Scott Janz November 2, 2016 1

Backpacking Trail Etiquette Stay on the Trail

Trail etiquette is huge! It separates you from knowing what you’re doing, from people not liking you. I have seen this a hundred times on the trail. For example: If you bring your dog, leash it during meal time. Some other questions I get such as,  “Can I take this shortcut off the trail”? The first answer is NO, the second answer to this is to read and learn the principals of Leave No Trace. In fact, when we take our new students out on the trail for their first backpacking trip. We have a Leave No Trace Awareness Class right there at the trail head.

On of the first rules of trail etiquette is simple: stay on the trail. The more heavily used the wilderness and the more fragile the landscape, the greater the importance of this guideline. Some beauty spots, like that flower field, should be treated like works of art. Few people are so boorish that they would trample across a painting if it were laid out on the ground in front of them. Alpine meadows should be treated with equal respect.

Staying on the trail also means refraining from cutting switchbacks, the places where a trail makes a hairpin turn and almost doubles back on itself. It’s tempting to the ill-informed to leave the trail just before the turn and take a “shortcut,” regaining the trail just after the turn. This too is an invitation to severe erosion, which, once started, is extremely difficult to stop. For the same reason, you should avoid walking side-by-side on a trail unless it was built to accommodate such traffic.

Trail etiquette includes a few other pointers, some of which are backed up by actual regulations.  Harassing wildlife is also prohibited. Enjoy animals from a distance. If you want to photograph them, buy a long lens (300mm or longer) or content yourself with composing a landscape photograph with the animal as part of the scenery. It’s not worth a Selfie and disturbing wildlife. Wildlife doesn’t care about your Facebook Selfie.  Feeding animals is also prohibited. Handing out tidbits corrupts the animals’ normal eating habits and increases the population artificially, beyond what the land can support in the off-season when all the tourists are gone. In wilderness areas and national parks, every facet of the land is protected. That means that visitors shouldn’t pick the flowers. It also means leaving antlers, bones, wind-sculpted driftwood and all historic and prehistoric artifacts in place. This includes pot shards and arrowheads as well as other objects.

Respect the trail, it respects you. It gives you everything that you need. Make it better for the next person who comes along. Pick up garbage if  you see it on the trail. 🙂

See you on the Trail.