Trail blazes are significant to hikers in more ways than one, and they’re one of the most important means of navigation one has on the trail.
Everyone has been hiking at some point or another and has seen those strange markings on the trees. They’re usually in the form of what are seemingly random paint swatches but those who pay close enough attention will realize that they follow the trails. They’re often seen in various colors and at equal intervals – usually when a trail branches off or narrows.
Or, perhaps, it’s cairns that a hiker has seen while following a trail through the woods. Believe it or not, these piles of rocks are symbolic of more than just a person’s ability to stack them. There are many different markers – known as blazes – that can be found on hiking trails, and here’s how to tell what each one of them means.
The Idea Behind Blazes On Trails
The term ‘blaze’ comes from the age-old term ‘trailblazer’ which means to forge ahead and essentially create a new path for others to follow. In regard to hiking trails, the blaze markers stand for very much the same thing. While blazes have lost a bit of their use thanks to the creation of hiking apps and the fact that most national parks offer physical trail maps, it’s no less important to pay attention to them. Blazes are used as trail markings for a variety of reasons.
Reassuring Hikers That They’re On The Right Path
The simplest and most obvious purpose of blazes is to reassure the hiker that they’re still on the right path. Since blazes can be found in different colors throughout certain parks, it’s important to pay attention to the color of these markers, as well. Following the same color will indicate that hikers are on the same trail they’ve been on from the start. If a blaze of a different color shows up, it either means that there’s an alternative trail, or that a hiker has taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Indicating A Path’s Purpose
Sometimes, a blaze can be found at a point where two paths diverge. Finding a marker on one tree or both can indicate quite a large discrepancy between the two. If there’s a blaze on both trees, that’s usually an indication that although the path splits off, both trails are accessible and open to hikers. If there’s only a blaze on one tree, it’s usually indicative of the fact that only one path is open to hikers and part of the trail they’re currently on. Essentially, it’s a continuity marker.
- Fact: Trail blazes are usually placed at intervals of 200 or 300 yards.
Marking All The Paths Within A Park
Occasionally, the purpose behind a trail blaze marker is something even simpler. While it correlates to the specific trail a person might be on, it may also just be there to indicate that the path is a trail, period. This is especially true for parks that are multi-use or cross through private property – the blazes serve as a way to keep hikers on the right track. Additionally, the blazes mark trails that might go through a larger wilderness area, in which others might be camping or hunting – two things that must be marked as separate from one another.
How Many Types Of Blazes Are There?
If a hiker happens to see something to the side of the trail that looks like it could be a marker of some sort then, chances are, it probably is. This is where it gets a little confusing: blazes relate to the act of marking the trail, in general, but are also the name of the markings that can be seen on trees throughout various hiking trails. These blazes are usually color-coordinated according to the trail, and hikers might notice that the color of the blaze they’re seeing in real life corresponds to the colored trail on their park maps. Obviously, this is intentional!
- Fact: The most common color used for trail blazes is white.
Another type of blaze, or trail marker, is a cairn. These are the stacks of rocks that hikers might find on the sides of trails or at intersections. These types of trail markers date all the way back to the Native Americans, who sometimes used them to mark paths. Out on the trail, these types of blazes are used in the event that there are no trees or if there’s low visibility, such as foggy mountain summits. It’s more likely that hikers who trek through Alpine areas or any high-elevation areas that see cloud cover will encounter cairns.
Another type of blaze that’s less frequently seen is a reassurance marker. This is simply used to alert hikers to the fact that they’re going the right way. They’re commonly used with linear hiking trails.
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