On the Trail: Etiquette Essentials

by Laura Heisinger | May 22, 2017
Outdoor Adventure Nature & Recreation

It’s that time of year again, the season we have all been waiting for, summer! With an abundant variety of activities to do in the Black Hills, everything from swimming, boating, fishing, four-wheeling, and last but not least hiking.

The Black Hills offers over 450 miles of trails for the public to use. Hiking isn’t the only activity these trails are used for, other users such as mountain bikers, horseback riders, and trail runners use them too. Out of the trail users, the hiker and trail runner are the smallest on the path. What happens when these users encounter something much bigger than themselves, such as a horse or another person on a mountain bicycle? The situation can be overwhelming if you have never encountered these users on the trail, but the following tips on good trail etiquette and on who yields to whom on the trail will help if the occasion should arise.

Hiking the Trail

  1. Read the trail guidelines thoroughly. There may be specific rules for the trail you choose to hike on. If the trail sign says foot traffic only, that means hiking is the only activity allowed on the trail and nothing else.
  2. Please stay on the trail. Do not cut switchbacks or take shortcuts, stepping off of the trail can cause damage to the fragile ecosystem that lies on both sides of the trail.
  3. Stay to the right on wider hiking trails. When hiking in a large group, hike in single file and take no more than half of a wide trail.
  4. When overtaking someone who is hiking slower than you, call out “coming up on your left” so the person is  aware that you will be passing. The slower hiker should move over to the right, allowing you to pass..
  5. Stopping to soak in that beautiful scenery, rest, or to yield, move off  the path so it is free for other hikers to advance on. If you are in need of a break, step off on an already used resting area or a durable surface such as rock, dirt, or snow if it is during the winter season. Do not wander off trail to seek the perfect spot to take a rest.
  6. Hikers that are ascending uphill are working very hard and should be given the right of way over hikers coming downhill. On occasion uphill hikers will prefer to stop and let down hill hikers pass  so they can make a brief stop to catch their breath. The uphill hiker should make the call.
  7. You never know how many amazing people you can meet while out hiking. Take the time to greet other hikers as you encounter them on the trail. This makes sure they know you are there and it is a polite thing to do. A simple “Hello” or “Nice Day” works perfectly. If you are ever lost or in danger, and someone has to come look for you, other hikers are more likely to remember you if you exchanged words and made eye contact.



Horses are big and unpredictable animals, give them the right of way on the trail. What to do when encountering a horse on the trail. 

  1. Get off of the trail on the downhill side. Horses will tend to bolt uphill if they are spooked. Also, a hiker waiting on the uphill side can look more like a predator waiting to pounce.
  2. Quietly greet the rider and ask if you are okay where you are standing.
  3. Stand quietly while the horse and rider pass.

Mountain Bikers

Mountain Bikers are fast and they can stop and go easily letting other users on the trail have the right of way.


  1. Obey all rules and regulations at the trail head for pet usage, make sure the trail you are on is pet friendly.
  2. Have a leash with you at all times in case you happen to encounter another hiker and their dog. You never know how the two will react to each other, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  3. Make sure you have doggy bags in your pack. When nature calls, Fido is going to answer it by pooping on the trail. It is your job as a responsible dog parent to clean it up and not leave it on the trail.
  4. Pack out  pet waste. You did your part by placing the doggy doo-doo in the bag, that also means you put it in your pack and take it out with you. Dog doo is not healthy for the environment, if left along the trail with a water source such as a creek, river, or lake nearby, disease causing bacteria can leak into the water source and cause health problems for plant life, wildlife, and even you.



  1. Do not leave any markers when hiking off-trail. Cairns, ducks, or little piles of rocks are not needed. If people are hiking cross-country, their compass and map are all they need. Markers tend to concentrate traffic which creates more un-managed trail scars.


  1. There is an age old rule that we should all follow when venturing out into the wilderness. “Leave no Trace”  Do not throw any sort of litter on the trail,  especially food peels such as orange and banana peels. If it does not grow there naturally then it should not be there in the first place. Pack out your garbage. It is as simple as having a spare bag in your pack to place peels, food wrappers, or other litter items. If you happen to see litter on the trail while you are out and have the spare room in your pack to store it, then we will greatly appreciate you for doing so. You are doing your part in keeping the trails clean for future users.

Defacing nature

  1. Please report vandalism if you happen to come upon it while you are out hiking. And you, yourself should not deface nature either. If you want to take something from nature then take the time to capture a special moment with your camera. Do not carve you or your spouse’s name into a rock wall or into the trunk of a living tree What’s the point of this anyways? A picture is worth a thousand words or more, but carving your name for the sake of saying you were “there", it’s not worth it.

The best thing we can do to keep our trails clean and our fellow man educated on proper trail etiquette, is to pass along these tips to our friends, and then they can pass it along to theirs, so it is spread out and people are aware. We can keep our trails beautiful and enjoyable to use for future generations to come.

​To experience all the rustic beauty of Spearfish, Spearfish Canyon, and the surrounding area visitors are encouraged to traverse on foot! Explore this More

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