Multi Use Trail Etiquette: Hiking, Mountain Biking, and More!

Having proper trail etiquette is essential to ensuring that you’re being respectful to nature, the trail, and to everyone else around you. However, having the proper etiquette on multi use trails can get confusing fast because there are so many different types of trail uses! Not only do you need to worry about how to act around other hikers, but on multi use trails mountain bikers, pets, and even horses can be on the same trail as you. Each of these has its own set of behaviors and tips to ensure respect and safety. 

Therefore, it is so incredibly important to know what to do, and even more important what not to do on the trail when you’re around others. To make it easy, I’ve listed my 7 tips for multi use trail etiquette which will  cover everything you need to know about sharing the outdoors with all its users.

multi use trail signage detailing biking hiking and horses

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 1: Hiking Right of Way

When hiking downhill, you should always yield to uphill hikers. Why? Well, imagine that you are hiking uphill. It’s hard, you’re sweaty, breathing heavy, and can only see a little ways ahead of you as the trail turns in a few feet and you can’t see past the tree. You have some momentum going to get your body up that hill. Then, all of a sudden, you see hikers coming downhill that don’t move out of the way. Now you have to stop that momentum to let them pass.

Doesn’t sound like a great time, right? 

Hiking downhill in line on a multi use trail

Uphill Hikers Always Have the Right of Way

I know when I am headed uphill I do not want to stop to let others go first, but if I’m headed downhill stopping isn’t nearly as hard. Down hill hikers have it much easier – they can see much farther down than hill and they can stop much easier. For these reasons you’ll want to give the right of way to anyone hiking uphill.  

What About Passing Someone Also Going Up Hill?

Essentially, just don’t be creepy. No one wants you sneaking up on them in the woods or trying to push by you on a narrow trail. Instead, wait until you’re on a part of the trail that is wide enough for two people and say something like “Hello, can I pass?” 

Most hikers will be happy to move over to one side and let you go. Hiking isn’t as peaceful when someone is right behind you – so they want to let you go past just as much as you want to get past them. Just ask politely and there shouldn’t be an issue. 

passing hikers on multi use trails

Passing Hikers from Behind

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 2: What About Mountain Biking?

Technically, mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers – but again, let’s consider the scenario for this. If you’re on a particularly narrow and winding trail and all of a sudden a mountain bike whips around the corner it’s really not feasible for the biker to yield to you. In fact, it might even be dangerous for the biker to stop so suddenly. 

So, although bikers should yield, under situations like these it’s important to step off to the side and yield to the biker. Just use common sense to tell when the biker should yield and when you should. If you aren’t certain, just yield anyways, as yielding never hurt anyone. 

If you are choosing to hike on a trail that allows mountain biking it is up to both the hiker and biker to be extra vigilant and aware of others on the trail.  Pay attention and listen closely to be better prepared for a quick response to an unexpected mountain bike appearance. 

Mountain Biker on Multi Use Trail

Be Aware of Bikers on the Trail

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 3: Horses While Hiking

Horses always have the right of way. Should I say it again for those in the back? Horses ALWAYS have the right of way on a trail. 

Horses spook easily and can lose their footing on loose trails, putting themselves and their riders at risk. If you’re a hiker always step off to the side and be quiet as the horse passes. Bikers need to always dismount their bikes. Do not stay on the bike while it is not moving, but fully dismount it. Horses are especially prone to being spooked by bikes, so fully dismounting the bike helps them recognize you as human and will help everyone remain safe while sharing the trail. 

If you are a biker, and come up on a horse from behind dismount your bike and call ahead to the rider. You’ll need to ask to pass and how to do so safely. Always follow the horsemen’s advice and remain off of your bike while walking past the horse. 

Two horses on a multi use hiking trail

Horses Always Have the Right a Way

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 4: Noise Levels

The general rule to noise levels while hiking is to keep them as low as possible. There are some exceptions to this, especially if hiking alone in bear country, but if that doesn’t describe your situation then be quiet. 

You should not be carrying around speakers playing music. Do not yell across the trail. Even keep things like conversation or laughter to a reasonable-for-the-woods decibel level. Sound carries far in the woods, especially in an extremely secluded area of the woods, so people can hear even normal levels of sound from a mile or more away. 

This means that people you can’t even see may be hearing your entire conversation with your hiking partner. 

Be mindful of others and keep your voices down and the sound to a minimum so as to not disturb the peace everyone’s looking for when they step into nature. 

people hiking together - 5 things you should not do while hiking

Keep Noise Levels Low When in a Group

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 5: Dogs and Pet Rules

Dogs, cats, or other pets also have trail rules they should follow, and as their owner that etiquette is up to you to enforce! The first rule for pets is to always follow park rules, whatever they are. Whether that’s no dogs allowed, off leash permitted, or only on leash. Whatever the rule, know it before you show up and be prepared to follow it. 

Anytime you bring an animal in the woods, be sure they are under your control. This control may be from the leash or by voice in off-leash conditions, but you must have control of your pet. This control not only extends to where they are going (dogs need to stay on trail too!), but also to how they interact with other animals. This includes being friendly with other humans and dogs or being clear with others and providing space if your dog isn’t great at interacting with others. 

Additionally, when you’re in the woods there is always a chance you could come across other wild animals, including deer, coyotes, bears, and others. Be sure your dogs behavior and bark is also under your command in these situations. A barking or lunging dog can turn a harmless bear encounter into a serious one very quickly.  

Keep Dogs Under Control When on Multi Use Trails

Keep Dogs Under Control on Multi Use Trails

But this is about etiquette, and it’s always good to have your dogs bark under control as a matter of respect as well. People go hiking often to escape from the noise of the world, and if your dog is barking a lot that definitely interrupts the peace and quiet. Especially because a dog’s bark will carry for a long distance in the woods. 

Finally, always, and I mean always, clean up after your pet. This involves removing their waste and packing out the poop bags used to remove the waste. Sometimes people think because animals poop in the woods, their dogs are safe to poop there too. This is not true. Dog’s poop is not as biodegradable as you may think due to their diet, so you do need to pack it out or it may sit there, right next to the trail, for a very long time. And that’s just gross.

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 6: Special Notes for Groups

Hiking with others is a great way to spend a day. If you are going to be hiking as a group you only want to travel in small groups of 2-4 people at most. This abides by Leave No Trace principles and also helps you keep noise level, trail damage, and waste production to reasonable levels. 

When hiking in a group you want to go single file in the trail. If it’s an extremely wide trail, and you do not risk blocking others or going off trail you potentially could hike next to one other person. But hiking next to any more than that would be too much. This is because groups walking next to each other can block entire trails, limiting access for others. 

On multi use trails there is always a chance of running into bikers or horses, and blocking the entire trail with your group limits access for everyone, which isn’t cool. 

Group hiking on multi use trails

Don't Block the Trail While Group Hiking

Additionally, hiking with groups means more noise. So if you’re hiking with others, be even more aware of your noise levels and conversation as people that you may not be able to see can hear you from far distances. You don’t want to be overheard, and trust me, no one wants to overhear you. 

Multi Use Trail Etiquette 7: Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a philosophy following  7 main principles for protecting our earth while using shared resources like national, state, or local parks. Multi use trails are heavily used for hiking, biking, and horse riding, and due to this usage it is extremely important these principles are followed on these trails. 

To summarize, these principles set forth guidelines on waste in the woods, both standard trash, but also human waste. It also clarifies how and when it’s okay to go off trail and when it’s not. For groups, it gives even more guidelines for how to properly use a trail. 

If you’ll be spending any amount of time on a multi-use trail, get familiar with the 7 principals of leave no trace. Following these guidelines is proper etiquette and something you want to master before ever stepping foot on the trail. 

Garbage Bins Outside of Multi Use Trails

Dispose of Waste Properly on Trails

When using a multi use trail for a fun day of activities it’s incredibly important to follow the proper etiquette. On multi use trails you’re extremely likely to run into someone utilizing the trail in a different way than you and you should be prepared for that. 

Following these guidelines will help you know what to do when you’re on a multi use trail. 

Ready to hit the trail? Check out our hiking trail guides here. 

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