|Looks like a spur trail.|
Trails can be broadly group in three ways – by shape, location, and uses. There also are a few miscellaneous trail types.
Generally, there are four trail shapes – out-and-back, loop, lollipop, and point-to-point.
This trail heads to a specific point but then has to be backtracked to the starting point. This sometimes is called an in-and-out or a destination trail, the latter because the main sight to see on the trail, such as a waterfall or a vista, also is the point where you turn back.
Such a trail is circular, meaning that its start point also is its end point. A variation of this is the stacked loop, in which several loops share sides, allowing you to extend the distance of any loop by simply adding the next one in the set.
When a loop sits at the end of an out-and-back trail, it looks like a sucker. The out-and-back portion of the trail is called a stem, as you don’t turn around upon reaching the trail junction (like you would on an out-and-back trail) but continue on the loop.
This is like an out-and-back trail, except it’s so long just one-way that you couldn’t day hike it back to its starting point. Instead, you’ll need someone to pick you up at the end point.
Another way to classify trails is by location.
Such a trail heads deep into the wilderness where there are no buildings or maintained roads. Usually a day hike only can consist of a segment of a backcountry trail. A backcountry trail also can be a long-distance trail, which runs for 50 miles or more, or an extended trail, which goes for more than a hundred miles. Often when a trail goes deep into the wilds, it becomes a single-track trail, which means its only wide enough for one person to walk at a time.
This is the near opposite of the backcountry trail, as it remains close to developed areas. Most day hiking routes are frontcountry trails. One kind of frontcountry trail is the interpretive trail; also known as a nature trail, these are quite short routes that are intended to be educational and informative. They almost always are located near roads or park visitor centers. Urban trails are those appearing within built-up areas.
Any trail categorized by its location can appear in any of the previously listed four shapes. Typically, though, a backcountry trail is point-to-point trail while a frontcountry are more diverse.
A third way to categorize trails is by their purpose. There generally are two types.
Such a trail can be used for a variety of purposes, such as hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, jogging, or driving off-terrain vehicles. The term sometimes is shortened to multi-use. A rail trail, or former rail line that have been converted to a trail, usually is a multiple-use trail. A fire road or a jeep trail, which is an unimproved road used by park rangers or fire-fighting vehicles, is another kind of a multiple-use trail.
Such trails are intended for a sole purpose or type of user. For example, a trail might be designated exclusively for equestrian users or for hiking/walking. In winter after snow falls, multi-use trails sometimes become single-use trails for cross country skiing.
Another purpose-styled term you might see is a recreation trail, meaning the intent of the trail is for recreational use. The term is arguably redundant, however, as every trail serves a recreational purpose.
A variety of other trails might appear with any of the aforementioned types.
The most common type is the access trail. Such a trail is a short path that links the main trail to another trail, a road, a campground, or a town. A feeder trail is a variation of the access trail; the feeder funnels people from a central, heavily visited area, such as a campground or a visitor center, onto a main trail.
Another kind is a connector, which links two major trails, offering access to either shorten or lengthen a hike. These also are referred to as a connecting trail.
Many routes often include one or more spur trails. A spur runs off the main trail, usually to an interesting feature or a campsite, and then dead ends. Similar to the spur is the side trail, which also leads to an interesting feature but typically reconnects with the main trail.
When the agency overseeing the trail wishes the hiker to take the trail a specific way, such as clockwise, the route is known as a directional use trail. Often interpretive/nature trails, as they have signed posts that match information on pamphlets, are directional use trails. Such trails are more common in cross-country skiing than in hiking.
Lastly, there are way trails, or unplanned footpaths that people have informally created. They also are known as social trails and typically are not maintained. Sometimes they lead to great vistas or some geological wonder; these are known as good way trails. A bad way trail damages the environment by tromping over rare plants or by making cuts between switchbacks.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.