TRAIL ETIQUETTE - by Joe Flannery, US Forest Service

Joe Flannery


TRAIL ETIQUETTE - In Western Nevada County, the US Forest Service trail system can provide visitors their first glimpses of spring: bright green buckeye leaves unfurling in the sun; orange and purple wildflowers popping along ridgelines; swollen creeks crashing with Sierra snowmelt.  And while a new wonder lies around every bend, National Forest trail users should also be aware of something else lurking around that same corner this time of year –other visitors using the same trail.

“Spring is definitely a time for trail sharing,” says Paul Hart, a Trails Manager for Tahoe National Forest. Paul manages both the Burlington and Lone Grave trail systems which contain over seventy miles of trails open to the public in April and May. Both systems, which include the popular Pioneer trail, are located off Highway 20 east of Nevada City.

While other trails on the Tahoe National forest are still covered in snow, these two trail systems offer early-season opportunities for motorized and non-motorized trail use. “It’s one of the reasons we’ve been adding trails to our lower elevation system,” says Hart, “They’re real popular, especially during spring.” The only problem? Limited supply, but plenty of demand during this time of year.  “Visitors to these trails should expect higher densities than normal in spring,” Paul explained. “Be prepared to encounter all kinds of folks out there –equestrians, hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, dog-walkers, and children. And the Burlington system is a multiple-use system, so add motorcycles to that mix as well.” 

The need to share uses is especially true on new and popular trails like the Hoot trail which connects Rock Creek to the Dascombe Loop. Popular with both equestrians and mountain bikers, the Hoot trail will undoubtedly see increased use this spring from both groups –which could lead to visitor conflict. Paul previously worked in Sedona, AZ, a popular multiple-use trail region, and has seen this pattern before.  “I’m confident the local user groups will find ways to share the Hoot trail with one another before the Forest Service needs to step in. They’re already on the right track,” Hart says, referring to the peer to peer communication and volunteer patrols local trail groups are just beginning to initiate. “It really just comes down to common decency and learning proper trail etiquette –especially in spring.”

Trail etiquette generally means four things: Always yield to uphill traffic; hikers, bikers and motorcyclists yield to equestrians; bikers and motorcyclists yield to hikers; and tread lightly on all trail surfaces –take it easy on the brakes and avoid using trails during muddy or wet periods. 

The best method of trail etiquette might be a simple wave or greeting; pleasant methods of communication to match the sunny hillsides and blue skies.  For in spring, it’s far better to enjoy whatever lies around the next corner. Keep your eyes out for both flowers and fellow users.  Happy Trails.