A hiking trail can be described as a narrow outdoor path that goes through a natural environment where people hike or walk for pleasure, adventure or to go to a specific destination. You might follow a hiking trail even if you are just taking a short distance walk in a public park following a wooded trail, climbing a mountain with a backpack, or taking a hike along a rough and rugged ridge as part of a camping activity.
There are many types of hiking trails. Some trails are for short distance walking and hiking and others are intended to be miles long, like the local hikes in nature trails. The level of difficulty to hike on these trails also differs. There are relatively easy flat footpaths, while other trails can be extremely rough, rocky, steep, slippery, and even have water crossings or other obstacles to hurdle along the way. Hiking trails that lead to lakes, waterfalls, or scenic spots can be called destination-based trails, while trails that are journey-based are simply a trail to follow, some without a specific destination other than the hiker’s appreciation of the natural surroundings.
Before going on a hiking trip, make sure to prepare yourself for the adventure.
- Research and find out more details about the hiking trail you intend to go on. You can read hiking journals or surf the Internet to gather information
- Check the trail's level of difficulty and which portions of the trail are off limits or closed at the time of your trip. Find out if the trails are also used for mountain biking.
- Make sure you have a trail map or guide to know the landmarks or trail blazes in case you lose your way.
- Depending on the time of the year, find out more details about the weather conditions and precautions to take, especially if you plan to go winter hiking.
- Wear sturdy footwear fit for walking and hiking, and clothes appropriate for the expected weather.
- If hiking hints and guides are provided read them ahead of time.
- Make sure you are physically fit to go walking and hiking.
While hiking on a trail follow these Trail Safety Rules:
- Follow the rules and regulations of the park or hiking area.
- Always carry water when going on a hiking adventure.
- Observe caution when walking near cliff edges or on rough terrain. Rocks can have loose gravel that could put you off balance and cause a serious fall.
- Strictly follow the trail markers, trail blazes, and existing cairns.
- Use the guide or map provided for the route. Take note of landmarks and trail markers. Usually each hiking location provides maps or guides for hikers.
- Never build new cairns or change the trail markers. This may endanger the life of other hikers after you.
- Keep in mind the trail’s level of difficulty. Know your limitations, conserve your energy and maximize your physical ability.
Here is a list to give you an idea of the various types of trails available for hiking:
- City and county parks trails for local hikes developed and maintained by park officials. These trails may have no maps and are of short distances.
- Trails in state and national parks and forests or provincial parks are the common hiking trails often located in the most scenic areas of the country. Some have short distance nature trails with a scenic experience and others are longer, with a more rugged terrain of long steep descents and ascents. The more developed parks even have water crossings with boardwalks or bridges.
- Nature trails are usually well-maintained, marked trails in parks with relatively easy pathways for walking and hiking. Signs are easily located along the trail to guide nature hikers to their common interest areas like animal habitat, various vegetation and distinct geographical features of the place.
- Wilderness area trails are in specific designations with trails that have restrictions intended to protect the area and limit what hikers can do. In wilderness areas, some trails may be very remote and rugged, and motor vehicles are prohibited to enter.
- Thru-hiking trails are usually hundreds or thousands of miles long and follow the natural geographical features of the area, such as a body of water or mountain range. Along the trail there may be camping areas and areas for mountain biking as well. These trails are complex and pass through private and public lands and may even have portions where you walk along a road.
- There are also naturally-occurring hiking trails found in rocky shorelines or beaches, riverbeds, frozen rivers or lakes. These are not officially documented trails, since they are often temporary, but are very interesting for local hikes.
It is suggested that you read hiking journals for you to know more about the different types of hiking trails in your area and other hiking tips you can learn from.