For many outdoor visitors — including hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and equestrians — trails are an essential component of the outdoor experience. Favorite trails often lead us to amazing views, idyllic campsites and cool swimming holes. By concentrating traffic onto a narrow ribbon of soil, trails help protect natural areas by limiting the trampling of vegetation and disturbance of habitat that off-trail travel sometimes causes.
Remember that trails degrade over time and require constant upkeep. Uniformed visitors greatly hasten the degradation of trails when they cut switchbacks or ignore trail closures. Worse yet, user-created “social trails” can lack important features of properly designed ones, leading to greater erosion and heightened impacts on plants and animals. It could take 10-30 years for an ecosystem to recover from irresponsible off-trail hiking or camping.