AskDefine | Define trail

Dictionary Definition



1 a track or mark left by something that has passed; "there as a trail of blood"; "a tear left its trail on her cheek"
2 a path or track roughly blazed through wild or hilly country
3 evidence pointing to a possible solution; "the police are following a promising lead"; "the trail led straight to the perpetrator" [syn: lead, track]


1 to lag or linger behind; "But in so many other areas we still are dragging" [syn: drag, get behind, hang back, drop behind]
2 go after with the intent to catch; "The policeman chased the mugger down the alley"; "the dog chased the rabbit" [syn: chase, chase after, tail, tag, give chase, dog, go after, track]
3 move, proceed, or walk draggingly pr slowly; "John trailed behind behis class mates"; "The Mercedes trailed behind the horse cart" [syn: shack]
4 hang down so as to drag along the ground; "The bride's veiled trailed along the ground"
5 drag loosely along a surface; allow to sweep the ground; "The toddler was trailing his pants"; "She trained her long scarf behind her" [syn: train]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • trāl, /treɪl/, /treIl/
  • Rhymes: -eɪl


trahere, to drag along


  1. To follow behind (someone or something); to tail (someone or something).
    The hunters trailed their prey deep into the woods.
  2. To drag (something) behind on the ground.
    You'll get your coat all muddy if you trail it around like that.
  3. To leave (a trail of).
    He walked into the house, soaking wet, and trailed water all over the place.
  4. To show a trailer of (a film, TV show etc.); to release or publish a preview of (a report etc.) in advance of the full publication.
    His new film was trailed on TV last night.
    There were no surprises in this morning's much-trailed budget statement.

Derived terms


follow behind
drag behind
leave (a trail of)


  1. The track followed by a hunter.
  2. A route for travel over land, especially a narrow, unpaved route for use by hikers, horse riders, etc.


Derived terms


track followed by a hunter
route for travel over land

See also

Extensive Definition

A trail is a path or road used for walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, or other activities. Some trails are off-limits to everyone other than hikers, and a few trails allow motorized vehicles.


In the United Kingdom and United States, the word footpath is also used to mean a trail; however in Australian English, New Zealand English, Indian English this word means "sidewalk" (American English) or "pavement" (British English).
In Australia, the word track can be used interchangeably with trail, and can refer to anything from a dirt road to a pedestrian walkway (generally also unpaved). The term "trail" gained popularity during World War II, when many servicemen from the United States were stationed in Australia, which probably influenced its being adopted by elements of the Australian media at the time (see Kokoda Track). In New Zealand, the word track is used almost exclusively except in reference to cross-country skiing, where trail is used. In England and Wales, the government-promoted long-distance paths are known as 'National Trails'

Trail types and use

Walking trails

Trail use has become very popular for a wide variety of users. Some trails are designated as nature trails, and are used by people learning about the natural world. Many trails are designated day trails, meaning that they are generally used by people out for a short hike, less than a day. Some trails are designated backpacking trails, or long-distance trails, and are used by both day hikers and by backpackers. Some of the trails are over a thousand miles (1,500 km) long and may be hiked in sections by backpackers, or completed in one trip by dedicated hikers. Some trails are specifically used by other outdoor enthusiasts to gain access to another feature, such as good climbing sites. Many runners also favor running on trails rather than pavement, as giving a more vigorous work-out and better developing agility skills, as well as providing a more pleasant exercise environment.

Stairway trails

Stairway trails are another way to ascend higher slopes. The stairs are constructed by making cuts in the dirt, rocks, or concrete. Stairway trails are usually for walking only. Popular stairway trails include the Stairway Trails in Bernal Heights, East - San Francisco, and the stairs at many hilltop Hindu temples such as the Palani Murugan Temple located in Tirumala, used during pilgrimage & Machu Picchu.

Bicycle trails

Recent decades have seen an explosion of interest in cycling, both on the street and also off-road. Many graded, surfaced bike paths have been built for both uses, but off-road bicycling is more popular, termed mountain biking. A common term used to refer to a "bicycle trail" is simply a "bike trail". These trails may be built to a different set of standards than foot trails, requiring more stable and harder surfaces, less strenuous grades, longer sight visibility, and less sharp changes in direction. On the other hand, the cross-slope of a bike trail may be significantly greater than a foot trail, and the path may be narrower in some cases.
A particular offshoot of trail biking is downhilling, which can be environmentally destructive if not well-managed. Downhilling is particularly popular at ski resorts such as Mammoth Mountain in California or Whistler in British Columbia, where ski lifts are used to get bikes and riders to the top of the mountain.
Because of the greater need for more gradual grades, changing elevations may involve sidehill trails with multiple switchbacks, while these may not be necessary for hikers. In cases where hikers use these bike trails, attention must be paid to the potential of cutting across switchbacks.
Where bike trails intersect with pedestrian or equestrian trails, signage at the intersections is important, and high visibility onto the intersecting trails must be a priority in order to prevent collisions between fast-moving cyclists and slower moving hikers and horses. Bicycles and horses should be allowed on the same trails where the trail is wide enough with good visibility.
A well designed bike trail will have an average grade of less than 10%, and will generally follow a contour line, rather than straight downhill. The trail should slope out or across the trail 3-5% downhill to encourage water to run off the side, rather than down the trail bed. In addition, frequent grade reversals also prevent water from running down the trail, make the trail more fun and interesting to ride, and generally help keep bike speeds down, providing a more safe trail experience for all users.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association is an excellent resource on trail system design, trail building and maintenance.

Equestrian trails

Horseback riding and other equestrian uses of trails continue to be a popular activity for many trail users. Again, horse trails must be built to different standards than other trails. Sight distance is an important issue with horse trails, as is overhead and side clearance. While trail surface types are a relatively insignificant issue with hikers, they may be an important issue with horses. Horses can negotiate much steeper terrain on a dirt trail, for instance, than on a gravel trail. Horses can usually negotiate much the same grades as hikers, but not always, although they can more easily clear obstacles in the path such as logs. A hard trail surface and drainage is a critically important issue on horse trails because of the relatively greater bearing impact of the horse's hoof on the trail than a hiker's foot.
Within the United States National Trail Classification System, equestrian trails include simple day-use bridle paths and others built to accommodate long strings of pack animals on journeys lasting many days. Trail design parameters for these uses include trail base width and material, trail clear width, trail clear height, access to water suitable for stock (not human) use, and trail routing.

Cross-country skiing

In cross-country skiing, a trail (also called a 'track' or 'piste') refers to the parallel grooves cut into the snow, one for each ski.

Motorized trails

Motorized trail use also remains very popular with some people. Such terms as ORV, four-wheeling, all-terrain vehicle, and others actually have highly specific meanings. In the United States, this group of people have a very strong political lobby. The Recreational Trail Program defined as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, pronounced "ice tea", ) of 1991 mandates that states must use a minimum of 30 percent of these funds for motorized trail uses.

Urban and suburban trails

Though the term trail conjures up images of a well-beaten path in a woodland setting, more and more frequently, the term is coming to refer to any sort transportation route designed for non-automobile traffic. For example, a trend sweeping Northern America, especially in the rural Northeast, is the conversion of abandoned railways into rail trails. Examples include the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Berkshire County and the Northern RailTrail of New Hampshire. Though these wide, often paved pathways could have easily been used as roads, their focus on recreational use for pedestrians and cyclists is what sets them apart as trails.
In Northern America, where urban sprawl has begun to strike even the most rural communities, developers and local leaders are currently striving to make their communities more conducive to non-motorized transportation through the use of less traditional "trails." The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has established the Active Living by Design program to improve the livability of communities in part through the trails, both in a more traditional sense, as is being done by the Upper Valley Trails Alliance or in the broader, as is being done by Groundwork Somerville.
Another type of trail that was quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s but is less popular today is the exercise trail (also known as trim trail), which combines running with exercise stations.
The term trail has also been used by developers and urban planners for a variety of modern paved roads, highways, and boulevards. A particularly unusual use of the term is in the province of Alberta, Canada, which has multi-lane freeways called "trails".

Trail administration

In 1968, the United States created its National Trails System, which includes National Scenic Trails, National Historic Trails and National Recreation Trails.
The rules and regulations for a trail are written and enforced by the land management agency in charge of the trail. A trail may be completely contained within one administration (e.g. a State Park) or it may pass through multiple administrations, leading to a confusing array of regulations, allowing dogs or mountain bikes in one segment but not in another, or requiring Wilderness Permits for a portion of the trail, but not everywhere.
In the United States agencies administering trails include the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, State Park systems, County Parks, cities, private organizations such as land trusts, businesses and individual property owners.
New trail construction by an agency must often be assessed for its environmental impact and conformance with State or Federal laws. For example, in California new trails must undergo reviews specified by the California Environmental Quality Act CEQA
In the United Kingdom many trails and footpaths are of ancient origin and are protected under law as rights of way. In ireland, the Keep Ireland Open organization is campaigning for similar rights.

Trail construction

While many trails have arisen through common usage, quality trail design and construction is a complex process requiring certain sets of skills.
When a trail passes across a flat area that is not wet, often all that is required is to clear brush, tree limbs and undergrowth to produce a clear, walkable trail. When crossing streams, bridges may or may not be desirable, depending on the size of the stream and the depth of its banks. In wet areas, it may be necessary to create an elevated trailway with fill or by building a boardwalk. One problem with boardwalks is that they require frequent maintenance and replacement - boards in poor condition are often slippery and hazardous.

Trails on slopes

A common mistake in establishing trails is to make them on slopes that are too steep for comfort and the environment. Such steep trails generally result in serious erosion, a wide swath of impacted area as walkers go to the sides to find better footing, and the inability of many hikers to walk the trail. An absolute limit for trail grades is a grade of one in six, and a more practical limit is a slope of one in eight. Trails that ascend steep slopes may use switchbacks (also called hairpins), but switchback design and construction is a specialized topic that takes great care. The best trail designs eliminate switchbacks.
If a trail is being made to be accessible to off-road wheelchairs, the grade should be no more than one in ten. If a paved trail has to be accessible to all wheelchairs, the grade must be no more than one in twelve, with periodic level pull-offs.
The off-slope, or side-slope, of the trail also must be considered. This is the slope of the trail from side to side, and should never be more than one in twelve. Side-sloped trails are prone to gullying. Ideally, the treadway of the trail should be almost, but not quite, level in cross-section.
Achieving the proper slope in hilly terrain usually requires the excavation of sidehill trail. This is trailway that is constructed by establishing a line of suitable slope across a hillside, then digging out by means of a mattock or similar tool to create the trail. This may be a full-bench trail, where the treadway is only on the firm ground surface after the overlying soil is removed and thrown to the side as waste, or a half-bench trail, where soil is removed and packed to the side so that the treadway is half on firm old ground and half on new packed fill. In problem areas, it may be necessary to establish the trail entirely on fill. In cases where filling is used, it's necessary to pack it firmly and to revisit the site periodically to add to the fill and repack it until fully stable.


An important and often-overlooked factor in trail construction is that of drainage. Where a trail is near the top of a hill or ridge, this is usually a minor issue, but when it is farther down it can become a very major issue. Trails, by their nature, tend to become drainage channels and eventually gullies if the drainage is not properly controlled.
In areas of heavy water flow along a trail, it may be necessary to create a ditch on the uphill side of the trail with drainage points across the trail. The cross-drainage may be accomplished by means of culverts, which must be cleared on a semi-annual basis, or by means of cross-channels, often created by placing logs or timbers across the trail in a downhill direction, called "thank-you-marms", "deadmen", or waterbars. Using timbers or rocks for this purpose also creates erosion barriers. Rock paving in the bottom of these channels and in the trailside ditches may help to maintain stability of these. Ideally, waterbars should be created, with or without ditching, at major points of water flow on or along the trail, and in conjunction, if possible, with existing drainage channels below the trail. Another important technique is to create coweeta dips, or drain dips, points on the trail where it falls briefly (for a meter or so) and then rises again. These provide positive drainage points that are almost never clogged by debris.

Water crossings

For pedestrian use, footbridges may be preferred. Other options are stepping stones and shallow fords. For equestrian use, shallow fords may be preferred.

Trail width

Trail width has two main components: width of the trail base or footbed; and width of the clear space on either side of the trail, as in cuts on steep slopes, tunnels, and through vegetation. Variants in width include single track and two track trails.

Multi-use trails

Trails intended for use by bicycles, wheelchairs and pedestrians will often be surfaced, especially in heavily-used or urban areas. This can be asphalt paving, or compressed stone dust. Such trails will also have well-built bridges with a supported deck and side rails.
There has been a major effort to convert abandoned railroad grades to bike paths or multi-use paths. This has been termed "rails-to-trails".


For long-distance trails, or trails where there is any possibility of anyone taking a wrong turn, blazing or signage should be provided. This may be accomplished by using either paint on natural surfaces or by placing pre-made medallions. Horseshoe-shaped blazes are good for bridle trails. The Appalachian Trail is blazed with white rectangles. Blue is often used for side trails. European walking paths are blazed with yellow points encircled with red. However, other walking paths in European countries are blazed in a variety of manners.


Natural surface, single track trails will require some ongoing maintenance. However, if the trail is properly designed and constructed, maintenance should be limited to clearing downed trees, trimming back brush and clearing drainages. Depending on location, if the trail is properly designed, there should be no need for major rework such as grading or erosion control efforts. However, mountain trails which see both significant rainfall and human traffic may require "trail hardening" efforts in order to prevent further erosion. Most of the seemingly natural rock steps on the mountain trails of the northeast United States are, in fact, the work of professional and volunteer trail crews.

External links

trail in Breton: Hent
trail in Danish: Sti (vej)
trail in German: Pfad
trail in Spanish: Senda
trail in Finnish: Polku
trail in French: Sentier
trail in Italian: Sentiero
trail in Dutch: Pad (weg)
trail in Norwegian: Sti
trail in Portuguese: Trilha
trail in Russian: Тропа
trail in Simple English: Trail
trail in Slovenian: Pot
trail in Swedish: Gångstig
trail in Walloon: Pazea
trail in Contenese: 小路

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

afterclap, aftercrop, aftereffect, afterglow, aftergrowth, afterimage, aftermath, afterpart, afterpiece, aftertaste, alameda, aroma, attend, back, back up, bag, beat, beaten path, beaten track, bedog, berm, bicycle path, boardwalk, breath, bridle path, cascade, catwalk, chase, chivy, come after, come behind, come last, condensation trail, contrail, course, daggle, dally, dangle, dawdle, decrease, definite odor, delay, depend, detectable odor, die out, dillydally, diminish, disappear, displace, dog, drabble, drag, drag along, draggle, drape, draw, drive, droop, dwindle, effluvium, emanate, emanation, ensue, esplanade, essence, exhalation, fade away, fade out, falcon, fall, fall astern, fall back, fall behind, falter, fastwalk, flag, flap, flavor, flop, flow, flush, follow, follow a clue, follow after, follow the hounds, follow up, foot pavement, footpath, footprints, footsteps, footway, fowl, fragrance, fume, garden path, get behind, go after, go back, go backwards, go behind, go hunting, goof off, groove, grow dim, gun, hale, halt, hang, hang back, hang down, haul, hawk, heave, heel, hiking trail, hound, hunt, hunt down, issue, jack, jacklight, lag, lag behind, lessen, line, linger, linger behind, loiter, lollygag, lop, lug, mall, move, move behind, nod, nose, nose out, odor, overtake, parade, path, pathway, pend, peter out, piste, plod, poke, prado, procrastinate, promenade, prowl after, public walk, pull, pursue, queue, redolence, regress, replace, result, retrogress, revert, ride to hounds, route, run, run down, run to earth, runway, rut, sag, savor, scent, shadow, shikar, shilly-shally, shoot, sidewalk, signs, smell, smell out, snake, sniff out, spoor, sport, stalk, start, stench, still-hunt, straggle, stream, string along, subside, subtle odor, succeed, supervene, swag, sweep, swing, tab, tag, tag after, tag along, tail, tailgate, tailpiece, take in tow, taper off, tarry, tow, towing path, towpath, trace, trace down, traces, track, track down, trail after, trail behind, trailer, train, traipse, trawl, tread close upon, troll, trottoir, trudge, tug, vapor trail, wake, walk, walkway, waste time, way, weaken, weep, whiff
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