Trails come in an array of flavors.
Some are wide, flat and perfect for leisurely strolls, while others are narrow, rocky, grueling routes straight up a mountain. Some wind back and forth through dense forest, and others cut through wide open areas, granting spectacular views in all directions.
But trails also differ in terms of the intended use. Some are designed for hikers. While others are intended for horseback riders, ATVs or mountain bikers.
And then you have some that welcome everyone. These are called multi use trails. And these trails have special etiquette and rules, which are important to follow.
For years, I primarily hiked single-use trails that were only open to hikers (and leashed dogs). Sure, I’d encounter mixed-use trails when traveling on weekends, but my daily hikes almost invariably took place in foot-traffic-only parks.
But I moved to the other side of Atlanta about a year ago, and most of the trails here are open to bikes. In fact, many of them are primarily established with mountain bikers in mind – hikers are a bit of an afterthought.
I don’t have any philosophical problem with these trails at all. I want everyone to get out there and enjoy the natural world.
But I rarely enjoy trails specifically designed for mountain bikes as much as those designed with hikers in mind. Biking trails tend to wind back and forth through forests in order to increase their length without actually letting you get anywhere. They also tend to lack the scenery many hiker-specific trails do.
And then there are the jumps – these are surely a blast on a bike, but on foot, they’re just kinda annoying.
My preferences aside, these are the kinds of trails available to me on a daily basis, so these are the trails I trek.
But the rules on these trails differ, and it is imperative that everyone follow them.
I visited a park I’m relatively familiar with last weekend, but I laid out a route I’d never taken. The route joined several different trails and allowed me to reach a tiny woodland pond I’d wanted to see for some time.
I enjoyed the parts of the trail I’d hiked before, and the pond was precious, full of crystal-clear water, and teeming with wildlife. But a significant length of the trail was designed with mountain bikers in mind, so I had to endure some of the drawbacks I’ve previously mentioned. That said, it was certainly worth my efforts, and I had a good time (a bad day on the trail is better than a good day in the office).
But I was disheartened by the repeated rule breaking I witnessed.
For starters, I saw entirely too many off-leash dogs. I’m not going into a whole thing about my dog-loving bona fides, but let’s just say that I clearly love four-footers (including both of my own).
That said, I cannot stand when owners allow their dogs to run untethered outside of designated off-leash areas. Not only is it incredibly unsafe for your dog, it’s also disrespectful to the other people on the trail. Some people do not like dogs or fear them outright. And for that matter, some dogs (like both of mine) are very reactive to other dogs. If your off-leash Rover runs up on my dogs, there’s going to be a terrible, terrible problem.
But there’s one more issue: Off-leash dogs can be extremely dangerous for mountain bikers. You can imagine how disastrous an oblivious dog could end up creating an unavoidable obstacle for someone flying downhill on a bike.
The other problem I kept witnessing was equally frustrating.
While there weren’t a ton of hikers on this trail, there were some. I probably encountered two dozen other hikers and walkers while racking up the miles. And the vast majority of hikers were walking in the wrong direction.
Typically, hikers and bikers are directed to travel in opposite directions on multi-use loop trails (this obviously won’t work for out-and-back trails). This is so that bikes don’t come flying up behind you, giving you little warning and potentially causing terrible accidents.
Now, technically, hikers have the right-of-way in these encounters, but because it is generally easier for hikers to step to the side, I tend to hop to the side when I see them. Also, I want them to have fun, and many of them love cruising downhill at high speed.
I’m usually greeted with an enthusiastic “Thank you!” for my efforts. I assume somewhere, someone is keeping track of all this good karma I’m accumulating, but I digress.
The point is this two-direction approach helps keep everyone safe. So follow it!
You’ll usually find signage indicating which direction bikers should travel and which direction hikers should travel. Often, it’ll change based on the days of the week. That way, both types of travelers can enjoy the trail in both directions.
Apologies if this entire tale from the trail comes across as a lecture. We generally try to stay positive and just encourage everyone to get out and enjoy the natural world. But this is an important point, which (apparently) needs to be made.
But what about you? What kinds of rule- or etiquette-breaches drive you mad?
Let us know in the comments!