Following good trail etiquette is essential when you’re off-roading on public lands like state and national parks where people go for recreation and a part of that is to look for and follow the trail signs you are likely to come across.
Sometimes thought of as traffic signs for parks and public lands, trail signs display only symbols and no words, so it’s important to understand what each symbol means so you know what to expect as you continue on in your off-road truck or Jeep.
Though most parks use the same or similar symbols to promote consistency throughout the country, some signs may differ slightly from state to state.
Trail Signs to Look Out For on Public Lands
As noted above, most trail signs are of a similar nature and once learned, easy to remember, including:
- Off-road 4WD Trail - Marked by a 4WD vehicle that resembles a Jeep, this trail is a high-clearance trail designed only for trucks, Jeeps, and other SUVs with 4WD. They may include rocks, water, hills, and other general off-roading challenges that should be driven only in a 4WD truck.
- ATV Trail - These are smaller off-road trails for ATVs that commonly include dirt tracks, hills, rocks, water crossings, and other smaller obstacles for 3- and 4-wheeled ATVs. Note that SXS vehicles under 50” in width can use ATV trails, but those that are 50” and wider should drive on the standard off-road truck and car trails.
- Motorcycle Trail - These are single-track trails with hills and other obstacles designed to be negotiated on a dirt bike. Dirt bikes should not go on bicycle trails which are smaller and include different types of obstacles.
- Bicycle Trail - These are trails marked for use only by people on mountain bikes. Mountain bikers should avoid motorcycle trails that are used by motorized dirt bike riders and would present a serious danger.
- Hiking Trail - Trails to be used only by those on foot, hiking trails are free of all vehicles of any kind and may not be used by equestrians.
- Equestrian Trail - These are specific trails for use with horses only. Motorized vehicles, mountain bikers, and those on foot should stay off equestrian trails as their presence could spook the horses.
- Skiing Trail - Trails marked for cross-country skiing when there is snow cover, skiing trails should not be used by snowmobiles that have their own trails.
- Snowmobile Trail - This are specific trails for fast-moving snowmobiles to use when there is snow. Snowmobile trails should be free of all other traffic.
Other Trail Etiquette Tips
The whole purpose of creating different trails through state parks and public lands then labeling them with signs is to allow people to safely enjoy them in various ways.
It’s essential that you stay on the off-road trail for trucks and cars only while keeping an eye out for other traffic at the same time.
Some trails may intersect and cross over each other and there’s always the possibility of coming across others who are displaying poor trail etiquette by using the wrong trails.
Additionally, when sharing the trail with others:
- Always travel on the right.
- Yield to all other traffic that might be crossing over.
- Yield to traffic traveling uphill.
- Slow down when being passed.
- Don’t stop on the trail and block it with your off-road truck.
Follow Trail Signs to Safely Share Trails with Everyone
Off-roading in state and national parks is a fun way to spend a day or a weekend as long as you follow courteous and safe trail etiquette.
When setting off, make sure to only travel on trails meant for your weekend warrior to stay safe and get the most enjoyment from your trip.
Trail etiquette, including understanding trail signs, makes it possible for people to safely enjoy these grounds as they want.
If you come across others willfully using the wrong trails, report them to a ranger for everyone’s safety and the protection of the trails.
Enjoy this off-road time and carefully enjoy your state and national parks!