Honor hiking etiquette on the trails | VailDaily.com

Honor hiking etiquette on the trails

Clayton Sumner and Bill (back) and Max Daniels of Denver make their way towards Booth Lake Friday on Booth Falls Trail. The trail is one of the busiest in the valley.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

EAGLE COUNTY — With three wilderness areas surrounding the Vail Valley, there’s plenty of hikes to explore the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and also plenty of people hitting the trails.

Knowing proper hiking etiquette enhances the experience for everyone out wandering.

“The big message is leave no trace,” said Nate Goldberg, director of the Beaver Creek Hiking Center, which offers guided hikes within an 80-mile radius. “Leave it like when you leave a campground — try to leave it better than when you found it.”

Leave No Trace is a nonprofit organization in Boulder that encourages responsible recreation outdoors. Hikers are asked to pick up trash along the trails, and by no means leave their own.

“I think you need to understand why people are out there — to get away from society and disconnect. Nature’s the best way to do that.”Nate GoldbergDirector, Beaver Creek Hiking Center

“Leave No Trace has revolutionized hiking,” said Aaron Mayville, of the U.S. Forest Service. “We keep Leave No Trace principles at the forefront of our message.”

The Forest Service has miles of trails to maintain, and it’s a team effort keeping them pristine.

“It’s something we’re always working on because we get so many visitors from so many different parts of the world,” Mayville said. “I’d say the local population has a pretty good handle on this kind of thing.”


With hikers from all around flooding local trails, the proper etiquette begins at the trailhead parking areas. Goldberg asks hikers to not get greedy and box other cars in because they could be trapped after their hike.

“People will get pretty cutthroat when it comes to trailheads,” he said. “Try to get to trails, the earlier the better.”

Once on the trails, uphill hikers have the right of way, Goldberg said, and hikers should pull off in a safe spot, whether it be right or left, while being mindful of not straying too far off the trail because trails can widen that way.

When it rains, hikers tend to deviate from the trail to avoid puddles, which is another way trails become damaged or expanded. Ideally, hikers should wear proper footwear and plow through the puddles and mud.

“Leave no trace and as little impact as possible,” he said.

Wildflowers are blooming now, and hikers are asked not to pick them. The Forest Service can issue fines for picking wildflowers, including a $50 fine per Columbine picked, Goldberg said.

“The wildflowers are not designated to be picked,” he said. “They’ll wilt within a half hour. We educate people not to pick flowers because that’s also how the flowers reseed for the next season. When they dry up, they leave seeds.”

While there are no rules against playing music while hiking, Goldberg said hikers should be considerate.

“I think you need to understand why people are out there,” he said, “to get away from society and disconnect. Nature’s the best way to do that.”

Dog-leash laws have loosened on Forest Service land. For years it was 100 percent leash laws, but now dogs are allowed off leash only if they can be controlled with voice command. This is for respect of other hikers as well as protecting dogs from chasing wildlife, which is dangerous for all furry friends.

Nature is a glorified bathroom, but hikers should be conscious of where they are relieving themselves. Hikers should make sure they’re 100 yards away from water to avoid adding human sewage to the water.

A 6-inch hole is encouraged for other forms of human waste to make sure animals aren’t attracted to it, and it’s more sanitary, Goldberg said, and toilet paper should be packed out in a zip lock bag, or buried 6 inches below the ground.

When in doubt, “be generally kind and courteous to people,” Mayville said.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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