More than 30 different kinds of hiking trails offer us a chance to take a hike! Who knew?
I know I first picture and define hiking trails as narrow dirt footpaths, and I suspect a lot of other hikers think about hiking trails that way too. But on further reflection, we start making distinctions: hiking trail, biking trail, connector trail and loop trail, and so on.
Over the years, I gathered definitions of various hiking trails and included them in my hiker’s dictionary: “Hiking from A to Z, a Dictionary of Words and Terms for Hikers.”
Kinds of Hiking Trails
Trail, Access Any trail that connects the main trail to a town, road, or another trail or trail system.
Trail, Backcountry A primitive trail in an area where there are no maintained roads or permanent buildings.
Trail, Connecting or Side Trails providing additional points of access to national recreation, scenic, or historic trails per the National Trails System Act.
Trail, Designated Specific trails identified by the land management agency where some type of use (motorized or non-motorized) is appropriate and allowed either seasonally or yearlong and which have been inventoried and mapped and are appropriately signed on the ground.
Trail, Destination A trail that connects two distinct points (A to B) rather than returning the user to the original beginning point.
Trail, Directional Use (One-way) A trail laid out in such a way as to encourage users to travel in one direction.
Trail, Double-track A trail that allows for two users to travel side by side, or to pass without one user having to yield the trail. Double-track trails are often old forest or fire roads.
Trail, Extended Trails more than 100 miles in length (as defined in the National Trails System Act).
Trail, Feeder A trail designed to connect local facilities, neighborhoods, campgrounds, etc. to a main trail.
Trail, Front country Less emphasis is put on minimizing contact with signs of the civilized world. The main objective is to provide enjoyable trail experiences within the vicinity of developed areas by utilizing the scenic and interpretative features of semi-urban, rural, and natural environments.
Trail, Greenway (Urban Trail) A trail established along a natural corridor, such as a river, stream ridgeline, rail trail, canal, or other route for conservation, recreation, or alternative transportation purposes. Greenway Trails can connect parks, nature preserves, cultural facilities, and historic sites with business and residential areas.
Trail, Hiker-Biker An urban paved trail designed for use by pedestrians and bicyclists.
Trail, Hiking Moderate to long distance trail with the primary function of providing long-distance walking experiences (usually two miles or more).
Trail, Interpretive (Nature Trail) Short to moderate length trail (1/2 to 1 mile) with primary function of providing an opportunity to walk or paddle and study interesting or unusual plants or natural features at user’s pleasure. The ideal nature trail has a story to tell. It unifies the various features or elements along the trail into a related theme.
Trail, Long Distance In general a trail best characterized by length (more than 50 miles), linearity (follows a linear feature), and diversity (geo- graphic and political).
Trail, Loop(ed) Trail or trail systems designed so that the routes are closed circuits connecting a number of points of interest, giving users the option of not traveling the same section of trail more than once on a trip.
Trail, Multiple-Use (Multi-Use, Diversified Use, Shared Use) A trail that permits more than on user group at a time (equestrian, hiker, mountain bicyclist, etc.).
Trail, Out-and-Back A one-way trail on which you travel to a destination then backtrack to the trailhead.
Trail, Pack A trail used by recreational stock; usually extended trails used by pack stings for overnight trips.
Trail, Primary Continuous through route that originates at a trailhead. Primarily for directing users through an area while promoting a certain type of experience.
Trail, Recreation A trail that is designed to provide a recreational experience.
Trail, Regional An extended or longer trail that may cross one or more land management agency jurisdictions and connects diverse trail systems.
Trail, Secondary Short trail used to connect primary trails or branches of primary trails. They encourage movement between two primary trails or facilitate dispersal of use through secondary branching.
Trail, Side Dead-end trail that accesses features near the main trail.
Trail, Single-Track A trail so narrow that users must generally travel in a single file.
Trail, Single-Use One that is designed and constructed for only one intended use (i.e. hiking only).
Trail, Spur A trail that leads from primary, secondary, or spine trails to points of user interests such as overlooks, campsites, etc.
Trail, Stacked Loop Trail or trail systems designed with many loops “stacked” on each other, giving users the option of not traveling the same section of trail more than once on a trip.
Trail, Stock A route/trail used by commercial stock.
Trail, Undesignated (Social, Wildcat, Way, Informal, User or Visitor Created) Any unofficial trails that develop informally from use and are not designated or maintained by an agency; often found cutting switchbacks or between adjacent trails, campsites, or other sites of interest. Undesignated trails can be dangerous, eroded, and unsustainable.