Rules of the trail

Colleen O’Neil
John Stroud and Morgan Hill run up to Capitol Creek last summer. They exhibited very polite trail manners by packing out all their food wrappers.
Colleen O’Neil / Post Independent |


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The other day, I was out on a mountain bike ride by myself. As I pedaled up the trail, I heard another rider spinning down the other way. I scooted off the trail, and the other rider whizzed past with hardly a glance in my direction. I kept pedaling. A couple minutes later, on a steeper section, I saw a young kid riding down toward me. He stepped off his bike and moved onto the side of the trail to let me pass. If only everyone could be that polite.

Most Roaring Fork folk are pretty well-educated and courteous in the outdoors, but we could all use a refresher once in a while. (Especially about those tricky yield signs. Horse to hiker to biker? Huh? Don’t worry, we’ll clear it up.)

Here are some tips to keep everyone safe and happy on the trails this summer.

1. SMILES ALL AROUND: Please be friendly with everyone else out on the trail. It doesn’t matter how fast you think you’re going or whose Strava time you’re trying to beat. Be polite and say hello with a smile, because we’re all out there to have fun.

2. COMMUNICATE & LISTEN: Let people know you’re there — before you’re on top of them. Riding, running or hiking up on other people can be dangerous for both parties. A simple “Hi!” works to get attention. Then step downhill and off trail. Also, take your earbuds out so you can hear other people.

3. YIELD, YIELD, YIELD: Do your absolute best to let your fellow trail users know you’re coming. No need for an airhorn or anything. Just say hi. Anticipate other trail users as you go around corners. If you’re on a bike, yield to everyone. If you’re going downhill on a bike, yield to uphill traffic. Try to make every pass a safe, nice experience for everyone.

4. PLAY NICE WITH NATURE: Colorado has an amazing landscape, and we’d all like it to stay that way. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics — pick up your trash, don’t go off the trail or cut new trails without permission. And NEVER use trails that are wet and slippery with mud. Hiking, running or biking on them will cause a lot of erosion. If you come upon a big puddle, go through the middle of it to keep the trail narrow.

5. BE INFORMED: It’s your responsibility to be “in the know.” Questions about where to ride, trail closures, outdoor ethics and local regulations are important to know before you head out on the trails. Contact your local land manager if you are unsure about what you can and can’t do in a given area. Or check the new Roaring Fork Trail Conditions page on Facebook for up-to-date info.


When you see horses, mules or llamas on the trail, slow the heck down. Then step off the trail on the downhill side, talk to the rider and the animal (this lets the creature know that you’re a person). If the animal is seems anxious consider taking off your backpack or helmet and dismounting your mountain bike. Keep talking in a calm voice as all the animals pass you by, paying special attention to the last animals. If there are newbies in the bunch, they’re often at the end of the line.

If you approach stock animals from behind it’s crucial that you announce yourself loudly but calmly so you do not scare the animals. Let the rider know you’d like to pass at the next safe location. NEVER ride up quickly on a horse. It’s dangerous for you and the rider(s).

And for riders of the stock, it’s important to know that not all people have experience with large animals and may not do the right thing. Do your best to educate them in a friendly way. But remember that you’re responsible for your own animal; it’s a bad idea to bring “green” stock to high-traffic or multi-use trails until they are familiar. Remember to keep an eye out for other people in front of you, behind you and joining you at trail junctions.


Most trails are very dog-friendly…as long as you walk your dog the right way. Keep it on a short leash on busy trails, because free-range dogs can be dangerous. And make sure you clean up after it. Nobody wants to use a trail littered with dog poop bags.

Some special places, like the Hanging Lake Trail, do not allow dogs. The rule is clearly printed at the trailhead. Be respectful and don’t bring your dog on those hikes.

Stay safe and have fun out there! It looks like we’re in for a beautiful summer.

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