Right-of-way on trail can be a confusing topic. There are many nuanced details and recommendations on who should pass who and when, but there are some basic guidelines that can help when you encounter another trail user on a narrow trail.
On multi-use trails where you might encounter hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers, it's good to know who has the right-of-way and when it makes sense to allow others to pass. As a guideline, hikers yield to horses, and mountain bikers yield to both hikers and equestrians. However, there may be times when the guidelines don't make sense to follow, such as if you have nowhere to yield, or if you communicate with the other trail user to find a better solution to pass each other.
If you encounter another trail user like you, for example a hiker meeting another hiker or a mountain biker meeting another biker, then best practice is for the trail user moving downhill to yield to the one moving uphill. When you yield, do your best to stay on durable surfaces to avoid trampling undergrowth or meadows.
Here are the basics of right-of-way broken down depending on what type of trail user you are:
As a hiker, you're probably the slowest trail user out there when compared to bikes and horses. What hikers lack in speed though is made up in maneuverability, allowing them to find areas to yield to other trail users easily. Here are some tips for meeting other trail users while on a hike:
- Hikers should yield to equestrians when possible. If the conditions permit, step to the downhill side of the trail.
- Communicate with equestrians and try not to make any sudden movements when the horse passes to avoid startling it.
- If you encounter another hiker, the hiker moving downhill yields to the hiker moving uphill.
Mountain bikers are the fastest moving trail users out there on a descent, so keeping an eye ahead on the trail is good practice. Here are a few tips and guidelines for riding on a multi-use trail:
- Mountain bikers should yield to both hikers and equestrians when possible.
- Watch speeds around blind corners where you might encounter another trail user.
- Some equestrians may ask you to dismount from the bike as they pass to avoid startling the horse.
- Wait for horses to fully pass before resuming your ride.
- If you encounter another mountain biker, yield to the rider moving uphill.
As the largest trail user, equestrians and their horses can be intimidating for other trail users to encounter. Communicating with hikers and mountain bikers about how best to yield is good practice. Here are some tips for encountering mountain bikers and hikers:
- Though equestrians have the right-of-way when meeting hikers and mountain bikers, there may be situations where it makes more sense to yield than pass. This is especially pertinent if mountain bikers are approaching from behind on a descent.
- Use clear communication to other trail users to ensure they won't be in the way when passing.
- Politely ask mountain bikers to dismount if your horse is easily startled or unsure around bikes.
- If you encounter another equestrian, find a wide area to yield and allow the horse moving uphill to pass.
Trail users with dogs
Taking your dog onto trails comes with an added set of responsibilities to not only your pet, but also to other trail users. Here are some tips and guidelines for bringing your dog on trail:
- Trail users with dogs should yield to all other trail users.
- It's best practice (and on some trails, the law) to have your dog on leash.
- Keep your dog close when passing children, horses or other dogs, even if your dog is friendly. Be sure to communicate with equestrians to ensure the horse isn't startled by the presence of other animals.
Using common sense, CREATING A POSITIVE TRAIL CULTURE
There may be situations where the guidelines above don't make sense. In these cases, communicate clearly with other trail users and find a solution that works best in the moment. There aren't always perfect places to yield, but by working together we can all enjoy trails safely.
For more tips visit our Trail Smarts page and brush up on your outdoor skills.