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Mutli-use & Single-track Trail Running Tips

Over the last two decades there has been significant growth of the multi-use trail system. The Road Runners Club of America takes this opportunity to share these important safety tips when training on the growing number of multi-use trails around the country. These safety tips, coupled with the RRCA General Running Safety Tips should help keep you and everyone else on the multi-use trail safe.

  • Follow the rules of the road - travel on the right and pass on the left.
  • Don’t run down the middle of the trail. Run to the right side to allow others to pass safely.
  • Don’t wear headphones—but if you insist on going against this RRCA safety guideline, keep the volume low or only wear one headphone.
  • If you are running an out-and-back route on a trail, don’t just make a sudden u-turn at your turn around point. Stop, step to the right to allow oncoming traffic the opportunity to pass. If you are wearing headphones, now is a good time to pop out an earphone to make sure no one is approaching. Ensure the trail is clear of oncoming traffic (runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, etc.) then make your u-turn. Making a sudden u-turn without looking over your shoulder is a good way to get hit by an oncoming cyclist or skater.
  • Avoid running on trails in the evening if they are not well lit and do not have regular traffic.
  • Never run more than two abreast if you are running in a group. Don’t be a trail hog. While pedestrians have the right of way on most trails, the goal is to share the trails.
  • Alert people when you are passing them—don’t assume they are aware of their surroundings. A simple “on your left” warning will suffice.
  • Be alert on blind curves.
  • Stop at stop signs if the trail crosses a roadway. Don’t assume cars on the road will stop for the trail crossing.
  • Be mindful of young children on the trail—their movements can be unpredictable. Slowing the pace a bit when you pass small children on the trail is a wise idea. Use this as an opportunity to slow the pace then pick up the tempo.
  • Respect private property along the trail.
  • Don’t litter. If you can’t find a trash can, carry your trash home.
  • Get approval from local authorities before planning a race or training event on your local multi-use trail.

Single Track Trail Tips

American Trail Running Association Rules on the Run

“Rules on the Run” are principles of trail running etiquette that foster environmentally-sound and socially-responsible trail running. These principles emulate the well-established principles of Leave No Trace , and Rules of the Trail by the IMBA. The American Trail Running Association (ATRA)*, believes that by educating trail runners to observe “Rules on the Run,” trail runners will be able to enjoy continued access to their favorite trails and trail running competitions.

  1. Stay on Trail

    Well marked trails already exist; they are not made on the day you head out for a run, i.e., making your o wn off-trail path. There is nothing cool about running off trail, bushwhacking over and under trees, or cutting switchbacks up the side of a hill or mountain. Such running creates new trails, encourages others to follow in your footsteps (creating unmarked “social trails”), and increases the runner’s footprint on the environment. When multiple trails exist, run on the one that is the most worn. Stay off closed trails and obey all posted regulations.

  2. Run Over Obstacles

    Run single file in the middle of a trail, even when laden with a fresh blanket of snow or muddy. Go through puddles and not around them. Running around mud, rocks, or downed tree limbs widens trails, impacts vegetation, and causes further and unnecessary erosion. Use caution when going over obstacles, but challenge yourself by staying in the middle of the trail. If the terrain is exceedingly muddy, refrain from running on the trails so that you don’t create damaging “potholes” in the surface. Moisture is the chief factor that determines how traffic (from any user group) affects a trail. For some soil types, a 100-pound runner can wreak havoc on a trail surface in extremely wet conditions. In dry conditions the same trail might easily withstand a 1,200 -pound horse/rider combination. There are many situational factors to consider when making your trail running decision. Trails that have been constructed with rock work, or those with soils that drain quickly, may hold up to wet conditions—even a downpour. But, in general, if the trail is wet enough to become muddy and hold puddles ALL user groups should avoid it until the moisture has drained.

  3. Run Only on Officially Designated Open Trails

    Respect trail and road closures and avoid trespassing on private land. Get permission first to enter and run on private land. Obtain permits or authorization that may be required for some wilderness areas and managed trail systems. Leave gates as you’ve found them. If you open a gate, be sure to close it behind you. Make sure the trails you run on are officially designated routes, not user created routes. When in doubt, ask the land managing agency or individuals responsible for the area you are using.

  4. Respect Animals

    Do not disturb or harass wildlife or livestock. Animals scared by your sudden approach may be dangerous. Give them plenty of room to adjust to you. Avoid trails that cross known wildlife havens during sensitive times such as nesting or mating. When passing horses use special care and follow directions from the horseback riders. Running cattle is a serious offense. Consider turning around and going another direction when faced with disturbing large herds of animals, especially in winter when animals are highly stressed already.

  5. Keep Your Dog on a Leash

    Unless otherwise posted, keep your dog on a leash and under control at all times. Dogs running off leash may result in adverse impacts on terrain and wildlife and degrade the outdoor experience of other trail users. If an area is posted “no dogs” obey signage. This may mean that you leave your dog at home. It is also imperative that you exercise Leave No Trace practices with respect to removing any dog waste, packing out what your dog may leave on the trail. Be prepared with a plastic bag and carry the waste until you come across a proper disposal receptacle.

  6. Don’t Startle Other Trail Users

    A quick moving trail runner, especially one who seemingly emerges from out of nowhere on an unsuspecting trail user, can be quite alarming. Give a courte ous and audible announcement well in advance of your presence and intention to pass hikers on the trail stating something like, “On your left,” or “Trail” as you approach the trail users. Keep in mind your announcement doesn’t work well for those who are wearing headphones and blasting music. Show respect when passing, by slowing down or stopping if necessary to prevent accidental contact. Be ready to yield to all other trail users (bikers, hikers, horses) even if you have the posted right of way. Uphill runners yield to downhill runners in most situations.

  7. Be Friendly

    The next step after not startling someone is letting them know that they have a friend on the trail. Friendly communication is the key when trail users are yielding to one another. A “Thank you” is fitting when others on the trail yield to you. A courteous, “Hello, how are you?” shows kindness which is particularly welcome.

  8. Don’t Litter

    Pack out at least as much as you pack in. Gel wrappers with their little torn-off tops, and old water bottles don’t have a place on the trail. Consider wearing apparel with pockets that zip or a hydration pack that has a place to secure litter you find on the trail. Learn and u se minimum impact techniques to dispose of human waste.

  9. Run in Small Groups

    Split larger groups into smaller groups. Larger groups can be very intimidating to hikers and have a greater environmental impact on trails. Most trail systems, parks, and wilderness areas have limits on group size. Familiarize yourself with t he controlling policy and honor it.

  10. Safety

    Know the area you plan to run in and let at least one other person know where you are planning to run and when you expect to return. Run with a buddy if possible. Take a map with you in unfamiliar areas. Be prepared for the weather and conditions prevailing when you start your run and plan for the worst, given the likely duration of your run. Carry plenty of water, electrolyte replacement drink, or snacks for longer runs. Rescue efforts can be treacherous in remote areas . ATRA does not advise the use of headphones or iPods. The wearer typically hears nothing around them to include approaching wildlife, and other humans. The most important safety aspect is to know and respect your limits. Report unusually dangerous, unsafe, or damaging conditions and activities to the proper authorities.

  11. Leave What You Find

    Leave natural or historic objects as you find them, this includes wildflowers and native grasses. Removing or collecting trail markers is serious vandalism that puts others at risk.

  12. Giving Back

    Volunteer, support, & encourage others to participate in trail maintenance days.

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