Imagine you’re on a hike. You are about two miles in. In the previous mile you saw a moose, and you can’t wait to tell someone about it. You can see someone coming your way, and when they finally reach you,you say,”Hello,” and you smile. They walk away without even acknowledging your presence. This is the story of my life, granted people don’t talk to each other as much in Minnesota as other places, but still!
Hiking etiquette is our topic for discussion this #TWLHikingClub Tuesday. I have compiled a list of ten things that I believe every hiker should know and adhere to in order to make the trails an even better place.
Garbage is a sight that can quickly ruin a trail experience. Plastic does not decompose, so it will either stay there or be picked up by someone who would rather not be picking up your mess. Metal, like from cans and fishhooks, becomes sharp and dangerous.
Kids and adults alike don’t and shouldn’t have to check their hiking trail or campsite for metal shards that could cut them. And animals mistake garbage for food all the time. The best thing to do is have a trash bag in your pack at all times. Bonus points go to you if you use said bag to also pick up the trash from others!
2. Poop somewhere that is not near the trail.
It’s a shame that I have to bring this up. When nature calls, do your duty (doodie) off trail. On more than one occasion, I have witnessed human poop and smelled it next to the trail. If the hike is short, go to the bathroom ahead of time. Most parks have bathrooms or portable ones. On longer hikes, there are often latrines, which are bathrooms similar to outhouses. If you cannot find a bathroom, and it is an emergency, go far enough back into the woods, dig a hole, and bury it. This way the poop is no one else’s problem.
3. Keep voices down.
Now, I know when in bear country or similar places, the general recommendation is to make enough noise as to not surprise a critter that may react violently. This is for those other times, but also in general. I cannot tell you how many times I have been trying to take a picture of an animal, and then a group of loud talkers comes by and scares the animal off. The only way to really see rare animals is by being quite enough. If they don’t feel safe, they will not come out. Often sound carries when in hiking locations.
4. Stay on the trail as much as you can.
The trail exists to tell you where to go, to keep you from walking through tall tick nests and poison ivy, and to keep the surrounding area pristine by not trampling the plant life or spreading invasive species.
5. Warn others of dangers ahead.
I really do appreciate when people warn me that there are wasp in the mud ahead or even that the mud gets worse. It help me to prepare. If I am in my sandals, I’ll change to my boots. Instead of hanging out in the mud,I’ll keep marching on. Please keep your fellow hikers informed! I am in a large amount of hiking groups online, and we even share things there so people can really plan ahead. Side note: If you hiked a trail only to see that it is closed ahead and on your return back you see others heading down a dead end, give them a heads up.
6. When something magical happens, take turns.
This is especially true when there are kids present. Your Instagram can handle not having a perfect picture of the owl posted when there is a line of people waiting for a turn to see it. Try not to overcrowd when an animal is the subject of amazement. If you spook it by running up, it is gone. So, it is also true that it is respectful to wait your turn. And no flash!
7. Leave animals their space; you’re in their home.
This includes taking selfies with wildlife. In May of 2018, a man was killed trying to take a selfie with an injured bear, several people each year have been injured taking selfies with Bison at Yellowstone National Park, and that’s merely a fraction of the total. Unless you are trained and experienced in handling wildlife or a professional, it is never a good idea. Even when trained, it is probably best that most wildlife be left alone. When it comes to certain types. detergents, lotions, bug sprays, sunscreens, and even our naturally occurring oils may be harmful to wildlife. Respect the fact that when you are on the trail you are in their habitat. Observe and admire from a distance, take photos, and move on.
Perhaps you come across a scene like in the picture above. It looks like the fawn may have been abandoned and you want to help. The best thing you can do is to move on. Solo fawns haven’t, in all likelihood, been left behind by their mother. It is perfectly natural and is actually a strategy of leaving the fawn under cover and camouflage rather than dragging them along on foraging runs out in the open. Read more here
8. Music belongs in your earbuds not on blast.
People do not come into nature to hear Van Halen. They come to hear birds, wind, trees, and their campfires. Please do not be that guy or gal.
9. Leave the rocks alone!!!!!
This is a polarizing subject. Some people love to create cairns on the trail or along a beautiful waterway. Some topple everyone they see. Others couldn’t care either way. Here is a really good read on the ecological impact of the seemingly harmless art of rock stacking. Aside from taking away from the natural scenery, building these rock stacks along waterways can have unexpected impacts. John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Rocks are no different and after closer inspection often you may find larvae, eggs, snails, or other life attached to the rock itself, relying on the shade and moisture to survive. Taking too many from a specific spot may be removing vital surface area and protective barriers for fish eggs or macro invertebrates which take shelter there. You could also disrupt the flow or change the course of a water way, or unwittingly create a barrier for spawning fish. Does it look cool? Sometimes. Is it necessary? Not really. Also, in many parks it is against park use rules to move and relocate rocks or other parts of natural scenery. The next ranger to come along is just going to knock it down, so why waste your time?
10. Finally, be friendly! People who hike are literally my favorite people!
As I alluded to before, say hello to people! Devon, the naturalist you all know and love, is an introvert like you would not believe. I bet you didn’t know that! As a family we make an effort to say hello to everyone because the BEST people are nature people.
Chelsea is a high school English teacher, avid hiker, mother, all around nature lover, and your #TWLHikingClub Leader. Interested in joining the TWLHikingClub? Learn more here and join our Facebook group here. You can find Chelsea on Instagram @teacherwhohikes