Trail Etiquette

All trail users should follow Leave No Trace principles:

  • Plan ahead
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

An important point is to stay on the trail and to not cut switchbacks.  Cutting switchbacks and going off trail cause erosion.  In the dry Colorado climate, plants have a hard time as it is, especially above timberline.  Even if slopes are not very steep, plant roots help hold the soil in place.  People should also remember that even things that seem biodegradable tend not to decay when sitting on the ground in the dry climate.  So people should follow “pack it in, pack it out”, even for that apple core or orange peel.  Solid human waste should be buried.  In some areas, although none in Colorado as of yet, it is even required to pack it out.  Urine can attract animals, that then dig up and destroy the plants, especially above timberline.  So it’s best to pee on rocks if possible.  Many people enjoy a campfire, and some even think that camping without a fire is incomplete.  But people should use existing fire rings and not build new ones.  It’s also important to know and to follow all current fire restrictions or fire bans, and to be sure any fire is completely out before leaving.  Many people like to hike with their dogs.  The dogs enjoy it to, and the exercise is good for everyone, human and canine.  But dogs off leash or not under immediate control can chase wildlife.  The stress isn’t good for the animals, and can contribute to their not surviving.  Dog waste is an irritant, and even a health hazard, on some trails.  So plan ahead and pack it out. 

Trail users should respect all trail closures, whether the closure is seasonal, for restoration and recovery of an area, to protect wildlife, or for some other reason.  Trails on Pikes Peak are open year-round, except for trails on Colorado Springs watershed, which are closed from October through April.  The North Slope Recreation Area web page has exact closure dates.

One final principle to remember is to simply be courteous.  Trails have official rules of who yields to whom, but if everyone tries to be more helpful than required, things will go more smoothly.  We’re all out there to enjoy nature, get some exercise, and have fun.

For Hikers:
Hikers are to yield to horses, which simply makes sense as horses are large and can be unpredictable and sometimes skittish.  Hikers should step aside for horses.  Uphill or downhill is always a question, but one recommendation that makes some sense is to move downhill because predators tend to attack from above, so having the hikers uphill makes a horse more nervous.  If moving off downhill isn’t practical, all the hikers in a group should move to the same side of the trail to make it easier for the horses to pass.  Some horses are very familiar with hikers, but some horses are not, and cannot recognize hikers, especially backpackers with the big packs sticking up above their shoulders, as humans, and so become nervous.  But if the hiker talks, the horse realizes that it’s a human.  So talking quietly to the horse can be helpful.  If inspiration fails, try “Hi, horse.  I’m a friendly human.”  Or simply exchange some pleasantry with the riders.

While strictly speaking, bikers should yield to hikers, often it’s easier for the hiker to move aside.  This is especially true for bikers going uphill, where they would have to lose all their momentum, then start uphill, to properly yield. 

People argue over who has the right-of-way in uphill versus downhill situations.  In driving on narrow roads, the car going downhill yields to the car going uphill, and must even back up, if needed, to an appropriate pull off.  People tend to extrapolate this to trails.  With bikes, where momentum is involved, it makes sense.  But, unlike with the bikers yield to hikers yield to horses, there does not seem to be an official ruling.  What makes most sense is common courtesy.  And often, at high altitudes with little oxygen and on steep trails, the uphill hiker appreciates the chance to stop, rest, and breathe.

Trail users should allow faster people to pass.  Hikers should be aware of other people overtaking them from behind and move to the side to allow them enough space to go by.  This is especially important for groups, because large groups are simply harder for other trail users to pass and also because groups tend to move more slowly as a group moves only as fast as its slowest member.

For Mountain Bikers:
Mountain biking should be limited to seasons when the trails are dry, to avoid creating ruts and causing other trail damage. Riders are encouraged to abide by the IMBA trail rules.  Bikers should yield to hikers and horses.  Riding in control is important, for you don’t know what’s around that blind curve.

For Equestrians:
Horseback riding is allowed on most trails, but not on Colorado Springs watershed (for the Ring, this includes the west end of Trail Segment 2-3, all of Segment 3-4 and the east end of Segment 4-5).  None of the portals for the Ring the Peak trail has designated trailer parking, so please be considerate of other users.  Generally, for all users around Pikes Peak, camping is allowed only on Forest Service lands.  Camping with horses is allowed in backcountry areas of national forest land, that is, Forest Service dispersed camping is allowed with horses.  But horses are not allowed in developed Forest Service campgrounds.  Forest Service also requires horses be fed certified weed free feed, and recommends that riders change the feed for their horses 4 to 5 days before riding in the forest, as feed takes time to work through their digestive system.

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