SALT LAKE CITY — The Wasatch Mountains are beautiful and alluring and because of that they are getting busier. Arrive at any major trailhead along the Wasatch Front on a weekend and you'll be one of 30 or more cars parked in the lot or along the road.
Once on the trail, you'll pass droves of hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and if you're in a spot that allows it, motorized ATV users. Everyone has a right to experience the beauty of the mountains and the trails that access them. However, there is oftentimes confusion about who has the right of way when traveling up and down the trail and whether you should even stay on the trail or not.
Here are three simple rules to remember when accessing the mountains. These rules apply to any trail, anywhere in the world and will help you have a more enjoyable experience when in the outdoors.
Uphill runners/hikers have the right of way
Pertaining to foot traffic, whether hiking or running, uphill travelers always have the right of way. If you are a downhill mover and you come upon uphill traffic, step aside to the inside (uphill) of the trail and allow others to pass freely.
It takes more effort for an uphill hiker or runner to stop and restart than it does for a downhill traveler. Be considerate and allow those moving uphill to continue moving.
Most vulnerable traveler has the right of way
The general rule regarding who has the right of way when multiple styles of travel are involved is simple: the most vulnerable has the right of way.
It goes as follows: horses always have the right of way, no matter what. Then foot traffic (hikers and runners). Then bikers (road or mountain). Finally, motorized ATV.
If you are driving a motorized vehicle off a paved road, in a situation where one party must give way to another, the motorized vehicle never has the right of way. And if true etiquette is to be followed, all motorized vehicles should be turned off as motorless travelers pass by.
Always stay on the trail
It seems like a simple principle, however, it is likely the most violated rule of them all. Cutting switchbacks erodes soil and trail stability. Going completely off-trail can have even more drastic impacts, such as crushing scarce foliage or even worse, destroying cryptogamic soil — an association of algae, lichen, mosses, and fungi. This precious non-plant conglomerate contributes to soil hydration and the overall health of the ecosystem. Destroying it is not only extremely insensitive, but even unlawful if it's in part of a national park or other protected area.
As crowds increase in our national forests, it becomes more and more important to be sensitive to the environment and other people who are using it. Remember the simple rule: the most vulnerable has the right of way, beginning with the plants.
As visitors we owe it to Mother Nature to leave her better than when we arrived. Protect her by picking up garbage left by others and do everything in your power to reduce your own impact. You may be able to enjoy it now, but if we fail to protect it, what will be left for our children and our grandchildren? Be kind to Mother Nature and be kind to others.