10 Rules of Trail Etiquette to Follow on Your Sedona Vacation
Ah, the great outdoors. A place where a human can finally be free. Rules? Who needs ‘em?
I hate to tell you this, pardner, but you do. Like any sport, there are rules to the game of exploring nature’s playground. Following them preserves delicate environments for future visitors to enjoy, protects everyone’s safety and ensures maximum enjoyment for all. What are the rules of trail etiquette? Learn the following ten before heading out on your trek.
1. Use Your Inside Voices
People flee to the wilderness to relax and get away from the madding crowds. If you’re hiking with your family, you don’t have to transform into Trappist monks. However, you should save the hootin’ and hollerin’ for your next theme park adventure.
There is one exception to the rule, courtesy of Yogi and Boo-Boo — when hiking in bear country, make some noise. Sedona does get the occasional bruin, but if you stay primarily on the most well-known trails, you shouldn’t have to worry. If you plan on doing some deep-woods exploration, you might want to whistle and clap the “Colonel Bogey March” from Bridge on the River Kwai.
2. Yield to Uphill Traffic
Red rock country offers a smorgasbord of trail variety — you’ll find everything from paved, wheelchair-accessible strolls to hardcore climbs that require bouldering skills. Climbing always entails some degree of exertion. Therefore, you should show mercy by yielding the right of way for those going uphill.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned on my solo jaunts, it’s that the rules don’t apply in every situation. If you see a mountain biker approaching at a rapid enough speed that a sudden stop will toss them over the handlebars, step aside. Yes, you have the “right” to stand your ground, but it won’t make the encounter end pleasantly for anyone.
3. Take Only Photographs
Some folks remember when Vanessa Hudgens visited Sedona for all the wrong reasons. Don’t repeat her mistake. Yes, you love your current beau more than anyone in the whole wide world, and you want to announce it. Here’s a suggestion — take a photo at the Chapel of the Holy Cross and enclose it in your wedding invitations. Don’t carve trees or rocks, leave trash behind, or pick wildflowers. Follow the maxim “Take only photographs; leave only footprints.”
4. Hike Single File
The desert soil, including the gorgeous red stuff of Sedona, contains a biological crust vital to the ecosystem. Soil stabilization is vital in arid regions — like the desert southwest — where large expanses lack plant cover. Soil crusts reduce or eliminate erosion by water and wind while also retaining moisture and providing a sheltered area where foliage can germinate.
The bottom line? Tramping this crust can destroy delicate ecosystems. Hike single file so that you can stay on the trail and minimize any damage.
5. Learn the Trail Hierarchy
You’ll find a variety of people enjoying the Sedona trails. Some come on horseback, others ride bikes and still more — like yours truly — prefer two-footed locomotion. Learn the following rules:
Horses: Horses take precedence over bikers or hikers. Grant them right of way and mind you don’t step in any fresh apples.
Hikers: Next on the trail-use hierarchy are hikers. Again, though, be a kind neighbor. In general, bikers can maneuver more quickly than those on foot, but that rule doesn’t always apply along cliff ledges or steep screes. If you can see refusing to move puts a fellow traveler at risk, follow the Golden Rule, please.
- Bikers: With apologies to the tight-shorts set, you should yield right of way to both hikers and horses. I can guarantee you, if you do this, you will impress folks like me who sometimes scratch our heads and wonder what the world is coming to when folks can’t follow a few simple rules.
6. Leash Your Doggo
You love your pup, and you know he always comes when called. Guess who doesn’t? That hiker ahead of you who once suffered a severe bite. Plus, we do have skunks around these parts, and I have yet to visit a state in the U.S. who didn’t have some species of the critter. Do you really want to drive home with Eau de Pepé le Pew stinking up your Subaru?
7. Greet Fellow Outdoors Folk
Folks around these parts tend to be mighty friendly. Plus, when you’re outdoors, your endorphins start flowing, and you’re riding a natural high — smile! Stop and exchange a few words, even if it’s only, “have a fabulous hike.” Why? If you get lost in the woods, these folks might become your tickets back to safety. They’ll remember seeing you, and they can point rescuers in the correct direction.
8. Leave Cairns Alone (and Don't Build New Ones)
When you visit nearly any Sedona trail, you’ll find piles of rocks, called cairns. These markers tell fellow travelers which ways to go. Many of those on the well-traveled paths are unmistakable. They’re barrel-sized and wrapped in chicken wire. On lesser known treks, you might see more primitive models.
Leave them alone, and don’t build new ones. Somebody who is counting on that marker won’t be able to find it if you destroy it, and too many can confuse even veteran hikers.
9. Tell People Where You're Going
The standard advice is to never hike alone. However, while I might not be as lie-pure as George Washington reputedly was, I can’t be a hypocrite like that. One thing you must do — especially if you head out solo — is to tell people where you are going and what time you expect to return.
Don’t make the mistake of relying on your cellphone. Many remote trails in the region don’t get reception, and although I speak only from personal experience, yes, the vortices here can mess with electronic devices. Even a compass can steer you wrong if the metal in your clothing messes with the magnetic field.
10. Stay on the Trail
Although this advice could fall under the single-file category, it’s critical to stay on the trail for a reason other than soil-crust preservation — saving your hide. Some of the trails in the region are rather small and challenging to find in the summer when growth is high.
If you stay close to town, you can generally find your way by heading toward a landmark, but distances in the desert are wily things. It can take hours to reach something that seems only a mile or so away. Plus, when you enter a ravine or heavily wooded area, you can’t see the red rocks for the trees. The best way to avoid getting lost is to stay on the trail. That way, you can always turn around and return the way you came.
Follow These Trail Etiquette Rules for a Safe, Enjoyable Outdoor Excursion
The outdoors offers fun for everyone, but like anything else, you’ll have a better time if you play by the rules. Learn proper hiking etiquette and enjoy your adventure!