Route and Trail Types

The routes we travel to get to our destinations will vary greatly. When I describe a hike, I refer to the means of access using only a few different terms. Understand these terms so you know what to expect on the way.

Forestry Road (FR): These are remnants from the logging days. In many areas these roads are maintained, making them easy to follow. They are subject to closure (gating) in the winter months so always check in advance. They tend to have grades that aren’t as steep with a lot of switchbacks. Most are marked where they intersect roads. The road number is posted on a brown sign, usually 3 or 4 numbers. I refer to them with the FR prefix.

Old Logging Road: This is the same as a forestry road but it is no longer maintained or used for vehicle traffic. Most are still signed but some are mere remnants of roads. Once the maintenance stops, the forest slowly reclaims the land so these roads will vary in condition. At times they can be so overgrown that they are no longer visible. They can end without warning and many of them aren’t on the maps.

Trail: This is a reference to a maintained path in the woods. These tend to have names and signs. They can have log steps, barriers to prevent erosion and bridges over creeks. They are usually wide enough to walk two abreast but not always.

Path: Narrower than a trail and not as well maintained. Expect rocky areas, rooty areas, eroded sections and steep segments. They tend to be easy to follow but they will grow over in the summer if they’re not frequented.

Scramble Path: This is a short and usually steep access to the base of a waterfall. From the top they can look intimidating. The best way to handle these is with your hands free to grab onto anything you can to get to the bottom. Lower Dismal Falls is a great example of a steep scramble path. If it were any steeper you’d be climbing down an elevator shaft.

Rock hop: Just like it sounds, there’s no bridge over the creek so you have to hop from rock to rock. Oh yeah, the third rock is wobbly and the reddish one is covered in moss. When the water is up, these usually become a wade.

Boulder climb: There’s nothing between you and the falls but a pile of boulders. All you have to do is figure out the best way to climb up, over and around them. Did I mention some of the boulders are ten feet high and others have water flowing over them?

A Wade: Time to get your feet wet, maybe your shorts and shirt as well. There aren’t rocks to hop, the water is too high to rock hop. Might be ankle deep, might be waist deep. The current is strong and the water is cold. Never underestimate a river wade. I carry water shoes in my pack for these type crossings.

Off-Trail: The logging road leads to the trail and the trail to the creek crossing. On the other side there is only a narrow gap in the dog-hobble. Every step will have you brushing up against foliage, pushing through rhodos, laurel and downfall. Sometimes the hike begins where the trail ends. If it just rained, these hikes are miserable as the leaves are wet and brushing against you on every step.

Bushwhack: There’s not even a faint path to follow, just a compass heading and the sounds of falling water to guide you through the forest. Good times! Much of the time a bushwhack is along the side of a creek, using the creek as a guide. I don’t care much for these so I take a different approach, the creek walk.

Creek Walk: The path of least resistance is to walk in the creek, stream or river. There are more hazards to this than I count. Slippery rocks, swift currents, cold water, one step you’re in six inches of water and the next its waist deep, cascades, downed trees and piles of boulders are the first to come to mind. I got plenty more. I still think its better than walking through the woods.