Trail Signs, How Important are they for Hikers

Trail signs alert hikers with directions, distances, arrows, and information that prevent them from losing their way while hiking. Trail signs reassure the hiker that he/she is in the trail. Trail signs are really useful to hikers when they have some confusion regarding turns, switchbacks, open woods and open areas with rocks. Elaborate trail signs with details of “do’s and don’ts” are definitely found where the trail begins and ends.

Trail signs are usually developed keeping in mind the universal method of interpreting signs and signals and it keeps very little chance for a hiker to misinterpret the signs. Sometimes trails are broken by intersections, missing bridges, and many other obstacles. But with signs showing from where to pick up the trail is one development of trail signs.

About Trailhead signs

Signs with all information about the trail are generally placed at the trailhead and access points. Trailheads feature essential information, signs, post or marker that marks the trail direction. In urban areas, trail signs are frequent and are also placed in parking lots for trail identification. Information is often found at trailheads that include rules, map, special conditions, trail mileage, events and “friends of the trail” groups. Some more developed trailhead signs would include a bulletin board with safety messages, a trail register, and wildlife alerts.

Trailhead signs are a way to teach and remind hikers of what they are supposed to follow in the trail. Not following the signs may prove fatal as well as compel the authorities to enforce laws on you. Signs also create awareness among hikers to conserve the area.


Trail signs come in different colors and shapes at different places. It can be a simple white rectangle of the Appalachian Trail or multicolored coding systems used for areas with many trails.

The frequency of trail signs depends on the natural visibility of the route, local preferences and the amount of manpower available to maintain the trail. Trail signs should be always visible with a clear message to help hikers in their way.


Some of the very common trail signs usually mention:

Vehicles are restricted to designated roads and parking areas only.

The speed limit of vehicles per hour.

No dumping or littering on park property.

Motorized vehicles permitted on paved or gravel roads only.

No alcoholic beverages allowed on park property.

Riding on closed trails can result in a citation.

No swimming allowed on park property.

No firearms allowed.

No hunting allowed on park property.

No boating allowed in the park without written permission from the Park Authorities.

The disturbing habitat of animals prohibited.

Fires in designated areas only – picnic areas and picnic shelters.

Removal of plants is prohibited.

Fishing is allowed, except where prohibited by sign.

Cutting or timber prohibited

How to interpret trail signs

Most of the national parks use the same type of trail sign techniques but vary according to the area. There are some basic principles that can be followed everywhere. A blaze or a sign can be distinguished on the basis of color and shape. A sign will generally maintain the same color throughout the trail. Blazes are normally painted on trees and rocks but you need to keep your eyes open to locate it. Sometimes, blazes are painted with reflectors for night travel.

Normally, a straight trail will feature a sign every 100 feet. But when a trail has to turn or switchback, there will be another sign painted on top. Again, when a trail crosses another trail, there will be two signs painted. The first color represents your trail whereas the second one is the one you are crossing or turning onto.


Hiking is really an exciting past time. But sometimes you may face dangers if you don’t interpret or follow trail signs. The immediate impact will fall on you. You may be lost on the trail or face animal encounters. If there is a sign saying some danger is ahead, then try to follow it to avert dangers. Trail signs saying “loose rocks ahead” may not bother you in winter but you may find a whole lot of loose rocks during the rainy season, which may turn into dangerous mudslides. Seasonal trail signs are very important for hikers to follow. Many places take up a dramatic look during certain seasons. So, it is advisable to stay safe by obeying the signs.

When you are asked to follow certain rules and signs, you are actually saving yourself from danger as well as helping in preserving the environment. Hikers often tend to destroy the environment when they don’t follow signs. Again, protecting the trail and nature is a responsibility of every hiker. Cleaning out the garbage made by you can help in the conservation of the trail.

Each individual hiker can help in preserving the ecosystem by not lighting a campfire in restricted areas. Once in 2005, a Czech hiker burned 7% of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile by accidentally knocking over an illegal gas portable stove. By following and obeying trail regulations, you can actually save the environment.

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