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Trail Etiquette

The New Outdoors

For the foreseeable future the Covid-19 virus has changed everything about you and the outdoors.

Consider the trails on this website or our handheld app - only partially open.

The personal and public protocol required by emergency orders, and enforced through By-Law, is to stop the spread of the virus.

To do this best:

1. Stay home.

2. If you have been exposed or have any of the symptoms of Covid-19 quarantine yourself for 14 days. Quarantine Information

3. Self-isolation controls the spread. Self-Isolation Information

4. Social distancing is a way to be in public while limiting the chance of transmission. Social Distancing Information

5. Essential trips only.

6. No unnecessary travel. Local use of open spaces only.

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7. TRAILS – some public spaces are open, while on the trail maintain your distance, no group interaction. Single file activity only.

8. Vacancy – many public spaces may be closed, have a trail and yet look open. They may not be. They are just empty. Do not use closed empty spaces.

9. Passing - step as far to the side as possible, note - many trails are too narrow to maintain a 2-metre distance side by side. If you cannot do this along the length of the trail don’t use the trail.

10. Trail Maps - not all trails have signs or maps showing pinch points where the trail narrows to less than 2 meters. Find out about the trail before you use the trail.

11. Trails not otherwise closed are open for “walkable access”. Being open does not mean trail use is encouraged. See 1-6. It means you are not restricted from using the trail for "walkable access." 

12. Other Uses - 

a. Regular Trail Users you know your trail and trail areas best. Perhaps in your area you are more able to maintain your trail use. Please follow steps 1-6, if you do go out do not gather at trailheads, avoid contact with others.

b. Irregular Trail Users - if you are unfamiliar with the trail and the trail area seek out a knowledgeable expert before going out. If one cannot be found because trail supports, the administration or management office is closed - stay home.

13. Your Health and the Health of others is now Your responsibility. Please do your part to reduce the spread of the Novel Corona Virus to 0 transmissions.

As parks and public spaces close, remaining open trails are going to be used more. Concentrated use may be a problem. BE AWARE.

Remember when on the trail, expect and respect other users! A healthy trail attitude includes safety, respect, and relaxation. 


Remember when on the trail, expect and respect other users! A winning trail attitude includes safety, respect, and relaxation. Combine this attitude with the following trail etiquette tips and you will be on your way to an amazing outdoor experience.

TAKE THE SAFE TRAIL USER PLEDGE!

SHARE THE SAFE TRAIL USER PLEDGE POSTER


Hiking the trail – Do’s and Don’ts

  • Research the regulations and special concerns for the area you are planning to hike. Hike only along marked routes, especially on farmland.
  • For your safety and to protect soil from erosion do not take shortcuts.
  • Please do not climb fences; use the stiles.
  • Pets are best left at home. If you do bring them, keep them on a leash and away from water sources and please clean up after them.
  • Respect the sound of nature. Avoid loud voices and noise such as mobile phones and radios.


Hiking people SMILE

  • Respect the privacy of people living along trails.
  • Keep dogs on a leash, especially on or near farmland.
  • Be courteous to other hikers. Say hello to fellow hikers as you pass each other along the trail.
  • Walk, ride or cycle in single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Stay to the right of the trail and pass on the left.
  • If a person is climbing up a hill they have the right of way if you are climbing down.
  • Bike riders yield to both hikers and horseback riders; hikers yield to horseback riders.
  • Visit trails in small groups; split larger parties into smaller groups.
  • Unless you are passing someone on a trail, try to maintain a distance between yourself and other hikers.


OTC Handy Hiker Tips

  • Zip lock bags are very handy for removing rubbish with you and they can be cleaned and recycled once you get home. Make your emergency food rations snacks you don’t really like, you will be less tempted to eat them before you need them.
  • When hiking, groups of 3 or 4 are ideal. If someone is hurt then there is one person to stay behind and one to go get help. But only separate from the group if you know your way and are on a trail you know well.
  • If stopping to let horse riders pass, stand on the downhill side of the path, as it is less threatening to the horse. If you stand uphill the animal may think you are another animal waiting to pounce and get spooked.
  • Hiking with your pet dog. Don’t over-feed or feed your pet on the trail as too much food can cause bloating which can be fatal for dogs. Pack fresh water for your dog and small snacks like power bars specifically made for dogs.
  • Take along a signaling whistle as part of your hiking survival kit. It will make a lot more noise than you yelling you’re lost in the middle of a forest.


Minimal impact approach

  • Leave flowers, wood, rocks, and plants behind in their rightful place for others to enjoy.
  • Avoid tree damage. Do not break branches or strip bark off trees.
  • Leave the trails cleaner than you found them. Carry out all litter.
  • Fires are not permitted along trails, except in approved campsites.
  • Do not build structures, fire rings, furniture or dig trenches.
  • Schedule your hiking or camping trip to avoid times of high use. Aim to lessen the impact of human activity on one area.


Ecosystem healthy manners

  • When camping set up your campsite at least 60 meters [200 feet] from lakes or streams so as not to inhibit area animals from coming to drink water.
  • To wash camping utensils or yourself, carry water at least 60 meters [200 feet] from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
  • Scatter strained dishwater.
  • Garbage disposal is an important issue on trails. As a general rule, pack out all garbage. Do not bury it.
  • Do not assume all waste will biodegrade. For example, orange peels do not decompose easily.
  • Leave your picnic spot or campsite cleaner than you found it.
  • Human waste should be packed out including feminine hygiene products and used toilet tissue. But if this is not feasible, dig a ‘cat hole’ about 10 cm deep and burn the toilet paper after, unless extreme fire hazard. Then refill the hole.
  • Take only pictures and fond memories away with you. Leave only a footprint on the path you have respected.

Please consider the following safety tips to ensure that your outdoor trail experience is a safe and enjoyable one.

Food, water and you

  • Do not push yourself too hard. Hiking is a great way to stay in shape, but can become dangerous if you ignore the warning signs of fatigue.
  • Know your physical capabilities. Don’t attempt difficult trails unless you have the strength and experience.
  • Pack ample supplies: plenty of water, lightweight snacks for energy, sunscreen, a compass, a pocketknife, a hat, a map, insect repellent, and a first aid kit.
  • If using water from natural sources such as, lakes, rivers or ponds, make sure to use purifying tablets as directed. Before consuming water from these sources, boil the water for a few minutes.
  • Break-in your hiking boots or shoes before you go on a hike. This will help to minimize discomfort typically found in new footgear.
  • Layer your clothing to control temperature. Always bring rain gear.
     

Common sense safety

  • Be aware of weather conditions and reports.
  • Be alert of dangers such as poisonous plants, wildlife, and falling rocks.
  • Be careful near cliff edges.
  • Tend any fire you make in an official campsite area with extreme care. Douse it completely with water before you leave the area.
  • Wear a helmet when cycling or trail riding.
  • In winter wear sunglasses, as snowblindness can be very painful and debilitating.
  • When in doubt of trail conditions – turn around and head back the way you came slowly and calmly.
  • Watch for wildlife on roadways, especially at night.


Avoid getting lost

  • Research the regulations and special concerns for the area you are planning to hike.
  • Be aware of sunset and how many hours you have before you are hiking in the dark. Don’t get caught in the dark.
  • Always hike with a partner if possible, if you must hike solo, inform others of your plans and route in advance.
  • Do not venture off marked paths. If you believe that you've gotten off course, retrace your steps back to the last trail marking.
  • Remain in one place if you become lost or separated from your group.
  • Find an open place and wait for rescue. Don’t go wandering around.
  • Don’t separate from each other if you don’t have a clue where you are.


Look, don’t touch

  • Leaves of three, let them be! While on trails, make sure to avoid poisonous plants such as Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.
  • Do not feed or try to pet or play with wild animals.
  • If you come across animals that are clearly sick or injured do not move them, but contact a wildlife officer, the SPCA or the OPP.
  • Leave everything as you found it. It is illegal to disturb plants or wildlife in most areas under federal or provincial jurisdiction, or to remove archaeological artifacts, dead wood, fossils or other geological features. This is particularly important where there are rare, native plants, which are vulnerable to damage.
  • If you must carry away a memento of your visit, make sure it's only a photograph.
  • Report vandalism. Ontario’s Natural Resources Tips Reporting Line is a new toll-free direct line that is open 24 hours a day – call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667). Tell the organization managing the trail, if you can, of any destruction or danger you encounter.


Hiking with baby and young children

  • A baby is old enough to go out on the trails when it can hold its head up without difficulty, usually around six to nine months old.
  • For longer trails you will need a sturdy backpack designed for carrying a child. Look for one that transfers most of the child’s weight to your hips and ample padding in the straps and belts.
  • Hike slowly and with caution when a baby is on board. Kids move unpredictably and may throw you off balance at critical moments.
  • A seated child has a lower center of gravity; it is almost impossible to achieve ideal weight distribution for a small child.
  • Practice carrying your child in a backpack around home or in town before heading out to a trail to hike.
  • Provide children with plenty of small bite-size snacks on a regular basis to prevent crankiness.
  • Bring spare diapers and a re-sealable plastic bag to take them home. Do not bury disposable diapers.
  • Apply sunscreen to children, dress them in bright colours, speak to older children about the importance of stopping and staying on a trail if they become lost.


Near water

  • Practice safety around water.
  • Supervise children at all times.
  • Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), if appropriate.


Wildlife at a distance

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach wild animals.
  • Never feed wildlife. Feeding animals in the wild damages their health and alters natural behaviours.
  • Avoid wild animals when they are: mating, nesting, rearing young or seeking food in winter.
  • Bear safety: visit Bear Wise Ontario for helpful advice.
  • Moose safety: Respect the moose when in your automobile. Drive aware, use caution in signed areas and watch at night.
  • Protecting yourself, your family and pets from rabies. Information from the Ministry of Natural Resources Ontario.


Hunting season safety

  • Hunting season dates vary depending on type of game. Small-game season [turkey and rabbits] is usually from Sept to end of May. Large-game season [deer, bear, Moose] takes place from about Oct to Jan.
  • For trail safety wear a blaze orange hat and vest, and if backpacking cover your pack in blaze orange.
  • Be heard. You can whistle or sing a tune to alert hunters you are in the area and stay on the trail, do not wander off into dense woods.
  • For additional details on Ontario hunting contact the Natural Resources Information Centre 1-800-667-1940.
  • Visit the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources web site for more information.
  • Take only pictures and fond memories away with you. Leave only a footprint on the path you have respected.
  • Download this handy brochure "Be Safe, Be Seen"
  • Wear the Bandana!
     


 

  • JOINT OTC/OFAH statement about trails and hunting:
    Regarding Hunting in the Forest - "seasonal hunting does take place and is one of the many activities enjoyed in the forest, primarily in spring and fall. Responsible hunters wear hunter orange as the season dictates, are aware of others using the trails, and ensure that they are certain of their target and what lies beyond it. Hunting is a safe recreational activity when practiced responsibly and non-hunters may feel comfortable using the woods at any time of the year." Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, September 1, 2011

    There are many laws in place to ensure hunter training and many 100,000's of thousands of safe interactions take place each year. All persons, licensed or not, should be aware of the uses of the land at different times of year. If you aren't trained or licensed for any form of outdoor recreation, don't do the activity until you are. We encourage all to plan and know allowed uses on and off the trail - Ontario Trails Council, September 1, 2011


What to put in your backpack when out on the trails

  • One to two litres of water in easy-to-carry, leakproof bottles
  • Depending on the length of trail, pack meals or snacks. Snacks should provide energy, so chocolate bars, granola bars, nut mixes, cut veggies and hard fruit are all good.
  • A fully charged mobile phone will come in handy in case you get lost or hurt. Just remember that reception is not always available.
  • You never know when a spare pair of socks and underpants might come in handyifyou get wet from rain or tend to sweat heavily.
  • A hat and pair of gloves are wise and small enough to pack.
  • A rain poncho in case of rain. A large poncho can also double as a shelter in an emergency.
  • First aid kit with a whistle, sunscreen lotion, hat, sunglasses, insect repellent, trail map, compass, windproof lighter, pocket knife, water purifying tablets.
  • A few plastic bags to carry out garbage and waste.


Specifically for geocachers

  • Pack gloves, as rooting through undergrowth for hidden geocache can be harmful to your skin if not protected.
  • Spare batteries for your GPS unit.
  • A spare pen and mini ziploc bags for log books and geocache treasure.


Specifically for Operators

  • Have a risk managment plan.
  • All users and operators should have insurance.
  • Machines and equipment should be checked for safety and usability.
  • Sign your trails.
  • Audit your trails once a month.
  • Train users to warden your trails.
  • For Insurance we suggest CPW Insurance, or The Frank Cowan Company.


Other Users also have codes for Use

The Ontario Trail Riders Association, (OTRA) produces a guideline for uses to better interpret their interaction with Horses - download a copy here

The Ontario Federation of 4 Wheel Drive Enthusiasts (OF4WDE) also prOduces a guideline for its drivers so that they are aware of and promote trail safety. - download a copy here

The International Mountain Biking Association produces excellent trail building and trail use Guidelines, full of Canadian content (they wrote tons of this) - download a copy here


More information

Ontario Trails COVID-19 Page

Ontario Trails Open and Closed Trails

Ontario Trails Trail Poll

Get a sense of Space - Social Distancing Tool in Toronto