Trail Etiquette and Safety for Equestrians, Hikers and Mountain Bikers
The guidance below was developed for an upcoming publication "Share the Trails," developed by the Montana Chapter of the Continental Divide Trail Alliance. A broad coalition of user groups supported the effort.
Advice for Hikers and Bikers
When hikers or mountain bikers encounter horses, mules or llamas on the trail, they should step off the trail on the downhill side, talk to the rider and the animal (this lets the stock know you are 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 greenhorns in the bunch, they are at the end of the line.
If you approach stock from behind it’s critical 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. Do NOT ride up quickly on stock. It’s dangerous for you and the rider(s).
Advice for Stock Riders
Though most hikers and bikers will yield the right of way to stock, remember that some folks do not have experience with stock and may not do things your way. These encounters are great opportunities to inform and educate other users with a friendly approach.
As a horse rider, you have a responsibility to manage your animals on the trail; it is not advised to bring “green” stock to high-traffic or multi-use trails until they are familiar. Also, remember to keep an eye out for other users in front of you, behind you and joining you at trail junctions.
Advice for All Shared-Use Trails
RESPECT: It's a simple concept: if you offer respect, you are more likely to receive it. Education with friendly respect will diminish negative encounters on the trail for all users.
COMMUNICATION: Let folks know you’re there — before you’re there. Riding up on horses and stock can be dangerous even for the best-trained critters. For bikers and hikers; 1. Make yourself known to stock and rider. A simple “Howdy” works to get attention. 2. Step downhill and off trail.
HORSES UPHILL: Horses and mules are prey animals. That means they think everything wants to eat them; even the hiker with a large, scary backpack and especially the fast-moving biker “chasing” them. When startled, frightened critters go uphill. You should move downhill to avoid an encounter with a 1,000 pound panicked animal. Yikes!
YIELD APPROPRIATELY: Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you’re coming - a friendly greeting is a good method. Anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. In general, strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.
REVERE THE RESOURCE: Montana has unsurpassed opportunities to enjoy our landscape. Help protect your accessibility by playing nicely with your neighbors and treating trails with reverence. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics and pitch in to give back - pick up trash, volunteer on a trail project or become a member of your local trail club. Take action and get involved today!
AVOID SPREADING SEEDS: Help keep weeds out of our forests. Noxious weeds threaten our healthy ecosystems and livelihoods. Stay on trail, drive on designated roads, use weed seed free hay, check your socks, bikes and horse tails for hitchhikers when you get back to the trailhead. Let’s keep our forests strong and clean.
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.