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Recreational Etiquette and Safety   arrow

Routt County offers an array of settings for outdoor enthusiasts including rivers, streams, lakes, rugged back county terrain, mountain meadows, valley floors, draws, and rolling hills. The terrain is a part of the area’s history, culture and industry. The three main industries of the area-ranching, mining, and recreation— all depend on the area’s natural setting and geography. While enjoying the outdoors you must be aware of the nature of the diversities of these industries, because they may share the same resource, but have very different ways of doing business.


When you plan recreation in the high country you need to be aware of rules and etiquette. It is very important to research all the following conditions and situations.

Determine Property Owner

First you must determine if the property you want to access is public or private. If it is public, find out which organization is in charge of managing the property and if it is being leased or otherwise used. Most high country public lands are under the direction of a federally administered grazing permit system, which is critical to preserving mountain ranches. If the property is being leased for grazing, it is extremely important that you leave all gates how you found them (open or closed), give livestock the right-of-way on all trails and paths, and keep pets leashed. You also need to make sure you are aware of the boundaries of the property. Fences are not necessarily property lines. It is your responsibility to know whose property you are on at all times. If you do not have permission to be there, you are trespassing. If you trespass, you may be subject to criminal penalties. When you are in the high country it is your responsibility to know where you are and whose property you are on.

Ask First to Go on Private Land

If you are interested in going on private land, you must first ask the landowner. They may or may not grant you access to the property. It is their right to set the availability of their property to anyone, as well as rules and special circumstances for the property they own. Under no law are they obligated to allow you access to their property. The landowner also has every right to ask you to leave. It is in your best interest to create a good relationship with the landowner because they may be more inclined to give you permission to access their property or let you come back. Some things you may want to let the landowner know before they make their decision are:

  • How many people are in your group,
  • How long you would like to stay, and
  • What you would like to do.

Adhere to Directions

If you are granted permission to access private land, you need to find out what type of directions there may be. You should ask the landowner some questions like:

  • Where can I go?
  • What obstacles/situations do I need to be aware of? (An answer may be that there are 100 head of mother cows with young calves and four bulls in the area where you want to camp.)
  • What type of vehicle can I use (e.g., automobile, bike, all-terrain vehicle, snow machine, etc.)?
  • Can I have a camp fire, and if so, is there a special place you would like it to be?
  • Can I bring my pet?

Some additional common courtesy questions you should ask are:

  • Is there anything you would like me to look for when I am in the area?
  • Do you charge for access to your property?
  • Can I do anything to help you for letting us on your property?

Always be sure to leave the area the way you found it by removing any items you brought in, this includes trash, equipment, and vehicles.

Follow State Laws

When you are on property other than your own it is mandatory to follow all federal, state, and local laws. If you break the law on someone else’s property do not expect to get away with it; the landowner has the right to prosecute.

Please Leave the Gates as You Find Them

The success of a livestock operation depends heavily on the satisfactory control of animals through fence and gate use. So please leave the gate the way you found it, open or closed. The landowner will appreciate you responsibly passing through the area without causing problems for their livestock operation. All fences are property belonging to the rancher or the Federal Government and it is against the law to cut or dismantle any fence. It is sometimes difficult to close a barbed-wire gate if you haven’t done it often. Here are a few hints on how to close the gate:

  • Your leverage is greatly increased if you first put the bottom loop as high as possible on the gatestick.
  • Put your arm around the gatestick, grab the post and pull the gate post to your shoulder.
  • Pull the top loop down firmly on the gatestick.
  • If you simply can’t get the gate closed, go back, let the rancher or manager know and get help. Do not leave the gate open if it was closed.

Sharing the Road and Land with Livestock

In the high country you may encounter livestock on roads, trails, and paths or in open meadows. Please remember that Routt County (and Colorado) is range country and stock may be encountered on the road at any time and it is legal for them to be there. The lives of the animals and the safety of everyone involved depends heavily on careful maneuvering through and around livestock. Follow these simple rules when you come in contact with livestock:

On the road

  • Slow down and enjoy the heritage of Routt County.
  • Traveling in the same direction? Enter and move through the herd slowly, making a train. Follow closely, not letting any animals slip between cars. Sometimes the rider will motion for you to follow his horse or give you further direction.
  • Traveling the opposite direction? Proceed slowly and quietly. Weave your way through the herd, following other vehicles closely, all moving as one unit.

In the back country

  • Please stay on recreational trails when livestock are present in an area. Recreational use of livestock trails may interrupt grazing patterns designed for vegetation management.
  • Exit the trail on the downhill side when terrain permits.
  • Remain quiet and still. The herd will pass you quickly. Always watch the person handling the livestock in case further direction is needed.

Tips for approaching livestock

  • As you approach a horseback rider from behind, at first sighting SLOW DOWN and speak loudly making your presence known (“Mountain biker coming behind you!”).
  • If the horse is frightened, continue speaking. Ask the rider if you can help by leaving the trail.
  • Don’t cause an accident. Most riders just want a chance to leave the trail safely.
  • Keep all dogs on leashes when livestock is present (for your dog’s safety and that of the livestock).
  • If you encounter grazing animals, simply continue on your way.


Listen for Weather Conditions

It’s important for you to be aware of weather conditions in the area. You need to know what weather to expect for planning, access, and safety. Conditions in the mountains can change very rapidly and you should always plan for the worst. You most likely won’t make a good impression on a landowner if they have to help get your party or vehicle out of a situation that could have been avoided. Be prepared and know the weather conditions before you go into an area. It can be warm and sunny one minute and literally snowing the next. Safety matters and we encourage everyone to always prepare for adverse conditions. Preparation only means taking a few extra steps, but it can save you time, money, and possibly your life.

Emergency Items You Should Carry in Your Vehicle

  • Flashlight(s) and batteries
  • Flares
  • Warm hat and gloves/mittens, and extra clothing (enough for everyone traveling)
  • Warm boots
  • Matches
  • Kindling
  • Gasoline
  • Shovel
  • Blankets
  • Tow strap
  • Jumper cables
  • Non-perishable food and water (e.g., granola bars, dehydrated food)
  • First aid kit
  • Any other items that may be necessary to your specific trip and conditions.

Emergency Items You Should Carry With You on the Trail

  • Knife
  • Matches
  • Flashlight(s) and batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Warm, layered clothing
  • Good foot gear and change of socks and hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Any other items that may be necessary to your specific trip and conditions.

 Remember… in the mountains safety can be a matter of life and death. Always be prepared for the environment and weather conditions.

In Routt County there is a variety of terrains used for a variety of activities. While partaking in any local recreation it is important to use proper etiquette and act safely. Remember to always determine who owns the property, ask first to access the land, adhere to directions, please close the gate, follow the law, listen for weather conditions, share the road and land with livestock, and prepare for the worst. Following these simple rules will make your recreational experience in Routt County a better one.