safe for you to pass on their left. Either way, you should always pass at a slow speed and on the left. And only if you also feel safe to do so.
4. Safety on the Trails
It’s fairly simple to be safe on the trails. Indeed, a little common sense will go a long way here. Always be aware of your surroundings. Always be aware of other trail users, and travel at a reasonable speed. If on a bike, make sure you are in control of it at all time. Slow down at corners and yield to other trail users when entering and crossing a trail. Whenever you stop to catch your breath or admire the view, get out of the trail. And if you can’t stay as far right as possible. Follow the trail. Do not cut switchbacks or take shortcuts. In fact, you can lose your way easily on the mountain… and it happens faster than you would imagine.
Indeed, before leaving you should pack some essentials according to your trip. Water, food, clothes, as well as first-aid kit, inner tube, basic tools for your bike, and a phone. Ideally, always ride with a buddy. And at the minimum let someone know where you are going, and when you’re planning to be back.
5. Leave No Trace
If we want to keep enjoying our trails for a long time, this is very important. Respect the environment! Always clean up; do not litter. Do not disturb wildlife; this is their home. Take pictures as souvenirs, not pieces of nature. Be careful not to contaminate water sources.
Indeed, if you’re camping, wash 200 feet from any open water. And it’s the same if you must do number 1 or 2. Likewise if your dog goes on the trail, pick up after it. No one likes to walk on it on the sidewalk, and it’s the same on the trail. Stay on the trails at all time. Don’t venture around. It will damage fragile plants, loosen rocks and boulders. You may also injure yourself. The rule is simple: Leave no trace. If you arrive with it, you leave with it.
6. Be Friendly and Have Fun
People you’re crossing on the trail, be it walkers or bikers, are there to have a good time too. So, being friendly and greeting them will go a long way in keeping a good mood. And mostly a good impression of the other. As you probably know, in some area the trail sharing is not that easy and peaceful. So, we all have a part to play, if we want others to be OK with our presence. And vice versa.
Also remember that you’re not the only one on the trail. Most people wish for peace and quiet, so leave your noise to a minimum. Don’t yell for nothing. Yes, echoes are fun, but disturbing to others and nature. Likewise, if listing to music, adjust the volume for you, not the whole forest. But mostly look around, embrace your surroundings, and smile!
I know not everyone respects the basic rules of sharing trails and think they can do whatever they want. Indeed, you’ll see footprints in muddy spots off the trails, and plants flatten out. You’ll have a biker fly past you with no warning. And you might see paper and empty bottles littering the side trail. Unfortunately, those people exist and are the one making an impression. Be aware of them, for your safety. However, remember they’re only a minority, and most people are polite, courteous, and mindful with nature. Be one of the good ones!
What do you think is the hardest part about sharing trails with other users?
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