Good Trail Etiquette Has Never Been More Essential Than It Is Right Now.

Posted 04/02/20 by Amy Kapp in Trail Use, Health and Wellness

Minuteman Commuter Bikeway | Courtesy Friends of Lexington Bikeways

Right now, at least 261 million Americans are on orders to shelter-in-place or stay-at-home. The entire country is looking for ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, so extreme social distancing is in effect—meaning that we need to stay at home and leave our houses only for essential work and activities. For millions of people, this also includes outdoor exercise, as long as they maintain a 6-foot distance from others and avoid group activity.

The search for safe ways to maintain wellness has led many people to outdoor places like parks and trails where they can walk, bike and be active. Resulting surges in trail use, recorded across the country last week, have put significant pressure on the nation’s trail system, forcing many local elected officials and trail managers to close parks and trails, and limit facilities and services, to enforce social distancing measures.


“We all need to follow the rules set by our local governments to keep ourselves and each other healthy and to keep our local trails open.”

—Brandi Horton, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


Where trails are open—especially in areas where parks and other outdoor recreation facilities have closed—there has been an influx of new users and recognition that safe use and trail etiquette have never been so vital to the health of our nation.

“These activities make it clear that we’ve never needed our parks and public space as desperately as we do right now. But because it’s so hard to be social and practice social distancing at the same time, it’s going to take mindful behavior modification to adjust to the new reality,” wrote Inga Saffron in a March 23 Philadelphia Inquirer column.

Share the Trail “Practice Safe Social Distancing on the Trail" banner in English
Share the Trail “Practice Safe Social Distancing on the Trail" banner in English | Download High Res

So what does this mean right now?

“It’s about using good judgment on where and when we get our exercise outdoors, and how we engage—in a safe distance—with other trail users. We all need to follow the rules set by our local governments to keep ourselves and each other healthy and to keep our local trails open,” said Brandi Horton, spokesperson for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). “In this ‘new normal’ that may be upon us for some time, the way we share the trail with each other, and keep our distance, will go hand in hand.”

Discovering Close-to-Home Trails for Safe Outdoor Activity


“It’s about finding places people may have walked past many times, but never explored before."

—Frederick Schaedtler, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


While many states and communities list outdoor exercise as an essential activity, they caution that people should find close to home opportunities to limit the spread of the virus, and to avoid the potential for issues that could put a strain on local emergency and medical resources. Many trails and recreation facilities have closed vehicle access to mitigate crowding and to discourage visitors from outside the community.

To that end, Frederick Schaedtler, RTC’s chief technology officer, encourages people to look no further than their own neighborhoods. “Many of us may have traveled through our neighborhoods a million times without realizing there’s a local trail or greenway within walking or biking distance.”

For those who are looking for places to be active outside and close to home, Schaedtler recommends TrailLink, RTC’s free trail-finder website and mobile app with information on more than 37,000 miles of multiuse trails across the country. “Since efforts to self-isolate began in earnest over the past few weeks, we’ve seen significant increases in visitors to TrailLink. People are seeking out their local trails right now.”

The website and mobile app include trail maps, walking and biking directions to local trails, contact information for local trail managers, and status updates on trail facilities. Schaedtler and RTC urge all trail users to check with local trail managers to confirm status of facilities prior to visiting, as well as with local government agencies for the most up-to-date public health guidance and laws.

Additionally, trail users can consult local government and trail-manager websites found in these descriptions as means to find other potential local pathways and nature trails. 

“It’s about finding places people may have walked past many times, but never explored before. In this time of uncertainty and increasing stress for all of us, it’s a positive way forward for individuals and families,” said Schaedtler.

TrailLink is a free app in Apple App Store and Google Play
Download the free TrailLink app on iPhone or Android.

Share-the-Trail Rules and Safety Tips

Keep Your Distance graphic in English
Share the Trail “Keep Your Distance" graphic in English | Download High Res

As many rail-trails around the country have experienced diverse trail use for decades—from bicycling and horseback riding, to walking and wheelchair use—RTC has long urged everyone to learn and use good trail etiquette at all times to ensure safe experiences for all trail users. As new users flock to the trails, and as individuals and families continue to look to trails for outdoor activity, this mandate has become all the more critical.

RTC’s suite of resources includes extensive tips for safe social distancing, from staying 6 feet from others and avoiding groups, to washing and hand-sanitizing frequently, and leaving trails immediately if social distancing can’t be maintained.

Additionally, trail users are encouraged to learn the golden rules of safe trail use as people navigate pathways with more, and diverse, trail users, including the following:

  • Use Safe Speeds.
  • Keep Right, Pass Left.
  • Standing Still? Stand Aside.
  • Mind Your Pets.
  • Be Alert.
  • Know and Follow the Rules.
  • Leave No Trace.

A collection of sharable information and resources, including videos, infographics and blogs are available on RTC’s Share the Trail website.

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