Hiking is one of our favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors! There is nothing better than a good hike to a great view, a cool waterfall, or a hidden alpine lake! According to the National Parks Service (NPS), “Proper hiking etiquette helps instill respect for other trail users, and it promotes stewardship of the land.” Hiking etiquette is important so that all people using the trail can enjoy their time outside. It is essentially an unspoken set of “rules” to keep everyone safe and happy. These rules and guidelines are essential on any trail whether in the national parks, national forest, state parks, a random hike you found on Alltrails. To begin, the Golden rule is a good start: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” To do our part, we want to ensure that when we take our couples on the trail we are all practicing hiking etiquette to allow the most enjoyment for everyone.
Who Has the Right of Way?
Knowing which hiker has the right of way is the perfect place to start. Hikers climbing uphill have the right of way, and downhill hikers should find a safe spot to step out of the way. If you come across horseback riders or a pack mule train, you as the hiker should find a safe spot to step aside and let them pass. It is very important to do this calmly as horses and livestock can get spooked easily.
No one likes to be jumped or spooked on the trail, so make yourself known to any hiker ahead of you. A simple “hello” or “how much further?” creates a friendly environment and lets any unsuspecting hiker you are on the trail as well. If you are rapidly approaching a hiker from behind, make yourself known in a friendly way that will allow them to step aside. If they are not stepping to the side, just follow slowly behind until there is an adequate place for them to step aside to allow you to pass.
When stepping to the side to let anyone go by, it is important to try to stay on durable surfaces. It is best to try to not damage any plants or fragile ecosystems when allowing someone to go by. Stepping onto a rock or a wider section of the trail is a good option. It is important to leave everything as it was for others to enjoy also! Following Leave No Trace principles will ensure that these places will remain just as beautiful as they were years ago. If we all do our part we can help conserve and take care of this beautiful world.
Wildlife on the Trail
Spending time in the wilderness means you will probably run into a lot of wildlife. Wild animals are wild, and while some may seem comfortable around humans, it is best to leave them alone. Most parks will have guides that tell you what are safe distances away from the animals. What may seem like a calm animal can instantly get aggressive when they feel uncomfortable or need to protect their young. Wild animals deserve our respect so if you come by one on the trail and it is at a safe distance, take the picture but keep moving and give it the space it needs. If the trail is blocked by an animal, back down the trail calmly. Wild animals also travel on the trails we use, and you do not want the animal to feel trapped if it was traveling in your direction. Giving them space is for your protection and theirs.
Conditions and Weather
Before you hit the trail, check conditions and the weather. Trail conditions can vary and it’s important to check the signs to ensure safety. Inclement weather the day of can impact the trail as well as poor weather the week before. Check the weather for surrounding areas as well. If your trail follows a stream and there were big rainstorms north of your trail, the trail might be washed out or flooded.
Many people are exploring to connect with nature. It is important to be cautious of your noise level while on the trail. Avoid loud music, speakers, and even raising your voice on the trail. It is not very courteous to those around you, and you might be disturbing the wildlife inhabiting the area.
Being Bear Aware
Being aware of your surroundings is one of the most important things when in the backcountry. Make sure you are alert and always check what potentially dangerous wildlife might be in the area. If you are adventuring in bear country, make sure you stop in town to get bear spray. When hiking with bear spray, it is extremely important to know how to use it and to have it be easily accessible. When exploring in areas that have a heavy bear population, it is important to hike in a group, and make enough noise on the trail so bears hear you coming. You never want to spook a bear on the trail.
Dawn and dusk are the times bears are most active so avoid hiking during those times as well. If you ever see a bear cub, or any baby animal by itself, do not approach. Leave the area as quickly as possible. You do not want to be between a baby and a mama bear. If you see a mother bear with cubs near a trail, you should call the park. They will send a ranger to monitor the situation and keep everyone safe.
I (Gretchen) was hiking with friends in GTNP and we came around a blind corner by a river and there was a park ranger who had us wait on the bridge for over 20 minutes because a mama bear and her cubs were snacking on some berries very close to the trail. It was a slight inconvenience but nothing major and we were thankful there was a ranger there to warn us otherwise who knows what could have happened.
As with many rules in life, these are for the safety and enjoyment of the people recreating in the outdoors. They also are for the protection of the lands and wildlife. As your elopement photographers and guides, we will do our best to keep everyone safe and happy while hiking. We want you to enjoy wild places during times that will be conducive to less people on the trail.
We love national parks for their accessibility, maintained trails, and use of facilities. However, with that comes larger crowds. If you are planning to elope in a national park it is important to keep in mind the time of day and time of year that most people are traveling. For national parks, that is the summer months of June-August. Peak times of day are 11am-4pm. The weekends are also typically busier due to weekend vacationers. When planning your next outing on the trail, remember these guidelines and have so much fun!