How Hikers and Backcountry Travelers can Utilize Signs

Most trails have multiple signs that provide information for users, warnings or provide directions. Knowing how to use these signs can be helpful for hikers and other trail users to navigate their way on the trail.

Informational Trail Signs

Informational trail signs provide visitors with information about the trail that they are using. Often these are found at the trailhead as part of a kiosk or bulletin board. These kiosks may have the following:

Information on who manages the trail, such as a club or local parks and recreation department.
Descriptions of wildlife found in the area.
Information for visitors with dogs.
Safety information about environmental hazards such as lightning or animals such as bears or mountain lions.
Brochures or forms for backcountry permits.
Maps are indicating different trails, points of interest, and facilities.
Informational signs can also be found while hiking a trail. For instance, if the trail passes by a point of interest, there may be a sign that discusses that spot. There may also be signs describing particular plants or trees, especially along a nature trail.

Trail Warning Signs

These signs alert hikers and other visitors of dangers along the trail. For instance, signs could indicate that there is a rock-fall hazard and that hikers should be cautious. Warning signs can also alert travelers of environmental preservation efforts or sensitive zones, and to stick to certain paths or avoid closed-off areas for regeneration. Warning signs can also warn hikers that a particular trail is closed.

Directional Trail Signs

Directional signs indicate the names of trails and which way they travel. These can be particularly useful in local and state parks where there may be many trails that crisscross over each other. Signs with an arrow indicating which way the trail goes. Make sure to check the park or trail map to make sure the signs match up with what is on the map.


Multi-Use Trail Signs

Multi-use trail signs help backcountry users who are using trails that serve different kinds of outdoor pursuits. For example, a trail may be used by hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. These signs may often say:

Which kinds of users can use a trail.
When particular user groups can use a trail.
Which direction different user groups can travel. For instance, hikers walk counter-clockwise on a loop trail while mountain bikers ride clockwise.
Who has the right-of-way?
Following Trail Signs

Following trail signs are important because they help the local land manager balance the needs of the resource with the wants of different users. Trail signs also provide essential safety information that can help alert users of relevant information.

Knowing how to use trail signs can not only help visitors enjoy and enhance their trail experience but also help the landowner with managing risk.


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