yellow cyclists please control your speed share the trail sign with symbols Photo Credit: Justin Smith (iStock).

Photo Credit: Justin Smith (iStock).

With temperatures heating up around the state of Colorado, trails are sure to get more crowded. To avoid collisions, arguments, and awkward moments, it's important to understand how 'right-of-way' works on the trail in Colorado.

Here's a quick breakdown of what you need to know:

1. Everyone stops for horses. Whether you're on a bike, walking, or using any other sort of trail transportation, you're directed to stop for equestrians. Horses take up a lot of room on the trail and may be subject to spooking, which makes giving them space important from a safety standpoint.

2. Bikers yield to everyone. When operated in a fast and careless manner, bikes can pose a major risk to everyone on the trail due to their size, speed, and inability to stop quickly in all situations. Because of this, they should be operated with caution on multi-use trails. That's not to say a faster biker can't overtake another trail user, but this should be done in a safe and courteous manner.

3. Those on foot only yield to horses, but there's nothing wrong with extending that to others when the time is right. Because hikers tend to require much less momentum to keep moving, the courteous thing to do can be to let bikers and other faster trail users pass when safe and appropriate. If you're a hiker and you happen to hear the bell of a biker coming your way, anticipate their arrival and, if possible, let them pass without disrupting their flow.

4. Downhill users yield to uphill users. Everyone knows that the uphill grind is tough – these trailgoers need to maintain their momentum. It's also often much easier to stay in control while moving uphill versus downhill and it's safer if the slower, uphill trailgoer is the one making the pass in this type of situation.

5. Faster users yield to slower users. There's nothing wrong with passing people on the trail, but it should be done so in a courteous manner. Give people a heads up you're making a pass by calling ahead or by using a bell. Give others adequate time to move to the side of the trail, even if this requires coming to a full stop. When alerted from behind of an approaching trailgoer, many can react with shock, making their movements less predictable for a brief moment. Give them space.

NOTE: Simply yelling ahead or ringing a bell might not be enough to make a safe pass. Hearing impairment, strong winds, and headphones (not recommended for use on the trail) can block sound. Even if you signal ahead, still be prepared to stop and wait to make a slow pass should another trailgoer not react or move slowly.

6. Be respectful to all trail users. Communication is key to avoiding conflicts when it comes to right-of-way. Let the trailgoers ahead of you know what you're doing (for example, say "passing on your right"). Be willing to slow down to make a safe pass. If it makes sense for another person to pass you, let them do so without difficulty or conflict.

7. Avoid stepping off the trail. When passing or getting passed, it's easy to justify taking a few steps off the trail, especially in the age of social distancing. Try to avoid doing this when possible and safe, as stepping off of the trail can damage the surrounding terrain and can be a factor in trail erosion.

8. Plan ahead. Add a bell to your bike to make your presence known. Know how you're going to effectively communicate your movement to those ahead of you prior to breathing down their neck. If you're moving quickly, pick your route accordingly and maybe saving that more popular trail for a different activity or less crowded time of the day.

In conclusion – follow these rules and be courteous. I get it – your Strava time might suffer after getting off your bike to let a group of horses pass, but know you're doing your part in making the trail a safer place for everyone involved.

Read more about right-of-way from Colorado Parks and Wildlife here.

Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run.

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