When you are a beginning trail runner, it’s important to know that not all trails are equal. Knowing the types of trails in your area is vital to being prepared and enjoying your run.
I’ve always thought trail running should develop a rating system. The system would combine the type of trail and its elevation gain to result in a downhill skiing-type rating: green circles, blue squares, black diamonds, purple horseshoes (those maybe aren’t totally right, I haven’t been skiing in years).
Until my idea catches hold, a little research may be required.
One type of trail isn’t any better or worse than any other: they are just different. You should just always know what you are in for.
Types of Trails
Trail is a generic term and can mean just about any type of surface, width or use.
Multi-Use trails are often dirt or crushed gravel and are designed for use my multiple types of users: walkers, runners, bikes, horses. These trails are usually a bit wider to allow for the different users, but they aren’t always.
Fire roads are unimproved dirt roads that allow access by fire vehicles and park rangers.
Rail trails are old rail beds that have been converted into trails. They are often multi-use trails that are paved or are of crushed gravel. Rail trails generally have limited elevation gain and any elevation gain there may be is pretty gradual. Much like me on a slow day, the old trains didn’t thrive on steep elevations.
Everywhere I have lived has had rail trails that are perfect for marathon training long runs. They are fairly flat, fairly long, well marked, and have limited intersections- perfect for those long runs when I know my brain will get a little fuzzy by the end.
My dad loves steam trains and I inherited some of his train love, so I have a special fondness for rail trails. The Rails to Trail Conservancy does great work converting the trails.
Single track trails are only wide enough for one person and are often hillier and the most technically challenging. There are usually tree roots, rocks and boulders to navigate around. As the name suggests, when there are many people on a single track trail there can be a bunch of passing and yielding.