Hiking is a great escape from the rest of the world. The best part of a trail, is often discovered far away from any sight or sound of other people. Unfortunately, on most day hikes you’ll encounter other hikers. At those moments, when you have to physically pass someone on the trail, should you pass on the left? Should you pass on the right? Who has the right of way? Is it the same as streets?
I’ve heard a number of opinions that all vary. It depends on who you talk to, where you are, and who you’re with. Are you going uphill? Are you going down hill? Are you alone, are you in a group of people? Is the person coming at you on the trail is asking the very same questions?
The easy answer is based on one word – respect. Whether you have the right of way or not, be ready to be polite to anyone you encounter on the trail. This is the easiest path for everyone, leading toward having a pleasant hike. When nasty attitudes get in the way, the question “Who’s right?” becomes a moot point.
Who yields the right-of-way?
To make the algebra easy, these two rules should be observed:
Bikes yield to hikers and horses.
Hikers yield to horses.
Here’s the easy answer – horses are big and slow moving. It’s quicker and easier for hikers and bikers to yield. More importantly, you don’t want to spook a horse on the trail. The horse’s rider can easily be thrown. Not to mention a horse outweighs a hiker by quite a bit. So let those furry giants have a gentle pass along the path.
“The Hiking Dude” did a great job of breaking down the many variations of trail way right-of-way. Take a few moments to examine the different options available.
In the City of Roseville, CA they have posted signs at the trails heads of many hiking areas defining who should walk on which side of the road. In those areas, they recommend hikers walk on the left side of the path, so you can see oncoming traffic. They ask that bikers stay to the right side of the road, just like the streets.
Either way, establish eye contact and try to ‘read’ other hiker before you cross their path. If they aren’t moving, they probably are thinking of something else. Simply move to the side and let them pass. It’s that easy.
People are creatures of habit. Some folks will do what they believe is correct and hold the right of way as a way of establishing and re-enforcing existing (or their perceptions of) existing social norms. It becomes a messy discussion with many, many variables.
Many things can be kept in mind, but keep the key to hiking in mind – it’s a peaceful escape from the world. Be ready to yield the right-of-way for the sake providing everyone with a pleasant encounter.
Whether you are right, wrong or indifferent, keep in mind that regardless of your belief of ‘what is correct’ you could easily be the one who violates local custom or hiking norms. So just like the ver hike you are on, relax and let someone pass