Trail etiquette: The basics

Skyline trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS (Photo by Tony Webster, Wikimedia Commons)

Skyline trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS (Photo by Tony Webster, Wikimedia Commons)

March 15, 2021 | by Doug van Hemessen

As an avid naturalist and the stewardship coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) nature reserves in Nova Scotia, I spend a lot of time hiking and managing trails. I also like to hike in my spare time. With the warm weather on the way, I’m grateful to be getting outside more again, as are many others.

Unfortunately, in the past I've had an experience that is the bane of many trail users and could have been avoided. I was enjoying the sunshine, birdsong and spring flora along the trail when I heard the voices of other hikers coming my way. And then suddenly two dogs came flying around the bend. They ran at me, barking loudly, and one began jumping on me. Friendly jumping, but just the same, it was unexpected and unwanted.

Hiking at Black Beach trail (Photo by NCC)

Hiking at Black Beach trail (Photo by NCC)

With many of us getting outside again, it’s good to keep in mind some basic trail etiquette. Being aware of trail etiquette can enhance your experience outdoors, as well as the experience of others. If you have ever wondered how best to engage with people you encounter on a hike, you’re not alone. Trail etiquette is mostly about common courtesy and common sense, both are especially important for maintaining a positive atmosphere on the trail. Here are some basics of trail etiquette to keep in mind:

  • Pets are best left at home. If you do bring them, please keep them on a leash so they don’t disturb wildlife. Keep them out of water sources and be sure to clean up after them.
  • Be courteous and friendly to other hikers. Say hi as you pass each other along the trail.
  • Enjoy the peace and quiet, and be respectful of others and the wildlife around you.
  • Minimize your impact. Stay on the trail and pack out what you pack in.
  • Respect nature. Take pictures only, and leave flowers, plants, rocks and wood behind for the enjoyment of others and for the integrity of the local ecosystem.
  • Don’t make campfires. A couple of summers ago in Nova Scotia, an unpermitted, poorly extinguished campfire nearly caused a disaster at one of our nature reserves.

After emerging from the trail and back in the parking lot, I saw a young couple preparing for their hike. Their dog was on a leash, and they were asking each other if they had waste bags packed. Excellent hiking etiquette! We smiled and waved at each other.

Doug Van Hemessen

About the Author

Doug van Hemessen Doug has worked with the Nature Conservancy of Canada since March of 2013 and is based in Halifax. His work with NCC stretches across the province from Cape Breton to Yarmouth to Brier Island to the Chignecto Isthmus and points between.

Read more about Doug van Hemessen.

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