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Who Goes First? 10 Rules for Off-road Trail Etiquette

chicks on the rocks

If you’ve ever met another off-roader on trail and wondered who goes first, this is the post for you. And, it’s always a good review for veteran trail runners. Since I run an outdoor/off-road blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t post a thorough list of off-road rules; here’s what I think is important.

1. Stay on the trail. Go over the obstacle (or remove it), or through the mud, or turn around. Do not bash a new path around a mud hole or fallen tree. Off-road trails are designated as such by the forest service to provide recreation options while protecting the local flora and fauna that are so important to the environment. Tearing it up off the trail results in trail closures and less opportunities for fun for all us off-roaders.

2. Vehicles heading uphill have the right-of-way. If you’re driving downhill at all and you meet vehicle(s) you’ll need to pull over to the edge of the trail to let them pass. This may mean backing up until you find an appropriate spot to pull over so as to not flatten vegetation or go off trail. If it’s a straight-through trail you might run it in the uphill direction (if there is that option) to avoid having to pull over to let others pass.

3. Research the trail before you run it to ensure it’s open to your size vehicle. For example, some trails are open to motorcycles or ATVs but not Jeeps, because the trail may not be wide enough for larger rigs.

4. If you’re in a staging area before/after the trail run, to air up or down, don’t block access to/from the trail. This seems common sense.

5. Slow down. Not only does this ensure you have adequate time to respond to trail conditions (mud, blockages, switchbacks), it also provides time to spot oncoming drivers, pull over if required, or approach accordingly. Wheeling slow also ensures your party sticks together, and it helps keep dust to a minimum.

6. Be respectful of others using the trail, and area wildlife. This means showing down and making as little noise as possible (radio, engine) when encountering hikers, bikers, or wildlife.

7. Keep pets under control, and clean up after them. Keep dogs on a leash so they don’t chase wildlife, and don’t leave their waste laying about in the woods, even if you’re miles from civilization and “no one is looking.” Clean up after your pets to keep the backcountry pristine!

8. Pack it in, pack it out. Consider investing in a Trasharoo which you can strap on your spare tire to make packing out garbage super easy. This also allows for picking up other trash along the trail in an impromptu clean-up effort. It goes without saying that this rule means no littering – including and especially no throwing cigarette butts out the window. Not only does cigarette trash mar the landscape, it also increases the risk of a wildfire.

9. If dispersed camping near the trail, ensure you’re respectful of the area and other campers by keeping your garbage contained, food packed away (so as to not lure wildlife), and noise to a minimum. Don’t blast music until midnight and consider no radio at all – do you really need music [noise] in the wonderful solitude of the Great Outdoors? (No, you don’t).

10. Don’t wheel alone. Ok, this isn’t so much a mind-your-manners rule as a safety rule but it’s so important nonetheless. In the high country where anything can happen (vehicle problems, ice and snow even in the summer, etc.) wheeling by your lonesome increases your chances of, well, death. Plus if you’re stuck up there and do manage to get a call out for help, a group needs to come rescue you and now you’ve taken up their time too. So, don’t wheel by yourself.

Have I missed anything? If so, comment below! And, as always, Happy Trails!

Sources, and further info:


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