How are Hiking Trails Made and Maintained?

As you run through the wilderness, you leave the stresses of the world behind you. This free feeling courses through your veins, freeing your mind to take in your surroundings and enjoy the great outdoors.

I bet you’re wondered just how hiking trails are made and what goes into keeping them maintained so they can be enjoyed for many years? I know I have.

You will be surprised to learn how much goes into creating these trails… so I took it upon myself to do some research on how hiking trails are made and maintained. And I am sharing all of the amazing things I learned with you in this article.

Who Makes Hiking Trails?

A trail designer’s job is to get into the minds of hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. In addition to the creation of new trails, they also recommend solutions for existing trails and design realignments and reroutes. It takes a considerable amount of time to do this work. They walk the land, create maps, draft plans, and order necessary equipment for building and maintaining the trails.

Modern hiking trail construction involves a considerable amount of analyzing the area around the route and anticipating the actions of potential hikers. The ultimate goal is to create a trail that is convenient, easy to travel, and easy to access.

The intensity of a hiking trail is based on the ability of potential users. Hiking trails vary from simple neighborhood paths to challenging mountain climbs. Hiking is an activity that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities due to the hard work and consideration that goes into planning and building the trails.

Before any ground is broken, trail designers consider both the location of the trail as well as potential users. For example, some trails are created for hardcore hikers who want a new challenge, while others are more casual trails near urban areas. They also consider if the trails will be used by more than just hikers, such as mountain bikers or equestrians.

The Benefits of Trail Hiking

Hiking has been proven to have several health benefits, both physically and psychologically. Regardless of the type of trail you hike, you can expect to get a full-body workout.

Cardiovascular in nature, hiking is an excellent way to promote heart health. In addition to lowering blood pressure, it also improves blood sugar levels. It builds stability in core muscles, improves balance and strengthens leg muscles. The tougher the terrain, the better the workout!

Additionally, being outside surrounded by nature is an excellent way to boost your mood and improve your mental health. Enjoying the outdoors calms anxiety and reduces stress. According to a study done by Stanford University, hiking can even reduce the risk of depression.

Hiking through the mountains across areas with varying altitudes increases feelings of pleasure and happiness. This leads to a feeling of calm and relief from anxiety and fatigue.

Hiking is also a great activity for families. It provides time for kids and parents to bond away from school, work, sports, and other time-stealing activities. Time hiking brings families together for an enjoyable adventure they will always remember. In addition, it is also a great way for families to exercise together. It teaches kids balance and agility and promotes cardiovascular health. The entire family can get fresh air, have fun, and burn calories all at the same time.

In addition to the emotional and physical benefits of hiking with their family, kids also benefit from the opportunity to connect with nature. Kids need to develop a relationship with nature and explore natural surroundings. Especially for kids who are constantly surrounded by buildings and concrete, they will be amazed at just how beautiful it is to be outside. When you encourage a relationship with nature in children, they will become more interested in preserving it and less likely to grow up and pollute it.

How are Hiking Trails Made and Maintained?

When a hiking trail is built correctly with the right amount of thought and consideration, it will be around to enjoy for a long time. If built poorly, they can damage the environment through erosion. Proper preparation, planning, and maintenance are the formula for a trail that hikers will love. The list below includes the necessary steps to building a hiking trail:

Step One: Gathering all the necessary tools

Part of the preparation for a new hiking trail involves gathering all of the necessary tools and equipment. The most common tools used to build trails are chain saws, axes, hand saws, hoes, gloves, shovels, and loppers. The required tools will depend on several factors, such as the width and height of the trails, the type of vegetation in the area, potential users, and the frequency of maintenance.

Step Two: Planning the route

The next step is carefully checking design plans and possible routes. Flags are placed as guides and the trail must be walked to inspect even the smallest details to ensure safety, ease of use, etc. 

Step Three: Removing obstacles

Once the trail is planned, obstacles will need to be removed. All brush will need to be removed from the route. As a general rule, up to three meters on each side will be cleared. All of the removed brush will need to be cleared from the trail. Small trees in the path or those leaning towards the trail will be cut. For larger trees, the route is usually altered to go around the tree. Roots in the trail will need to be removed with a shovel and the remaining holes must be properly filled. Roots, fallen leaves, and pine needles will need to be removed periodically as part of maintaining the trail.

Step Four: Evaluating water direction

This is one of the most important steps to building a hiking trail to maintain quality. The possible direction of rainwater will need to be considered to ensure that it is led off the trail correctly. Long downhill areas and low spots are important places to inspect for this. Occasionally drainage ditches will need to be dug to lead water away from to trail to prevent the development of holes on the path.

Step Five: Finishing touches

The fifth and final step to building a new hiking trail is to walk the trail and make any necessary finishing touches. For example, an area of the trail may slop too far downhill. Dirt can be gathered from a hillside and moved to the low spot. By leveling the ground, hikers will feel more comfortable as they transverse the trail. Every aspect of the trail is inspected and adjustments are made as required. Once the finishing touches are complete, the trail is open and hikers are invited to enjoy it.

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Final Thoughts on How Hiking Trails are Made

Trail builders take pride in the trails that they create and consider it their responsibility to ensure that the trails remain in the best condition. Trail builders indeed put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into keeping trails clear, safe, and enjoyable.

Once the trails are complete the maintenance of the trails is completed mostly by unpaid volunteers. While it’s natural to expect that primary maintenance of the hiking trails falls on the shoulders of park employees and officials… a lot of difficult labor is done by volunteers with a love of nature.

Maintaining hiking trails is somewhat of a science. The upkeep requires a lot of time and money, relying greatly on volunteers. Many grueling tasks are involved in maintaining hiking trails, such as hiking through the wilderness on foot, using chainsaws, digging, as well as creating and maintaining bridges and walls.

These volunteers have busy lives, limited resources, and families, yet they do everything that they can to ensure the sustainability of the trails that they love.  A considerable amount of work goes into the designing, building, and maintenance of hiking trails and is completed several times a year. Those responsible for these tasks are committed and enjoy the work.

Now that you know all that goes into the construction and maintenance of hiking trails, I hope you are motivated to get out and reap the benefits of all that hard work!

If you are just starting out as a hiker, you may be interested in learning about the types of gear you need and other information to help you get started on this wonderful activity. Check out this guide for beginners before heading to the sporting goods store.

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