Trail etiquette involves more than restraining a belch or knowing which fork to use. Burping’s mostly okay in the wilderness, and hiking with an oyster fork will earn you weird looks from fellow hikers.
Knowing proper trail etiquette is a great way to recreate responsibly, earning respect from other outdoorsy peeps while protecting our wilderness areas and keeping yourself safe. Not a bad tradeoff for following a few simple rules!
Rule #1: Don’t squish or get squished
In many wilderness areas around Bend, hikers share the trails with cyclists and riders on horseback. So, who has the right-of-way?
The quick answer is that horses have top priority. That’s partly because they could squish you like a bug, but mostly that it’s important to keep from startling them. When being passed by horses, step off the trail, preferably on the downhill side. Horses are prey animals, so you want to avoid looking like some hulking monster hovering on a hill above them. Speak softly to alert both rider and horse that you’re human and harmless. Since horses can be startled by bikes, move carefully and calmly out of the way if you’re cycling and see Mr. Ed approaching.
How about the age-old cyclists vs. hikers drama? Once again, it’s up to cyclists to yield to other forms of conveyance. That doesn’t mean hikers should amble blithely down the middle of the trail with no awareness of their surroundings. If you’re on foot and know you’re sharing the trail with bikes, keep your eyes and ears open. Step aside if you see someone on a bike or horseback or any mode of transportation with the capacity to squish you. It’s better to stay safe than be right.
Rule #2: Leave no trace
Probably the most crucial rule of outdoor exploration is to Leave No Trace. It’s at the core of The Bend Pledge, which I urge you to take not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because you could win a Bend vacation.
What does it mean to leave no trace? In a nutshell, leave the wilderness the same or better than you found it.
Pack out your own trash (or even better, bring a small trash bag to pick up litter along the trail). I know some folks would never dream of leaving a soda can in the woods but think it’s totally cool to drop a banana peel. Please read this. Then remember to pack out all your trash, even the kind that originated in nature.
Tote your water in reusable bottles instead of disposable ones. Don’t trample on plants or take them from the wild. Be respectful of wildlife.
Above all, treat the wilderness with kindness and respect so future generations can enjoy the same experiences you’ve had. For more info on protecting Bend’s wild places, check out our Pledge for the Wild campaign to find out how you can help preserve Central Oregon’s forests.
Rule #3: Don’t invent your own trails or parking spots
Bend’s most popular trails can see thousands of visitors a season, so it’s a given you’ll sometimes find parking lots filled to the brim. This is not your cue to rev your rig onto that grassy berm dotted with pine saplings.
It’s your cue to bust out the map and head for your plan B hike. You always have a plan B, right? If not, make it a habit. That way you’re ready to roll with it when trail closures or parking problems threaten to thwart your outdoor play.
Same goes for trails. Sure, that shortcut looks enticing, or maybe you want to check out what’s over there in the forest a few hundred yards from the marked trail. Resist the urge. Stay on the trail for the sake of protecting wildlife, fragile ecosystems, and yourself.
Rule #4: Don’t tread on soggy trails
The upside of recreating in Oregon’s high desert is that we seldom see the sort of rain and muck they get on the other side of the mountains.
The downside is that when we do see damp conditions, the damage done to trails will be there for a good long time.
Those muddy mountain bike tracks you left out at Phil’s Trail will be there rattling the brain of every cyclist who hits them over the next few months. Same goes for mucky hiking trails made treacherous by deep boot prints, which can prove dangerous for horses.
Be respectful of future trail users and steer clear when they’re muddy. Use the opportunity to hoof it along paved pathways like the ones through the Old Mill District or Downtown Bend. Take a stroll between those two areas for extra steps on the Fitbit and a chance to check out the Box Factory en route.
Alternately, seize the chance to enjoy some of Bend’s more indoorsy activities.
Rule #5: Pass on the left, yield to uphill traffic
You know that feeling when you’re chugging up a hill at a nice, steady pace, praying the gods of momentum will help you make it up a hill? Few things suck more than some jerk who comes blazing down that same hill, throwing off your stride and possibly your whole adventure.
Don’t be that downhill guy. Trail etiquette says you should always yield to uphill traffic. That holds true whether you’re hiking, biking, or giddy-upping (giddying up?) on horseback.
I will note that it’s possible the person heading uphill will be desperately praying for an excuse to take a break. Many’s the time I’ve had to stop midway up a hill and wave someone past so I could fall to my knees gasping and begging for oxygen. This is where eye contact and friendly connection are crucial. Communicate your intent to your fellow recreation enthusiasts with a smile, a wave, or a friendly shout of “after you” or “I think I might die.”
Which leads me to my last point…
Rule #6: Be a nice person
I started to write “don’t be a jerk,” but decided to frame it in a more positive light. Either way, the message is the same.
Smile at strangers you pass on your hike. Say hello or give someone a heads-up about a trail hazard up ahead.
Stop and offer help to a cyclist fixing a flat. Compliment someone’s hat. Offer to snap a pic for the group struggling to frame up a family selfie.
There are a million ways you can show kindness not just for Bend’s outdoor spaces, but for each other. Spread a little love out there, guys. I promise it’ll make you feel even better than the fresh air does.