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Hiking Etiquette in the Mountains

There are plenty of sources to reference when it comes to hiking etiquette in the mountains. Over the past 2-1/2 years with Covid and limited travel, hiking has dramatically increased in popularity with many well-known trailheads over-flowing with vehicles and hundreds or thousands of people using the popular trails daily.

Cirque Peak, July 25, 2020 During Covid

In order to protect nature, wildlife and the environment, there are a few things that we should all be doing that are simply not negotiable:
•    Do not disturb wildlife. 
•    Minimize your impact. Stay on the trail to protect flora and fauna and pack out what you brought in.
•    Respect nature
Source: Nature Conservancy Canada

We would like to touch on a few additional tips to keep in mind when you’re enjoying our beautiful hiking trails this summer:

1. Say Hi!

Hiking is very social. If you meet other hikers on the trail remember to smile and greet them with a gregarious hello.

2. Wildlife

If you see wildlife along the trail, share with other hikers you encounter so that they can keep an eye out for them. This way they will not be taken by surprise plus they can enjoy seeing them as well (depending on what it is!). Of course, if it is a bear, they can make the decision to turn back if they are going up the trail, depending on the circumstances. Unusual birds or flowers are nice to point out as well.

Also, the chipmunks, birds and other wildlife may be cute but don’t feed them! They will become beggars and will try to get food from other hikers who didn’t bring any food to feed them and these animals may dive at them, try to get in their backpack and more. There are so many more reasons not to feed the wildlife.


3. Garbage

Pack out your garbage, don’t litter and if you have to ‘take a comfort stop’ when hiking, be sure to put the used toilet paper in a sealed plastic bag and pack out with you. Also, if you are going to a trail that you know doesn’t have a washroom at the trailhead, then plan ahead and stop at a washroom along the way. Seeing this chipmunk munching on used toilet paper along a trail in Lake Louise was a very sad site as an Albertan. This would be even more disconcerting to visitors to our beautiful mountains.

Also, don’t toss your orange peals, banana peals, apple core, sunflower seeds or any other foods in the bush at lunch. Pack it out. This can be an eye sore for people enjoying their lunch after you leave. 


4. How Much Further

Everyone is different, but it is likely a good rule of thumb to not volunteer ‘how much further’ when on the hiking trails, unless someone specifically asks you. And try not to give a time frame as to ‘how much further’ as you have no idea how long it took them to get to that point. “You are about half way there” is a better answer than ‘oh about another hour’. It can be frustrating if someone says, “yep, you’re almost there!” when in fact it is another hour. 

5. Music on the Trail

Ok, do you remember when you were younger and you were riding in the car with your parents and Dad played music that you didn’t like and you begged him to shut it off and he wouldn’t? Well it’s like that in the mountains too.
•    Some people may not like your music selection.
•    Most people travel to the mountains to enjoy nature and the peace and quiet. Be respectful of them.
•    If you do take music with you on the trails and use external speakers, be sure to turn it off when you see people approaching on the trail to be respectful.
•    Something else to note, is that it is not only humans who get annoyed with music on the trail. According to the US National Park Service, ”Many wildlife species rely on natural sounds for communication purposes, and disrupting those sounds can hurt their chances of survival.” Something important to think about when you are in the mountains.
•    Also, you will often hear wildlife before you actually see them. When it is quiet you may become alerted to wildlife along the trail by hearing movement in the woods. Your sense of hearing can alert you to danger and if you drown out this sense with loud music, you could put yourself in a situation that you may have been able to avoid.

6. Stopping on the Trail

If you decide to take a break when you are on the trail, step to the side to let people pass. Be sure to not leave your backpack on the trail either. This also applies if you see people that you know on the trail and stop to chat. Everyone should get off the trail to visit, rather than forcing hikers to go between you and the people you are visiting with on the other side of the trail, or to have to go off trail in order to pass.

7. Passing on the Trail

Passing on the trail when both groups are going the same direction.

If you are going up a hill and a group behind you would like to pass, be respectful, go to the right most side of the trail, or get off the trail, and let them pass. Be cognizant of what is going on around you. Everyone moves at a different speed and things just flow better if the groups traveling faster pass the more leisurely groups. And remember, if you are the one going uphill and would like to pass a group, calmly announce your presence (so you don’t startle them) and your desire to pass.

Passing on the trail when one group is heading up and another group is heading down.

Hikers heading uphill have the right away. If you are descending the trail, step aside and let the people going uphill pass. Often, people going uphill will welcome the break of stepping aside to let people going downhill pass, but if they don’t, and you are descending, then you need to step aside - remember that is the uphill hiker’s call.

8. Hiking in Groups

When you’re hiking in a large group, trail etiquette becomes even more important. Remember to hike in single file, stick to the right side of the trail and make sure the last person in the group is monitoring hikers approaching from behind so if need be, the whole group can step aside to let other hikers pass.

9. Pets

If you hike with a pet, be sure to have them under control at all times and pack out their waste. Don’t leave their bags of poo along the trail to pack out on your way back. This is an eye sore for other hikers and chances are you will forget it as well.

10. Parks Washrooms

When using the park’s washrooms, treat it as if it is your own home. Don’t toss garbage on the floor and be sure to obey all signage.

11. Use Your Poles Wisely

Don’t use the carbide tips on your hiking poles to point at trail signage. If you touch the sign with the tips of your hiking poles, it can scratch it up badly over time and become difficult to read or even so damaged that you can’t read it at all.





12. Strong Perfume/Cologne

When hiking try not to wear overwhelming scents. Many hikers use their sense of smell to help locate nearby wildlife. Strong scents can dull others olfactory sense for hours. 

13. Photos

If you happen to be at the summit or destination with other groups and everyone is taking photos, if it feels right and you don't mind, offer to take a photo for other groups, especially families and tourists. It may end up being their family Christmas card. And if they decline, that's ok, there is no harm in being nice.

Happy hiking this summer! Be safe and enjoy yourself on the trails!

Here a few more resources to check on trail etiquette in our parks:

Nature Conservancy Canada, Trail etiquette: The Basics

Daily Hive, Hiking Etiquette 101

National Park Service, Hiking Etiquette