How to be a Respectful Hiker:
Hiking Etiquette for the Best Experience
I recently returned from a 10-day hiking trip at Zion National Park in Utah. If you love hiking or being surrounded by breathtaking views of the canyons, then Zion needs to go on your bucket list immediately!
That being said, this was the first time that I ever experienced hiking trails filled with people from all over the world. It was an amazing experience, being surrounded by the sounds of different languages but all being in Zion for the very same reason. Hiking daily, seeing the sights, and enjoying the wildlife and natural flora and fauna was an unforgettable experience…for the most part.
Zion is one of the more popular national parks, and for good reason! However, the number of people taking to the trails each day can really hinder a travel experience because of how crowded these already narrow trails become. It’s easy to avoid this by visiting the trails or viewpoints you want to see early in the morning or later in the evening, when the busiest part of the day has passed, or visiting during the offseason when temperatures are cooler. Sometimes, doing all of this is of no use, and the trails are packed no matter what. That’s totally okay as long as we all follow basic hiking etiquette.
When I visited Zion, it seemed to me that most hikers don’t realize that such a thing exists! So, allow me to give a few basic tips on hiking etiquette to make your next hiking trip enjoyable for yourself, as well as all the hikers you share the trails with.
Be considerate of other visitors
This tip can be taken in many different ways. Be sure to respect the pace of others, and do not walk directly on the heels of the individual in front of you if they are going too slow—simply keep your distance, and when there is an opportunity to pass them, do so in a respectful manner. Do not rush others, especially on strenuous hikes—I was rushed as an ascending hiker on Angel’s Landing and injured my elbow by slipping into a boulder. Allow people to take their time; the trails belong to everyone, no matter their skill level.
Hike quietly and enjoy the sounds of nature
Something that I was surprised to experience were hikers carrying portable stereos and blasting electro-pop music for everyone on the trails to enjoy. Sadly, we didn’t enjoy it and it became a huge annoyance, as we were there to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. If you are a hiker who prefers to listen to music in order to enjoy your hike or even to stay calm and relaxed, please use headphones.
With that being said, I also experienced multiple groups of rowdy teenagers who would quite literally scream in between hysterical laughter and obnoxious chit-chat. It is perfectly okay to have fun and make the most of your experience, but if you notice that other hikers are taking stops to rest or eat and drink water in the same place that you are stopping to rest, always be respectful, mature, and keep a calm and quiet volume to talk and laugh. Screaming and obnoxious behavior is annoying anywhere.
Hike in single file to let others pass
This may be the most important thing to remember. Whether you are hiking up an incline on constant switchbacks or walking on the sidewalk to the next trailhead, do not take up the entire walkway. I cannot stress this enough, as I can’t count how many times I was shouldered by others or had others run into my rucksack because they wouldn’t move over and walk in single file as others passed in the opposite direction. It is rude and inconsiderate, so please be kind and move over; no one is entitled to the entire trail space.
Ascending hikers have the right of way
To start, ascending means climbing or hiking up towards the summit. If you are hiking down, and the trail is only narrow enough for a single person to pass, it is proper to first let the hiker who is coming up to pass you, as they are completing the more strenuous part of the hike.
Do not hog the trail for a photoshoot
Something I happened upon multiple times on almost every trail were groups of people blocking hiking traffic both ways to take photos. Listen, I love taking photos; that’s what you’re there for, to make memories! However, there is a right way and a wrong way to capture shots of the canyons and take selfies or group shots—and the wrong way is to block hikers by crowding around the middle of a trail. Instead, find the spot where you’d like to take a photo, stand aside on the trail where there are no other hikers breaking, and wait until there is a good space between hikers to take your shot. I promise, hikers will notice that you’re taking a photo and they will stop and wait for you (as long as you are quick about it!).
This is something that I just added myself because it brightened my day and made my hikes all the better each time I heard it. Be sure to smile and say “hi” or “hello” each time you make eye contact. It was such a joy to share the trails with other happy hikers. No one wants to see a miserable, frowning hiker passing you on the way up or down, so always be kind and greet someone. It will make their day better, especially if the hike is strenuous.
Don’t say “you’re almost there”
Just don’t. The 27 hikers before you also said it. This may seem silly, but it is something that can really discourage a hiker and can even make them turn back. Instead, offer small points of advice as you pass them such as “it levels out soon,” “you’re doing great,” or “switchbacks are coming up.” Only go into detail if a hiker stops to ask you specific questions, like how long the hike takes or about rest stops along the way.
Do not feed the wildlife
In Zion, I was surrounded by friendly chipmunks who were adorable, but they only came up to you because they were used to visitors feeding them. There were also overweight squirrels everywhere! In order to preserve the nature and ecosystem, be sure to never feed the wildlife; they will become dependent on human food instead of the food found in their natural habitat.
Leave it better than you found it
Pro tip: pack ziplock baggies. If you are planning on hiking with food—which you should—always keep your trash on you and recycle it when you finish the trail. Carry a pack that will hold all of your food as well as your wrappers and baggies. Leave nothing behind when you depart the trail, and follow the mantra “leave it better than you found it.” If you are hiking and notice there is some litter, do not pass it up. Instead, pick it up and pack it away in your ziplock baggies so you can toss it once you complete the hike. In addition to that, pay attention to trail signs that say “stick to the trail!” They’re there for a good reason: to preserve the plant and animal life. Some plants and foliage are very delicate and can be crushed and killed under heavy hiking boots, so stay on the trails, which have been cleared of all flora and fauna. Future hikers will thank you for it!
That’s all I have, but if you keep these tips in mind, it will greatly improve your hiking experience, and other visitors will thank you. Lead by example because others will pick up on it!
Have you experienced disrespectful or annoying hikers? Did you know there was a hiking etiquette? Let us know your stories! Also, don’t forget to pin!