Tails from the trail and tips on training your human

5 Signs Your Trail Is In Trouble

Trail Is In Trouble - Happy Breath

Does your trail look different from how it used to be when you first started hiking? Whether it’s due to normal use over a period of time, poor construction, or neglect, every trail requires funding, vigilance, and most importantly, maintenance, to continue catering to hikers and other visitors. Here are all the signs your trail might be in trouble and what you as a hiker can do about it.

Trail Braiding

It’s never a pleasant sight to see your favorite trail turn into multiple trails. One of the biggest reasons it happens is that people often try to avoid obstacles on the way, such as muddy spots. Sometimes they may also lack the confidence and skill to hike on a more established trail. Due to increasing visitors repeating the same behavior, the trail can split into smaller parts.

You may be wondering why multiple trails splitting out of a single trail is a bad idea. This is because trail braiding can cause erosion. Moreover, it can also cause non-native plants to grow, further adding to the maintenance costs. However, the biggest consequence is that it kills vegetation.

What Can You Do About It?

It’s important that people stay on the trail and also prompt others to do the same. As hiking boots are made to deal with messy conditions, continuing to hike along muddy spots shouldn’t be a problem. Even if rocks are a hurdle, they can be kicked to the side unless it’s unsafe.

Poor Drainage

It’s common for poorly designed trails to have debris built up over time. However, the problem arises when it blocks the water’s drainage path, and what you see as a result are rivulets or puddles.

Compaction and soil displacement are also possible consequences as snow and rain get collected in sunken threads. Here’s why it’s a problem. Poor drainage is one of the major causes of trail braiding, which also means further erosion. When people sidestep puddles, it widens the trail and makes the puddle much larger.

What Can You Do About It?

There’s no harm in getting your boots dirty as you hop over or go through the water. If you come across any branches that may be blocking drainage, flip them out and throw them to the downhill side using a pole. However, these temporary measures aren’t enough to deal with serious problems. Only by installing the right drainage features can you ensure that the water diverts effectively.


Trenching is a phenomenon that occurs in a flat area. In simple words, the feeling is very similar to hiking on a pipe’s bottom half. As the influx of visitors increases, there are more chances of wear and tear to the tread of a trail due to hundreds of footsteps. As a result, it compacts the soil and creates a funnel to help water run down.

This could be a problem in the long run because rainstorms can cause trenches to become streams, assisting the process of soil erosion. Furthermore, it can also create trail braiding because people would rather walk alongside than on the trail.

What Can You Do About It?

It may seem unpleasant but don’t stop hiking in the trench because it may be the only way to avoid erosion and trail braiding. Moreover, trail crews can always fill the trenches with crushed soil and rocks, depending on the type of terrain.

Heavy Brush

Have you ever noticed how you often come across branches that scrape your clothing as you hike? That’s heavy brush or overgrowth.

A crucial aspect of maintaining trails is cutting vegetation on the sides regularly or “brushing” as we refer to it. However, since authorities often overlook it, there’s a strong chance of erosion as a result of trapped water and vegetation-filled berms on the surface of a trail. This can also elevate the problems further and creep the trails downhill when a heavy brush comes from the uphill side.

What Can You Do About It?

Tools like loppers and brush trimmers can come in handy in such circumstances. In fact, many experienced trail runners and hikers often carry a folding saw to cut any branches that may come their way and clear the passage for other users. While it is something even a rookie can attempt, it’s important to never leave stubs uncut. If they end up sticking out, they may rip clothing or cause injuries.

Trail Creep

Sometimes you may come across a trail where one side vanishes off the outside edge. Here’s why it happens. When debris or soil slides downhill, it narrows the tread, which is the same part you walk on.

However, there are several reasons why a trail creep happens. For instance, one common reason is hikers adjusting downhill to avoid coming across this debris and soil. It could be terrible for trail’s sustainability in the long run because there may be a possible risk of users falling if it gets pushed to the edge too much. Moreover, if it extends any further, it may tempt users with motor vehicles to come, adding to the reconstruction costs.

What Can You Do About It?

Regular and timely brushing is so far the only way to avoid your favorite trail from creeping. Another way to deal with it is by requesting the maintenance crew to install guide rocks, but only if they don’t affect water drainage.

The Bottom Line

In the end, protecting trails is extremely important to ensure that people continue to experience nature safely. There are a number of ways that trail users and hikers can contribute to preserving these wonders of nature and ensure that those who come after them are unharmed.

While some problems mentioned above require intervention from a professional maintenance crew, others are pretty much avoidable. For instance, trail braiding, and trenching are issues that people often contribute to. Hence, the least you as a hiker or a trail runner can do is stay on the track and encourage others to do the same, no matter what obstacles or trenches you come across.