The Not-Quite-Right Guide to Outdoor Etiquette

I was out running on a trail the other day and a group of mountain bikers came roaring down the hill at me, never slowing down, forcing me off the trail. What is the trail etiquette for this? 

      —  Edwin, Grand Junction CO

Ahh, a great question with no true definitive answer. I will try to answer it with a combination of common sense, social Darwinism and an agreed-upon social contract. Allow me to explain. First, the generally- agreed-upon social contract is that bikers yield to runners/hikers, and that everyone yields to horses. Additionally, if one encounters an equal, the person going downhill yields to the person going uphill for the simple reason that it is easier to get going again downhill than it is to get going uphill. Thus, a horse traveling uphill is the trail equivalent of Zeus’ wife Hera (let’s face it  —  even old Zeus after a long day of being God of Gods trembled when Hera asked, “Whose lipstick is that on your toga?”). An additional note here: when encountering a horse on a trail, always step to the downhill side and don’t make any sudden or loud moves. The reason behind this is that if the horse does get spooked, it is more likely to run uphill rather than downhill. You’re welcome. 

    While this is the correct answer, much like my freshman philosophy class it doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world. Enter common sense (this may be a challenge for some). Personally, I am a runner  —  trail and otherwise. I have been running from fights, commitments, and my wife for more than 40 years (she could teach Kit Carson a few things about tracking). As a runner, the horse thing isn’t much of a problem. I step aside, they go by. When I encounter mountain bikers, I again step to the side and just let them go by. It doesn’t matter if I’m going uphill or downhill. It’s just common sense that it is easier for me to step off the trail, not to mention less impactful. That said, it does chap me when the entitled smug biker who I’ve allowed to pass doesn’t bother with a “thank you.” A little politeness goes a long way. A nice gesture by the first rider is “Thanks, three more behind me.” 

    Now, if you want to reject all of the above and test the social Darwinism theory, then be my guest. If you are a cranky runner/hiker going uphill and see a 220-pound mountain biker coming down (kudos to the big boy for getting up that hill) and you choose to test the right-of-way theory, then good luck. I dare say mass x acceleration = a lot of pain (Newton’s initial theory). If you feel the need to challenge a 1,900-pound horse thinking ‘prove to me that is a horse and it will not hurt’ (Thomas Reid, freshman philosophy), then all the more power to you. The trails will be less crowded after your funeral. 


I was recently visiting the Grand Valley and couldn’t believe how amazing it is. There is so much to do and see. Our family had a blast and enjoyed our stay. Is there anything that makes the Grand Valley so great? 

      —  Denise, New York NY

Yup, Peter Hessler doesn’t live here.


We are heading up to the Mesa for a fall hike. Should we be worried about hunters? 

Any tips? 

      —  Bill, Denver CO

Great question, Bill. The obvious joke here is something about Cheney, but I prefer to be taken seriously as a journalist. First, it is never a bad idea to use a little caution when going into the woods during hunting season. Personally, I am weak and carry no real meat on my bones, so no hunter would bother taking a shot at me. Heck, at my age you could say I got a touch of chronic wasting disease (my staff is checking to see if that is the first chronic wasting joke ever). Best advice here is to wear some bright colors and stick to the main trails. Make some noise as you move along to let everyone and everything know you are coming. If you are worried or want some better ideas, check with the Division of Wildlife’s website. 

    A catch-all would be to buy a couple of those antler hats and send the in-laws ahead of you to make sure the coast is clear. Two birds, one stone. Problems solved. :