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Crater Lake Trail (and Crater Lake) in White River National Forest, outside of Aspen

Hiking Etiquette 101: Trail Rules to Live By

Whether you're a Colorado local or just visiting, it's important to follow basic trail etiquette, especially during the busy fall season.

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Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I followed the 3.6-mile roundtrip Crater Lake Trail from the iconic Maroon Bells to Crater Lake just outside of Aspen. The easy-to-moderate route follows a mostly dirt path through a small aspen grove, with peaks rising almost everywhere you look once you reach open space. It was a beautiful, serene way to spend a Sunday morning during a long weekend in the ski town.

At least, it would have been, had our myriad fellow hikers abided by some basic trail rules. Many appeared to be from out of town (which is expected at one of the country’s most photographed locations during the peak leaf-peeping season), and simply tried to squeeze by instead of pausing to allow uphill hikers to pass and clear the trail. But I was disappointed to see that even trail runners who seemed familiar with the area decided to run up close enough that I could feel their breath on my neck, forcing me to step slightly off the trail—a major environmental no-no—to let them by, instead of waiting for a wider spot in the trail or announcing their presence sooner. While this lack of proper hiking conduct didn’t entirely ruin my experience—how can it with a view like the one shown above?—I was seriously affronted.

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(Read an etiquette guide to hiking with newbies)

To help keep the trails happy for everyone as people take in the last of the fall colors in the coming week, I asked Jeff Golden from Colorado Mountain Club for some basic trail etiquette tips. Here’s his advice:

Stay On The Trail

Remain on the trail to avoid damaging fragile flora and alpine tundra, which could take years to recover.

Know When To Yield

Uphill hikers are working hard to maintain momentum, and they have the right-of-way. Bikers should yield the trail to hikers, and both bikers and hikers need to yield to equestrians. These are the guidelines, but it’s always best to communicate clearly with other trail users to ensure a friendly encounter. For example, often uphill hikers will welcome a break!

Pass On The Left

Stay on the right side of wider trails, allowing other users to pass on the left, just like in a motor vehicle. Large groups should hike single file to avoid taking up the entire path. Always step aside to let faster trail users through.

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Leave No Trace

The Leave No Trace principles ensure that the wilderness will remain enjoyable and sustainable for everyone. Pack out all trash, including dog waste and summit signs, and don’t remove or vandalize any part of the outdoor environment.

Know The Dog Rules

Some areas allow dogs to legally be off leash, but most have a leash law. Know the rules of the area you’re visiting and follow them. Even if off-leash hiking is allowed, consider leashing your dog if the trail is very crowded.

With that in mind: Happy hiking!

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