Wayfinding Signs: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

Wayfinding signs are the perfect way to easily communicate with trail users and keep them safe and oriented on the trail.

by Taylor Goodrich, Communication and Media Specialist, American Trails

What are Wayfinding Signs and Who Needs Them?

A wayfinding sign is simply any kind of sign that gives direction to those reading it. These signs exist not only for trails but in many everyday spaces such as city streets, retail establishments, and hospitals. The purpose of wayfinding signs are to help people be easily oriented to new spaces, find their destination with minimum stress and without getting lost, locate points of interest such as restrooms, and discover information in an easy to digest way.

When and Where are Wayfinding Signs Necessary?

When planning a new trail or park project wayfinding signs should be part of the planning process. However, it is never too late to put in wayfinding signage. Listen to your trail users. If an issue continually comes up that could be helped with an easy to understand sign, that would be an ideal place for a wayfinding sign. If users often express getting lost or confused at a certain area of the trail, this would be a great place to put up a wayfinding sign. If there are historic or culturally significant areas along a trail, such as a pioneer cemetery or bird watching lookout, wayfinding signs can help users easily find these areas without carrying cumbersome maps or trail guides.

Keep in mind amenities you would like to point trail users towards. If new amenities are added, such as new restrooms or picnic areas, these can be added to wayfinding signs. Local businesses are often aided by wayfinding signs pointing out amenities they provide, such as food, bike repair, or lodging. Some trail organizations are able to work with businesses to create signs and secure funding through this mutually beneficial arrangement.

Why use Wayfinding Signs?

Wayfinding signs are a practical and easy way to communicate with trail users. The ease with which well-done wayfinding signs can be understood means the flow of trail users won’t be interrupted by users stopping to read the signs. These signs can be understood while remaining in motion. Proper signage along a trail helps maintain user safety, cut down on user conflict, and keep users informed and connected while they travel the trail. Additionally, using consistent signage can be a way to promote brand recognition for your trail.

photo credit: Stuart Macdonald
Wayfinding signs help orient trail users and direct them to points such as beaches and overlooks.

Wayfinding signs help orient trail users and direct them to points such as beaches and overlooks.

Additional Trail Sign Resources

You Can Get There Trail Wayfinding Within and Beyond the Standards - Wayfinding systems are essential tools of complete and effective regional trails and trail networks.

Telling a Better Story - Focuses on strategies for captivating your trail audience with provocative, well designed interpretive panels.

Educating Trail Users: Advice for Planning Interpretive Trail Signs and Exhibits - It’s up to you as a park steward to instill a sense of appreciation for the story that needs to be told – interpretive theme and messages of the trail must be well planned.

Michigan Motorized Trail Signing Handbook - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for assuring the motorized trail system is appropriately signed. This handbook is intended to assist trail sponsors, DNR, United States Department of Agriculture, and Forest Service employees with trail signing responsibilities in developing trail facilities.

Travel Management Signs for Public Lands in Colorado - Good signs clearly showing which uses are allowed are essential to effective trail management.

Trail Wayfinding Systems - This webinar provides trail and greenway planners, designers, and managers with a practical understanding of trail/ped/bike wayfinding and informational systems with an emphasis on in-the-field structures and media.

FAQ: When and Where to Use Blazes or Markers - Best practices for blaze marking along trails.

Mile Markers and Distance Signs Along Trails - Mileage can be marked off on signs, posts, stones, or stencils on the pavement.

Interpretive Signs and Displays Along Trails - Trails and greenways create an opportunity to teach visitors about history, the environment, and the community.

About the Author

Taylor Goodrich started with American Trails in January 2018 as Communication and Media Specialist. Taylor has worked with the National Recreation Trail (NRT) Ambassadors since the beginning of the program and has helped shape the program to where it is today. Taylor currently lives in Dallas, Texas, which is also where she grew up and where she attended the University of North Texas receiving her degree in History. While in college she started doing freelance work editing and writing, and also got into graphic design and discovered she loves the creativity and craft of digital arts. After college she traveled quite a bit, and lived in both the Pacific Northwest and in New Mexico, and while in both of those places took full advantage of what the outdoors had to offer. After moving back to Texas she started moving towards doing graphic design, social media, and communications work full time, and she has contracted with several companies from tech startups, to music festivals, to law firms, to grow their social media and digital communications presence. Taylor loves hiking and kayaking especially, and is glad to be working with an organization that fights for further accessibility and stewardship of our nation’s trails. She feels very lucky that in this position she will be able to use her professional skills and passion for something she is also very personally passionate about, and in helping to grow American Trails.

Contact: [email protected]

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