Trail Etiquette: Multi-use Trails

Trail etiquette is an important part of enjoying your outdoor adventure.

Trails and trail systems are designed to be used by many users. The best way to approach trail use is to have basic good etiquette – good manners – and remember to be kind, considerate, and communicate verbally. A cheerful “hello” and “thank you” to fellow hikers goes a long way in promoting a positive trail experience.

The National Park Service offers a detailed guidance for right-of-way.

Who Uses Trails?

The most common users are hikers or runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. While we may spend much of our time enjoying the solitude of the mountains, we will inevitably encounter other users. To ensure that everyone has a great trail experience, we should plan to follow generally accepted trail etiquette. 


The most basic part of trail etiquette is Right-of-Way. That is, who gets to stay on a narrow trail, and who moves off to let others pass by.

Be aware of who yields on trails.
Most multi-use trails have signage signaling who has right-of-way on a trail.

Bikes, Horses, and Foot Traffic Trail Etiquette

Who stays on the trail and who yields? In general, mountain bikers yield to hikers and runners, and everyone yields to horses. Mountain bikers are generally moving faster and tend to come upon pedestrians before the pedestrians are aware; it’s good manners to yell out a “hello!” or “good morning!” to alert the other trail user of your presence with plenty of time for them to look around and step aside before you are upon the other user.  

Foot Traffic Trail Etiquette

For hikers and runners, the user going up the hill has the right away. Again, this has to do with the fact that downhill hikers have a better view of the trail, and the uphill hiker is more likely to be working hard and in a rhythm we don’t want to break.

The uphill hiker, walker, or runner has right of way! It’s hard work going uphill, we don’t want to break their rhythm.

Single Track Race Trail Etiquette

For athletes in a trail or mountain race (like the Hardrock 100 or other shorter events) which are run on singletrack, the faster runner passes on the left. Just like traffic, faster traffic can move into the left lane, while the runner or hiker being passed moves to the right as the trail allows. As soon as the faster runner shouts out “Passing on your left!”, the slower athlete should move to the right to allow for safe passing. Be sure to give plenty of notice to the athlete you are overtaking.

Pack Animal Trail Etiquette

If you encounter horses, donkeys or other pack animals, hikers and bikers want to give the beasts a large berth and if you are on a slope, step off the trail on the downhill side of the trail. Spooked horses are more likely to run up the hill; being trampled by a startled 2,000 pound horse is not on anyone’s list of fun hiking accomplishments!

Let horses pass and give plenty of room.
Horses ALWAYS have right of way. They’re big, easily spooked, and not able to communicate as well to fellow trail users. Good trail riders will give abundant notice to other trail users, and can help tell you what to do.

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