Any season is a good season to take your running off-road, but cooler temperatures, stunning colors and fewer mosquitoes make fall an especially sweet time to hit the trails. Much like the rules of road running (such as running against traffic, wearing reflective clothing at night and checking around you before launching a snot rocket) a little knowledge of common trail etiquette will go a long way toward making runs more pleasant for you and others on the trail.
Luckily, common sense rules the day. These trail courtesy guidelines are adapted from those of the National Park Service, which is responsible for managing the 50,000 + (!!) miles of the National Trails System, the American Hiking Society and Leave No Trace.
Know Who Has the Right of Way
Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, uphill travelers have right of way over downhill runners. Downhill may be faster, but uphill is hard! Cyclists are supposed to yield to pedestrians. And everyone yields to horses and pack animals no matter if they are going uphill or downhill. If you can, step to the side of the trail so horses have plenty of room to pass. And remember, communication is critical. Whether it’s announcing you would like to pass or communicating with those coming towards you, a friendly exchange will help to keep everyone safe and happy.
Stay on the Trail
Not only will staying on the trail lessen the chances of getting lost, it preserves the trail and beauty of natural areas for others. This means no cutting switchbacks and going through muddy or wet areas on trails and over obstacles instead of around them. That said, if you’re taking a break, move to the side of the trail so others can pass.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Food wrappers, extra gear, banana peels, if you bring it with you, plan to keep it with you. And don’t store trash or gear trailside to pick it up later. You may forget, plus it looks unsightly and could attract animals.
Be sure to observe wildlife from a safe distance. And save your snacks for you, not the animals. Local wildlife has a better handle on their dietary needs—chews are most definitely not part of their healthy eating plan! Plus, as harmless as it can seem to offer a cute critter a bite of your apple, animals may get aggressive if they start associating food with humans. Also, if you bring your dog, be sure to keep it on a leash.
When Nature Calls
Check trail maps to know if and where you can find bathrooms along your route. If no bathrooms are available, you should go 200 feet from water sources and the trail (or as far off trail as possible). Yes, that’s an exception to the previous rule about staying on the trail, but it keeps trails pleasant for all users. Depending upon local regulations, you may have to pack out waste and always pack out or bury toilet paper.
Leave What You Find
From artifacts to plants or rocks, leave what you see as you find it. It’s less for you to carry anyway! But go ahead and take all the pictures you want.
Plan Your Run, Run Your Plan
Plan ahead, check the weather and let others know where you’re going and when you expect to return, especially if you are hitting the trail alone.