Let’s Talk Trails

To clearly define standards, three types of trails are distinguished: the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; blue-blazed trails in non-wilderness areas; and blue-blazed trails in wilderness areas.

Trail Terms

If you aren’t already familiar with these terms, you will be—soon.

Cribs and steps Cribs and steps should be solid and well-anchored and should retain soil, with no woody vegetation growing out of them (it will shove them apart); inspect once per year. Steps should be flat, and stakes replaced as necessary.
Dips Grade dips should be distinctly mounded, clear of silt and debris, and cleaned twice per year.
Obstructions The treadway should be clear of obstructions unduly impeding foot travel.
Safety The treadway should be reasonably safe.
Sidehill On sidehill sections, treadway should be slightly outsloping, allowing water to drain downhill, across the Trail. Outslope should be restored whenever the tread becomes rutted and channels water.
Switchbacks Switchback cuts should be “brushed” on each trip.
Treadway A well-drained treadway is one covered with leaf litter, with waterbars and grade dips free of sediment build-up, and no standing water or muddy areas.
Turnpike Turnpike should be firm, with solid cribs, and should be re-crowned once per year or when it becomes rutted.
Water crossings Stepping stones and bog bridges should be stable and sound, with slip-free treads.
Width The treadway should be 12 to 18 inches wide in flat areas and 18 to 24 inches wide on the sidehill.


Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The A.T. must be well maintained at all times. It is extremely popular and it has high public visibility. The tread requires particular attention because of heavy use. People ranging from through-hikers and experienced backpackers to inexperienced day hikers and families walk the A.T.

  • Overseers should assist inexperienced or confused hikers when possible.
  • Clearly marked white blazes and proper erosion control are extremely important maintenance aspects of the A.T.

Blue-blazed trails

These trails are side or secondary trails that provide access to the A.T. and are also used for circuit hikes involving more than one trail or trail section. They are very popular and require a high level of maintenance.

  • Clipping, blowdowns, treadway erosion problems. and clear blazes are continuing concerns.
  • The tread must be maintained at nearly the same quality level as the A.T.
  • Because many of these trails are situated on slopes, particular attention must be paid to erosion control.
  • Informal paths also may spring up along these trails as hikers search for campsites.

Obstruct these paths as much as possible.

  • Disperse all fire rings and carry out litter.

Wilderness trails

The use of power tools is prohibited in wilderness areas unless a waiver is issued by the Park Superintendent.

These trails are wholly or partly situated in designated wilderness areas mostly in remote areas where access is difficult.

  • Wilderness trails are blazed less frequently.
  • They are usually narrower and may have blowdowns that can be stepped over or passed under without great difficulty.
  • The tread, however, must be maintained in good condition to prevent erosion using grade dips, waterbars, and checkdams.

Special Restriction Trails

A few select trails in the PATC trail network have special restrictions. All special restriction trails are located within the confines of National Parks.

Wilderness Areas

Trails that cross through areas identified as Congressionally designated Wilderness Areas in Shenandoah National Park must be maintained without the use of power equipment. If trail damage occurs that is beyond your ability to correct, refer to the Chapter 13, Getting Help.

In extraordinary circumstances, the Park Superintendent may allow the use of power equipment within certain established guidelines. Check with your District Manager to determine what these guidelines are, when and if they are established.

Urban Parks

Trails that pass through Rock Creek Park, Glover Archibald Park, and others within the city limits of Washington, D.C. must be maintained without the use of power equipment. Power equipment alarms local residents, who are apt to contact the city police to report damage to park lands. At the request of the Park Service, hand tools must be used in these locations.

Special Permanent Study Areas

Specified areas within Shenandoah National Park have been designated as special permanent study areas. This includes the following trail segments:

  • Appalachian Trail from Byrds Nest 3 to Pinnacles Picnic Area
  • Appalachian Trail from Little Stony Man Cliffs to Skyland Stables
  • Appalachian Trail from Timber Hollow Overlook to Hawksbill Gap
  • Appalachian Trail from Hawksbill Gap to Spitler Knoll Overlook

Trail work may not be performed on these trails during the months of May and October. During all other times, the movement of rocks and other ground cover should be minimized to the greatest extent possible.