How Are Hiking Trails Made And Maintained: A Short Overview

While hiking, you seldom think about who or what constructed the precisely designated pathways you’ve been walking along. Keep in mind that there are people in charge of the beautiful route, people who arrange where you will tread and what you will see.

These trail workers are the hidden builders who shape your encounters with nature. In this article, you will learn about how hiking trails are made and maintained.

What Exactly Are Hiking Trails?

To start with, we have to know what hiking trails are. Wikipedia defines a trail as a path, track, or unpaved lane or road. Some trails are designated for only one activity, such as walking, cycling, or horseback riding, while others are set for multiple activities.

A hiking trail is defined as a specially designated route for hikers to use.

How Are Hiking Trails Made?

That beautiful hiking trail you’re on didn’t just appear out of thin air. Trails can broadly be divided into two groups (natural and artificial) based on how they were created.

Natural trails

These types of trails are created due to the frequent use of certain paths by humans or animals. Examples of natural trails include the California National Historic Trail and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. Between the 1830s and the 1860s, 700,000 emigrants traveled over these trails.

Artificial trails

Some hiking trails are man-made. Examples of artificial trails include Glacier National Park and Sequoia National Park. These man-made trails are designed by trail builders who come from a variety of backgrounds, including

  • Public and commercial organizations: These are for-profit organizations established to construct trails for the benefit of the public. They frequently hire trail specialists, such as geologists, surveyors, and engineers, to name a few. A typical example of this is the Professional Trailbuilders Association.
  • Government agencies: Often, government entities such as the National Park Service (NPS) are responsible for the design of trails. Government-designed trails are frequently located in public areas such as parks, canyons, and forests.
  • Individual landowners: A hiking trail can be built by landowners (who may or may not be hikers) of any acreage, as many design and maintenance characteristics are the same regardless of the size of the property. Therefore, hikers can map out and build trails for themselves following recommended local specifications.

How Do You Make a Trail?

A well-designed hiking trail will be around for many years if it is constructed with care and thoughtfulness. They can harm the environment by eroding if they are built incorrectly. The key to creating a route that hikers will enjoy is to do proper research, plan, and keep it well-maintained.

In general, artificial hiking routes are constructed similarly. These procedures are critical in developing a well-designed path that provides a thrilling hiking experience for hikers. To establish a hiking trail, the following are the necessary steps:

  • Determine the trail’s purpose: In our situation, the activity is hiking. Trails may also serve other purposes, such as cycling.
  • Plan the route: Trail experts generally avoid anything complicating the trail development procedure. Hiking pathways avoid obstructions and follow the region with the least resistance. The paths are constructed with resting points, picnic areas, and stunning viewpoints in mind.
  • Determine the appearance of the hiking trail: Because it’s for hiking, the width, height, and other dimensions of the trail need to be carefully mapped out.
  • Create the route: Manual labor, machinery, or a combination of the two may be used in the construction process.

How to Maintain a Hiking Trail

Now that the hiking trail has been built, it needs to be maintained. On a general note, the person who builds the trail is responsible for the maintenance.

Lack of maintenance can lead to littering, logs strewn over the trails, broken bridges, and erosion, to mention a few. These can result in a reduction in tourist visits, injuries, or even death.

Maintaining hiking routes entails a variety of strenuous labor, including going through the trails on foot, using chainsaws, digging, and reconstructing bridges and barriers.

Government workers

While each government park has its upkeep guidelines, they are frequently comparable. They are in charge of erecting signs such as cautions, directions, and maps. It’s the job of park workers to clean up the paths and remove litter and empty trash cans.

The trail crew inspects the trails at predetermined intervals. These intervals vary depending on the park and may range from daily to several times a year. Unscheduled inspections may be warranted, particularly following significant events such as windstorms, to collect fallen branches and trees. Specific trails, mainly those prone to erosion or dense vegetation, may require more frequent maintenance.


It can be difficult even for the government to maintain trails. Volunteers can help with this. Volunteers play an important role in the maintenance of trails.

Volunteer organizations such as the Youth Conservation Corps and the American Hiking Society frequently assist with trail maintenance. Certain parks have cooperative associations and friends groups that gather funds to help maintain the trails.


Yes, hikers can also contribute to trail maintenance. They can do this by strictly adhering to the guidelines established by the trail builder.

For example, by not leaving trailside litter, hikers help keep the trail clean and make it easier for park staff to do their tasks. Additionally, hikers can aid with clearing logs and disposing of trash containers.

History of Hiking Trails

It’s all too easy to overlook trails. Whether it was developed by individuals or built by the government, each trail has a tale to tell. Your hiking experience is frequently enriched by knowledge of the trail’s history. You may wonder how these trails came about.

The first network of trails was constructed by Native Americans, who often followed animal footprints. These trails were used for hunting, fighting, trading, and ceremonial purposes.

In 1819, Abel Crawford and his son Ethan made a trail to the summit of Mount Washington. The 8.5-mile trail, one of North America’s earliest hiking trails, is one of the oldest used hiking paths in the US.

While North America’s first national parks were established in the mid-late 1800s, the Hungarian National Blue Route, completed in 1938, was Europe’s first recognized long-distance hiking trail.

Conclusion: How Are Hiking Trails Made and Maintained?

Hiking paths are carefully developed and constructed to keep hikers safe while also providing an enjoyable experience. They are maintained by the government, volunteer groups, and even the hikers themselves after they are established.

So when you’re on a hike, please spare a thought for those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it a memorable one.

Last Update: 20. April 2022
About the Author

My name is Thomas, and I love the outdoors. I'm currently living in Germany and I would like to encourage my readers to go outside with this blog. Here you can read more about me.