Rules of the Trail

Multi-use/shared-use trails for walkers (with or without pets), runners, unicyclists, bicyclists, tricyclists skaters, wheelchairs, and sometimes horses. Every trail rider needs to know and obey the "Rules of the Trail" to promote responsible and courteous conduct on multi-use/shared-use trails. Keep in mind that conventions for yielding and passing may vary in different locations, or with different traffic conditions. 

The following are some rules of the trail that have been culled from numerous cities and biking organizations.

Pedestrian laws for the State of North Carolina
Bicycle laws for the State of North Carolina

Respect trail and road closures. If signs indicate a trail is closed, do not use it. Do not trespass on private land. Designated state or federal wilderness areas do not permit bicycles.

Leave no trace
. Stay on existing trails; do not create new ones. Do not cut switchbacks. Be sure to pack out at least as much as you pack in. Do not litter. Avoid trampling native vegetation. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage so when the trail bed is soft, consider other riding options. Leave only footprints (or tire tracks); take only photographs.

Control your bicycle or horse
. Inattention for even a moment could put yourself and others at risk. Obey all bicycle speed regulations and recommendations, and ride within your limits. Insure you have the correct type of bicycle for the type of riding you are doing and that it is capable of safely handing the speed you are going and the terrain on which you are riding.

Be predictable
. Travel in a consistent and predictable manner. Always look behind before changing positions on the trail. If you do what people would ordinarily expect you to do, then they will know how to avoid you.

Be courteous. Being courteous goes a long way in making a day on the trail a good experience for everyone. Even if you are a caring and friendly person, as a bicyclist with your helmet, sunglasses, and a facial expression concentrating on the trail, you may appear intimidating to other trail users. When you meet or pass other trail users, say “good morning,” “hi,” “hello,” or just nod. Acknowledge that you recognize and respect them as fellow human beings.

Travel right! All pedestrian, cyclist, or equestrian traffic should stay to the right side of the trail. When meeting oncoming traffic, stay toward outer edge of the trail. Walk, run, or ride in single file. It makes things safer for everyone.

Pass left! Only pass on the left and as far left as safely possible. Use hand signals to alert those behind you of your moves. Scan ahead, beside, and behind and then alert the other person before passing. Not everyone understands what to do when you call “on your left” or “bike on left.” A simple loud “hello” will alert them to your presence. A bike bell or squeeze horn may be useful. Pull out only when you are sure the lane is clear. Yield to oncoming traffic. Pass carefully and slowly. Even if you do not brake, stop pedaling as you pass the person; it makes the person think that you are being considerate and careful even when you are moving fast. Allow plenty of room, about two bike lengths, before moving back to the right. When passing, always assume the people being passed are oblivious to everything around them, and pass accordingly. Then when they to something stupid, you are still able to make a safe pass. If more bikes are passing with you, tell the people being passed about them. Thank people who step to the side for you.

Yield appropriately. Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you are coming; a friendly greeting or bell ring are good methods. Anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to all other trail users, unless the trail is clearly marked for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to cyclists headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly marked for one-way or downhill-only traffic. It is more difficult for an uphill rider to restart after slowing or stopping than it is for a downhill rider. The person with the right-of-way may choose their path. They may not follow the convention of staying to the right if that is not their best path. When yielding on narrow trails, use the "single track yield." This is where you stop to the outside of the trail, put the outside foot down, and then lean both the body and bike away from the trail. In general, strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.

Motor vehicle traffic.
 Stop, look and listen for motor traffic before proceeding across a road! These intersections are usually marked with stop signs for trail traffic, but the crossing motor traffic does not have to stop.

Never scare animals. Animals are easily startled by an unannounced approach, a sudden movement, or a loud noise. Give livestock and other animals enough room and time to adjust to you.

Pets. Pets on the trail should be on a short leash and under control at all times. Please remove pet wastes.

Horses. Horses are easily startled; but they recognize the human voice more so than bells. You want to start talking from about 50-75 ft. away if you can. For bikers, if you meet an horse on a trail, immediately slow down and stop at least 30 feet from the horse, move to the downhill side to let them pass. Greet the equestrian and the horse. Speaking shows the horse you are human and not a threat. Talk to the rider and respect how they prefer to pass with their horse. Never pass too close to a horse; try to keep a six-foot buffer zone. The rider will appreciate your courtesy. Horse's with ears flattened all the way back are irritated and may kick. Equestrians should ride with caution, respect pedestrians and bikers, and understand that they may not know how to behave around horses.

Lights. Reflective clothing does not help in the absence of light. Be equipped with lights when using a trail at any time from dusk to dawn. Bicyclists should have a white light visible from five-hundred feet to the front and a red or amber light visible from five-hundred feet to the rear. Other trail users should have white lights visible from two-hundred fifty feet to the front, and a red or amber light visible from two-hundred fifty feet to the rear. Most pedestrians will not have lights at night so watch for them, since you will overtake them quickly in the dark. A high visibility jersey helps make you more visible on wooded trails with filtered sunlight.

Do not block the trail. For pedestrian, bicycle or equestrian groups, stay in single file. When you stop, ensure the group knows it and that it is obvious to other trail users that the group is stopping. Gather in a group on the right side of the trail or off the trail, preferably on a straight section of the trail. Do not stop in curve or just past a curve.

No alcohol or drugs. Do not use a trail while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You may need to use all your reflexes quickly, so do not be impaired.

Trail limits. Trails have engineering and design limits. If your speed or riding style exceeds trail limits or endangers other users, check for alternative routes better suited to your needs. Selecting the right location is safer and more enjoyable for all concerned.

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