Trail Manners for Kids

Teach kids to respect the trail, and fellow hikers, from the start.

Kids hiking on a forest trail
Mike Tauber / Blend Images / Getty Images

Do you hike with your kids? I hope so, because it's an awesome, active family hobby to share. And when you start young, you can easily teach trail manners for kids—as long as you know the ins and outs of trail etiquette too! And, bonus: Learning and observing trail manners means improved behavior and etiquette in other settings too.

Need a trail rules refresher? The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Share the Trails campaign has a good summary that you can review with your family.

The RTC urges trail users of all ages to:

Use Safe Speeds

Some trails actually have speed limits or recommendations, which usually apply to bicycles. If your trails do, be sure to set an example for kids by following the rules. If they don't, teach kids to be aware of others using the trail, and keep their speed safe. Flying by too fast could scare other trail users, not to mention put you at risk of falling and hurting yourself.

Keep Right, Pass Left

Walking or riding at a safe speed doesn't mean you can't pass those who are traveling at a more leisurely pace. Show kids that if they need to pass someone, they ring their bike's bell or politely call out "On your left" to those they're overtaking. Just as you would avoid passing on the right when you're driving, you should do the same when walking or biking on an off-road trail. Predictability keeps everyone safer on the trail.

Standing Still? Stand Aside

Uh oh—kids and parents can easily forget to follow this rule: If you stop moving, get out of the way!

Kids may stop because they've gotten too far ahead of their parents, because they see something interesting to check out, or because they just want a drink of water. If they stop in the trail, others will have to walk or bike around them, or stop suddenly. So teach them to step off the path, or move as far to the side as possible, if they need to stop.

Mind Your Pets

Lots of trails welcome dogs. They are part of your family and enjoy the outdoors. But since other trail users don't know your pup like you do, you should keep him on a (short) leash, and be sure to pick up after him. As RTC notes, "Not all trail users know how to act around pets, and vice versa." So it's up to you, your pet's family, to keep him under control. That way he won't scare anyone, or get spooked himself!

Be Alert

This is one of the most basic manners kids should learn, both on the trail and off. It simply means being aware of your surroundings, and respectful of those around you. If you're stopping or changing directions, for example, look around first to see if anyone's behind you. "Be aware of how much space you are occupying on the trail and how much space others are occupying, as well," says RTC. "And of course, be respectful of that space."

Know and Follow the Rules

The preceding are general trail manners for kids and families to follow wherever they are. This one is about knowing the specifics of the trail you're on.

Before you visit a new trail, check online or at the trailhead or parking area for a list of rules and guidelines specific to that trail. For example, many parks and trails have rules about what you can take into or out of the area, which promotes responsible hiking.

Just like rule #5, this is one of those manners that's good for kids to learn no matter what: It's polite to find out about and follow the rules wherever you are, from a friend's house to a new classroom to a hiking trail or park.

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