FAQ: What is the definition of a trail?

What a trail means in legal terms.

by American Trails Staff


Cliff Walk Trail, Rhode Island; photo by Laura Grant

Definitions can be really broad or quite specific.

The National Recreation Trails Program defines a trail as, "A trail is a travel way established either through construction or use and is passable by at least one or more of the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock, watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country skis, off-road recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and 4-wheel drive vehicles."

The Recreational Trails Program legislative definition of a trail is:

23 U.S.C. 206:

§ 206. Recreational trails program

(a) DEFINITIONS.—In this section, the following definitions apply:

(1) MOTORIZED RECREATION.—The term ‘motorized recreation’ means off-road recreation using any motor-powered vehicle, except for a motorized wheelchair.

(2) RECREATIONAL TRAIL.—The term ‘recreational trail’ means a thoroughfare or track across land or snow, used for recreational purposes such as—

(A) pedestrian activities, including wheelchair use;

(B) skating or skateboarding;

(C) equestrian activities, including carriage driving;

(D) nonmotorized snow trail activities, including skiing;

(E) bicycling or use of other human-powered vehicles;

(F) aquatic or water activities; and

(G) motorized vehicular activities, including all-terrain vehicle riding, motorcycling, snowmobiling, use of off-road light trucks, or use of other off-road motorized vehicles.

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