On-Trail Etiquette

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We’re heading into Labor Day Weekend, the last “official” weekend of Summer and the last hurrah for many a city-dweller whose early summer Friday schedule and capacity to take last-minute 3-day weekends are about to come to an abrupt halt.

For many hiking enthusiasts on the cusp of a busy work or school schedule and/or managing kids heading back to school, the long Labor Day weekend is our last guaranteed chance to get out on trail and into the woods. It’s also the last weekend for everyone else in America to get outside too. While we’re all scrambling to be outside, trailheads can get packed with cars and people who aren’t always out in nature are heading out into nature. 

While I sympathize with and encourage the urge to get outside while you still can, I want to make everyone aware of a few on-trail etiquette rules to follow. They’ll come in handy, especially when faced with a barrage of those last-chance hikers and backpackers who may not be doing the right things out there. It’s up to us to set the example and educate others (in a respectful way) on how to keep our trails enjoyable and our public spaces tidy.



1.  Hikers walking uphill have the right of way

Ever been on a skinny stretch of trail and not sure who should make the first move? While it may seem like gravity would win out on this one, hikers heading uphill get to go first. Why? Because it takes a lot of momentum to hike uphill at a good clip (or a slow trudge for that matter) and it’s hard to start up again once you’ve stopped to let another person pass.

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2.  Shelters are public spaces and sleeping in them means no tents

Lean-tos and shelters are great places to camp. Their hard surfaces are an easy and (relatively) clean place to sit and keep you protected from the rain. There are plenty of them in State Parks and on DEC Land across New York State and for the most part (except for some you reserve in the Adirondacks) they are free to stay at and are first-come first-served. But that doesn’t mean you have sole-ownership of them! Be conscientious and keep your gear compact as other individuals or groups may arrive after you. And by all means, even if those ‘skeeters are bugging you like crazy and you’d prefer to be behind netting, please don’t set up your tent inside a shelter. It would take up more than your share of space and leave little room for anyone else. You can always set up your tent nearby the shelter instead in order to guarantee a bug and critter-free night,

3.  Rules are there for a reason

While it may seem like it’s no fun to be told you can’t camp streamside, there’s a reason the DEC puts rules in place. For the most part, it’s to lessen the impact for future generations. Popular places like swimming holes, streams and overlooks would be destroyed if everyone camped right at them. Be sure to check the local regulations of where you intend to visit but a good rule of thumb is to camp either in a designated area or set up shop 150 feet from trail, water or road. That’ll ensure the views are just as nice nice for those who come after you.

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4.  Leave it better than you found it

Some folks are unaware that many state parks and preserve areas don’t have garbage cans and rely on a carry-in, carry-out policy. While permanent garbage cans can actually attract wildlife in some areas, it’s also just a sad fact that not enough money gets allocated to our park systems and there isn’t a maintenance staff available to take away our trash. You may see people leaving trash inside bathroom areas, alongside kiosks or on the ground in a parking lot. While it’s hard to tell a stranger not to litter, you can set the right example by bringing along an extra ziplock or plastic bag and picking up a few scraps of trash throughout your hike. You never know who might see your good deed and what ripple effect it will have! 

Be safe, have fun and by all means, get outside this Labor Day weekend! It may be your last chance!

Melissa GoodwinComment