How NOT to be a Trail Jerk in 8 Easy Steps

Most hikers are good folks. Patient. Considerate. Magnanimous. But every once in a while you run into some real lulus. Like the herd of marauding yahoos we ran into on the Van Trump Trail at Mount Rainier recently. They broke just about every trail rule there is.

At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

This quartet of twenty-something females hiked abreast, hogging the entire width of the trail. They refused to step aside for uphill hikers. They brought their music with them. Kept up a steady stream of yakkety-yakking. At nose bleed volume. I mean, they Would. Not. Shut. Up. (No, I don’t care about last night’s drama with Ian. Or Zach. Or whatever his name was. Chances are, no one else does either. So why does the entire zip code have to hear about it?)

Loud. Disruptive. Rude. Thoughtless. If being a trail jerk was an Olympic sport, they would’ve brought home the gold.

We finally peeled off at Comet Falls and let the Yakkety-Yaks go by.


The good news: You don’t have to follow suit. Here’s my micro-short Mom version of How NOT To Be a Trail Jerk in 8 Easy Steps. Based on 50+ years of hiking:

1. Pack It In. Pack It Out.

No real brain strain here. If you bring plastic water bottles, granola bars, tissue or anything else with you on the trail, make sure you bring back all the attendant residue and wrappers. Don’t dump anything out on the trail.


2. Don’t Bring Fido on Trails Where He’s Not Allowed

We were hiking the Waterfall Trail at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park last week. A coupla girls were chugging up the trail with a Siberian husky in tow. That is strictly verboten. Did they not see the signs or decide to ignore them?

There are plenty of places were you can hike with your dog. Most national parks aren’t among them.


Every summer the world-famous flowers fields at Paradise burst into a riotous romp of Renoir pastels. The park also averages over 2M visitors annually, with Paradise its most popular destination. Imagine the devastation 2M pairs of boots could wreak on these fragile alpine meadows – or anyone else in the park. DON’T be a meadow stomper. Stay. On. The Trail.

4. Related to the above, Don’t Cut the Switchbacks

Sure, you’ll lop off a few uphill feet by cutting the switchbacks. But you’ll also encourage erosion and destroy vegetation and drainage. It’s not worth the few extra steps you might save. So stay on the trail. That’s what it’s there for.


5. Uphill Hikers Have the Right of Way

If you’ve been hiking for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you know that hiking uphill works best if you get into a rhythm. Disrupt that rhythm, and you’ll probably have to start all over again at ground zero. It’s annoying, unnecessary, and inefficient. And while an uphill hiker may stop for a breather and let a downhill hiker go by, it’s still the uphill hiker’s call.

Uphill hikers have the right of way.

Additionally, if you’re about to pass a hiker from behind, call out a greeting to let them know you’re coming.

Also remember to hike in single file. If you’re hiking solo and meet a group of hikers, it’s usually easier for a single hiker to stand aside.

Right of way goes to the uphill hiker.

So if you meet someone on the trail and you’re on the downhill, yield. Stand aside. Let the uphiller go by. It’s the polite thing to do.

6. Rest OFF the Trail

If you’re taking a breather or a water break, make sure to do so well off the trail so other hikers don’t have to go around you. Additionally, when answering the call of nature, make sure you do so well off the trail.

Leave stuff alone. Including wildflowers.

7. Leave No Trace

This is a lot like Pack It In, Pack It Out, with a twist: Don’t break, mangle, fold, spindle or mutilate stuff just because you can.

I’ve seen parents let their kids throw pine cones or kick up every mushroom they find along the trail. Really? Do you think hikers want to risk life and limb via an oncoming pine projectile? Or those coming behind you want to pick their way through mashed mushrooms? Oh, and by the way, thanks for killing all those cool fungi.

Leave stuff alone. Like this deadly Panther Amonita.

Leave stuff alone. Like, On. The. Ground. In its natural state. And alive.

8. Lose the loud music.

While hiking in Olympic National Park last summer, we passed some dude who was toting an industrial sized boom box down the trail, blasting away into the wild blue yonder. This thing was almost the size of a tropical island. Probably cost about as much too. How could that guy hear himself – or anyone else – think?

Newsflash: If you can’t go two minutes without electronic whatever screaming in your ear, either get ear buds or go back to your car. Nobody wants to listen to Thunderstruck out on the trail. Some of us hike to get away from that and enjoy the peace and quiet.  So while you’re out on the trail, kindly lose the tunes.

Stay on the trail! At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

When it comes to hiking etiquette, a little thoughtfulness and common sense can go a long way. Just treat the trail and other hikers with the same kind of respect with which you want to be treated. Then you’ll never have to worry about being a hiking jerk.

What would you add?

2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Ashley Ramsey

    Very useful tips and such incredible scenery! While I don’t take on many strenuous hikes, as an animal lover, I’d say respect any animals encountered along the way by leaving them adequate distance.