Trail Etiquette during a Pandemic

Photo of runner Sophie Shinsky in City Creek Canyon taken by Quinn Graves (2019).

***This post was updated on Wednesday, September 9th, 2020***

As people around the world are staying inside, trying to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, those of us who live around the Central Wasatch are lucky enough to have wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities close to home, and many of us are getting outside to ease the feeling of cabin fever. Going outside seems to be one of the safest and best options to engage in activity outside of the house these days. However, recreating outside looks a lot different today than it did a month ago. Trail etiquette is always important, but during these times it is critical that we follow both trail etiquette and the guidelines from public health officials so we can keep ourselves and the larger community safe and healthy.


What is trail etiquette and why does it matter?

Graphic from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

Trail etiquette is a set of guidelines that all trail users should follow so everyone can enjoy the outdoors respectfully. 

  1. Uphill users have the right of way.
    • If you are descending a slope or a trail, step off to the side for folks coming up the trail. It’s usually easier for the person descending to stop rather than making the person heading uphill stop and regain momentum to start up again.
  2. If you are a solo hiker, move to the side for groups to pass.
    • It’s much easier for a single person to step to the side than to make an entire group move off the trail
    • Make sure to step off to the right and pass on the left.
  3. Bikers always yield to hikers and both bikers and hikers always yield to horses.
    • Although many of the trails we enjoy in the Central Wasatch are in watersheds and horses are not allowed, this is an important rule to know. If you are on a bike, you yield to everyone else, it doesn’t matter if you are going uphill or downhill. 
  4. Don’t blast music or make loud phone calls.
    • If you need to listen to music or make a call, don’t have the volume up for other trail users to hear. 
    • If you do decide to wear headphones, wear one earbud so you can hear people behind if they need to pass.
  5. If you need to go to the bathroom and there aren’t any other options, make sure to go at least 200’ from a trail or water source
  6. Make sure to be kind to other trail users. After all, the reason many people go outside is to find peace and release energy. There is no need to be angry and aggressive to other recreationalists. Be nice to everyone and say hi!
  7. Follow all Leave No Trace principles.


Trail etiquette + COVID-19 importance

Trail etiquette is now looking different as we all live through this unprecedented time of the pandemic. There are more guidelines we all must follow to keep ourselves and our communities healthy. The list below is compiled information from the Outdoor Alliance, the CDC, and the Utah Coronavirus Task Force. Here are the main guidelines we all must follow when going outside during the COVID-19 pandemic:

    1. Practice social distancing. Make sure you are at least 6 feet away from anyone you see who doesn’t live in your household. When stepping off a trail to let others pass, step a bit farther off than you normally would. When doing so, try to step onto rocks to avoid disturbing vegetation.
    2. Go alone or with people in your household. Try to minimize your exposure to people outside of your household to stop the spread of the virus.
    3. Do not congregate at trailheads, on the trail, or at the car. Unfortunately, one of the best parts of outdoor recreation is hanging out with friends and enjoying the time before or after an excursion. However, now is not the time to congregate and the better we are at keeping our distance, the sooner we can celebrate outdoor adventures with friends.
    4. Do not recreate in large groups.
    5. Stay close to home. We are lucky to be surrounded by mountain ranges both along the Wasatch Front and Wasatch Back. There are plenty of

      Photo of Paintbrush blooming on the Wasatch Crest captured by John Woeste.

      options to safely recreate close to home.

      • Although the Stay Home Stay Safe Directive from Governor Gary Herbert is no longer in place, it’s still important to wear a mask when in public, wash or sanitize your hands often, socially distance, and self-quarantine if you or someone you’ve been in contact with is feeling ill.
    6. Wash your hands and/or sanitize often. Bring hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes in your backpack. Make sure to wash your hands when getting home from an outdoor adventure.
    7. Don’t share gear or food with people outside of your household. If you must share gear, make sure to sanitize it before and after use.
    8. Keep your adventures mellow. It is not the time to make risky decisions because if you get hurt or someone in your group gets hurt, you may have to call search and rescue, which will put others at risk for infection and put more strain on the already overwhelmed healthcare system. Think about the safety of our healthcare workers before you decide to do anything risky.
    9. Follow the latest updates and guidelines from the county and state health departments.
    10. UPDATE: The CDC, state, and county health officials recommend wearing a cloth mask or face covering when you leave home. This includes on trails.
    11. If you feel at all sick, stay home until you feel healthy.

The pandemic is a continually evolving issue and we get new information and regulations each day. Make sure to check the status and updates from the local recreation areas you want to visit before going.

Those of us who live near the Central Wasatch are extremely lucky to have outdoor recreation opportunities right in our backyards. Right now, trail etiquette and extra precautions due to COVID-19 are crucial for the health of our broader community.



1: Outdoor Alliance

2: Utah Coronavirus Website


4: CDC


Written by Quinn Graves

Edited by Lindsey Nielsen

2 thoughts on “Trail Etiquette during a Pandemic”

  1. Brian Hutchinson says:

    The CDC recommends the use of masks, which serve to protect others by stemming the spread of COVID-19. Effective designs could range from bandanas to N95 masks and should be required of all who venture outside their homes.
    Utah’s head epidemiologist, Dr Angela Dunn, recommends spacing of at least 15-feet on trails. One-way signs would help to maintain spacing on narrow trails.
    The CWC should take this opportunity to spread the word on CDC recommendations through its website, its membership, and the media. Mask requirements should be posted at the gateways to Wasatch roads and at trailheads.
    This simple safety measure would improve the Wasatch experience.

    1. Kevin Dwyer says:

      Masks are a good idea, especially on popular trails.

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