Historic wagon trail from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S. An important commercial route from 1821 to 1880, it was opened by William Becknell and used by merchant wagon caravans. From the Missouri River the trail followed the divide between the tributaries of the Arkansas and Kansas rivers to the site of modern Great Bend, Kan., then proceeded along the Arkansas River. At the western end three routes turned south to Santa Fe, the shortest being the Cimarron Cutoff through the valley of the Cimarron River. When the Santa Fe railroad was completed in 1880, use of the trail ceased.
Learn more about Santa Fe Trail with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Major U.S. route to the Northwest in the 19th century. It stretched about 2,000 mi (3,200 km), from Independence, Mo., to the Columbia River region of Oregon. First used by fur traders and missionaries, it was heavily used in the 1840s by travelers to Oregon, including settlers of the “great migration,” led by Marcus Whitman. Of all western trails, it was in use for the longest period, surviving competition from the railroad by serving as a trail for eastward cattle and sheep drives.
Learn more about Oregon Trail with a free trial on Britannica.com.
19th-century route for cattle drives from Texas to Kansas, probably named for the trader Jesse Chisholm (1806?–1868?). The trail ran from south of San Antonio, across Oklahoma to Abilene, Kan., where a railhead was established in 1867. Between 1867 and 1871 1.5 million head of cattle were driven north over the trail to be shipped to markets in the East. After the 1880s the trail's importance declined as other railheads were established.
Learn more about Chisholm Trail with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Footpath, Appalachian Mountains, U.S. Extending over 2,000 mi (3,200 km) from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia, along the crest of the mountains, the trail passes through 14 states, 8 national forests, and 2 national parks. Hikers and volunteers maintain the shelters and campsites. The trail's highest point is Clingmans Dome (6,643 ft [2,025 m]) in the Great Smoky Mountains. With its first section opened in 1923, the trail was completed in 1937 and became part of the National Trail System established by the U.S. Congress in 1968.
Learn more about Appalachian National Scenic Trail with a free trial on Britannica.com.
In Australia, the word track can be used interchangeably with trail, and can refer to anything from a dirt road to a pedestrian walkway (generally also unpaved). The term "trail" gained popularity during World War II, when many servicemen from the United States were stationed in Australia, which probably influenced its being adopted by elements of the Australian media at the time (see Kokoda Track). In New Zealand, the word track is used almost exclusively except in reference to cross-country skiing, where trail is used. In England and Wales, the government-promoted long-distance paths are known as 'National Trails'
Trail use has become very popular for a wide variety of users. Some trails are designated as nature trails, and are used by people learning about the natural world. Many trails are designated day trails, meaning that they are generally used by people out for a short hike, less than a day. Some trails are designated backpacking trails, or long-distance trails, and are used by both day hikers and by backpackers. Some of the trails are over a thousand miles (1,500 km) long and may be hiked in sections by backpackers, or completed in one trip by dedicated hikers. Some trails are specifically used by other outdoor enthusiasts to gain access to another feature, such as good climbing sites. Many runners also favor running on trails rather than pavement, as giving a more vigorous work-out and better developing agility skills, as well as providing a more pleasant exercise environment.
Recent decades have seen an explosion of interest in cycling, both on the street and also off-road. Many graded, surfaced bike paths have been built for both uses, but off-road bicycling is more popular, termed mountain biking. A common term used to refer to a "bicycle trail" is simply a "bike trail". These trails may be built to a different set of standards than foot trails, requiring more stable and harder surfaces, less strenuous grades, longer sight visibility, and less sharp changes in direction. On the other hand, the cross-slope of a bike trail may be significantly greater than a foot trail, and the path may be narrower in some cases.
A particular offshoot of trail biking is downhilling, which can be environmentally destructive if not well-managed. Downhilling is particularly popular at ski resorts such as Mammoth Mountain in California or Whistler in British Columbia, where ski lifts are used to get bikes and riders to the top of the mountain.
Because of the greater need for more gradual grades, changing elevations may involve sidehill trails with multiple switchbacks, while these may not be necessary for hikers. In cases where hikers use these bike trails, attention must be paid to the potential of cutting across switchbacks.
Where bike trails intersect with pedestrian or equestrian trails, signage at the intersections is important, and high visibility onto the intersecting trails must be a priority in order to prevent collisions between fast-moving cyclists and slower moving hikers and horses. Bicycles and horses should be allowed on the same trails where the trail is wide enough with good visibility.
A well designed bike trail will have an average grade of less than 10%, and will generally follow a contour line, rather than straight downhill. The trail should slope out or across the trail 3-5% downhill to encourage water to run off the side, rather than down the trail bed. In addition, frequent grade reversals also prevent water from running down the trail, make the trail more fun and interesting to ride, and generally help keep bike speeds down, providing a more safe trail experience for all users.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association is an excellent resource on trail system design, trail building and maintenance.
Things You’ll Need: Dirt Shovels Wheelbarrow or bucket Water Step 1 Plan your course. Know the starting point and plan enough pits between jumps so you can maintain or build additional speed before hitting the next jump. Look for spots where you can place a jump between trees or place a double or triple jump. Step 2 Start with enough room to gain speed before hitting the first jump. Allow room to land by making the area wider and longer when necessary. Step 3 Collect dirt and pile it in the locations for your jumps. The average dirt bike jump is 4 feet tall, but a variety of sizes makes the course more challenging. Take the dirt from the pit areas as you smooth them down or from areas you won't use for your course. Step 4 Shape the dirt piles into berms, or mounded piles. Use a flat shovel to pack the dirt down. Make sure you don't have any flat spots, rocks or twigs that could trip up riders. Step 5 Water down your jumps and allow them to dry. The water compresses the dirt and packs it into place. You may need to add dirt, repack and water down again if flat spots occur or the jumps don't look right to you.
Horse riding and other equestrian uses of trails continue to be a popular activity for many trail users. Horses can negotiate much steeper terrain on a dirt trail, for instance, than on a gravel trail. Horses can usually negotiate much the same grades as hikers, but not always, although they can more easily clear obstacles in the path such as logs.
The Bicentennial National Trail in Australia is the longest marked multi-use trail in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales to Healesville, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside of wilderness areas. One of the objectives was to develop a trail that linked up the brumby tracks, mustering and stock routes along the Great Dividing Range, thus providing an opportunity to legally ride the routes of stockmen and drovers who once travelled these areas with pack horses. This Trail provides access to some of the wildest, most remote country in the world. The Bicentennial National Trail is suitable for self-reliant horse riders, fit walkers and mountain bike riders.
Within the United States National Trail Classification System, equestrian trails include simple day-use bridle paths and others built to accommodate long strings of pack animals on journeys lasting many days. Trail design parameters for these uses include trail base width and material, trail clear width, trail clear height, access to water suitable for stock (not human) use, and trail routing.
Motorized trail use also remains very popular with some people. Such terms as ORV, four-wheeling, all-terrain vehicle, and others actually have highly specific meanings. In the United States, this group of people have a very strong political lobby. The Recreational Trail Program defined as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, pronounced "ice tea", ) of 1991 mandates that states must use a minimum of 30 percent of these funds for motorized trail uses.
In Northern America, where urban sprawl has begun to strike even the most rural communities, developers and local leaders are currently striving to make their communities more conducive to non-motorized transportation through the use of less traditional "trails." The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has established the Active Living by Design program to improve the livability of communities in part through the trails, both in a more traditional sense, as is being done by the Upper Valley Trails Alliance or in the broader, as is being done by Groundwork Somerville.
Another type of trail that was quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s but is less popular today is the exercise trail (also known as trim trail), which combines running with exercise stations.
The term trail has also been used by developers and urban planners for a variety of modern paved roads, highways, and boulevards. A particularly unusual use of the term is in the province of Alberta, Canada, which has multi-lane freeways called "trails".
Often, trail segregation for a particular use is accompanied by prohibitions against that use on other trails within the trail system.
Trail segregation may be supported by signage, markings, trail design and construction (especially selection of tread materials), and by separation between parallel treads. Separation may be achieved by "natural" barriers including distance, ditching, banking, grading, and vegatation, and by "artificial" barriers including fencing, curbing, and walls.
The opposite of segregated use is shared use. Shared use may be achieved by sharing a trail easement, but within it maintaining segregated and sometimes also separated trail treads. This is common in rail trails. Shared use may also refer to alternate day arrangements, whereby two uses are segregated by being permitted on alternate days. This is increasingly common in long distance trails shared by equestrians and mountain bike users; these two user communities have similar trail requirements but may experience encounters with each other on the trail as difficult.
The rules and regulations for a trail are written and enforced by the land management agency in charge of the trail. A trail may be completely contained within one administration (e.g. a State Park) or it may pass through multiple administrations, leading to a confusing array of regulations, allowing dogs or mountain bikes in one segment but not in another, or requiring Wilderness Permits for a portion of the trail, but not everywhere.
In the United States agencies administering trails include the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, State Park systems, County Parks, cities, private organizations such as land trusts, businesses and individual property owners.
New trail construction by an agency must often be assessed for its environmental impact and conformance with State or Federal laws. For example, in California new trails must undergo reviews specified by the California Environmental Quality Act CEQA
While many trails have arisen through common usage, quality trail design and construction is a complex process requiring certain sets of skills.
When a trail passes across a flat area that is not wet, often all that is required is to clear brush, tree limbs and undergrowth to produce a clear, walkable trail. When crossing streams, bridges may or may not be desirable, depending on the size of the stream and the depth of its banks. In wet areas, it may be necessary to create an elevated trailway with fill or by building a boardwalk. One problem with boardwalks is that they require frequent maintenance and replacement - boards in poor condition are often slippery and hazardous.
If a trail is being made to be accessible to off-road wheelchairs, the grade should be no more than one in ten. If a paved trail has to be accessible to all wheelchairs, the grade must be no more than one in twelve, with periodic level pull-offs.
The off-slope, or side-slope, of the trail also must be considered. This is the slope of the trail from side to side, and should never be more than one in twelve. Side-sloped trails are prone to gullying. Ideally, the treadway of the trail should be almost, but not quite, level in cross-section.
Achieving the proper slope in hilly terrain usually requires the excavation of sidehill trail. This is trailway that is constructed by establishing a line of suitable slope across a hillside, then digging out by means of a mattock or similar tool to create the trail. This may be a full-bench trail, where the treadway is only on the firm ground surface after the overlying soil is removed and sidecast (thrown to the side as waste), or a half-bench trail, where soil is removed and packed to the side so that the treadway is half on firm old ground and half on new packed fill. In areas near drainages, creeks and other waterways, excavation spoils should be end-hauled (taken away in bulk and deposited in an environmentally benign area). In problem areas, it may be necessary to establish the trail entirely on fill. In cases where filling is used, it's necessary to pack it firmly and to revisit the site periodically to add to the fill and repack it until fully stable.
An important and often-overlooked factor in trail construction is that of drainage. Where a trail is near the top of a hill or ridge, this is usually a minor issue, but when it is farther down it can become a very major issue. Trails, by their nature, tend to become drainage channels and eventually gullies if the drainage is not properly controlled.
In areas of heavy water flow along a trail, it may be necessary to create a ditch on the uphill side of the trail with drainage points across the trail. The cross-drainage may be accomplished by means of culverts, which must be cleared on a semi-annual basis, or by means of cross-channels, often created by placing logs or timbers across the trail in a downhill direction, called "thank-you-marms", "deadmen", or waterbars. Using timbers or rocks for this purpose also creates erosion barriers. Rock paving in the bottom of these channels and in the trailside ditches may help to maintain stability of these. Ideally, waterbars should be created, with or without ditching, at major points of water flow on or along the trail, and in conjunction, if possible, with existing drainage channels below the trail. Another important technique is to create coweeta dips, or drain dips, points on the trail where it falls briefly (for a meter or so) and then rises again. These provide positive drainage points that are almost never clogged by debris.
There has been a major effort to convert abandoned railroad grades to bike paths or multi-use paths. This has been termed "rails-to-trails". Railroads in use with adjacent trails are rails with trails.
For long-distance trails, or trails where there is any possibility of anyone taking a wrong turn, blazing or signage should be provided. This may be accomplished by using either paint on natural surfaces or by placing pre-made medallions. Horseshoe-shaped blazes are good for bridle trails. The Appalachian Trail is blazed with white rectangles. Blue is often used for side trails. European walking paths are blazed with yellow points encircled with red. However, other walking paths in European countries are blazed in a variety of manners.