Trail building

From VOC Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

This page is supposed to be a repository of past experiences (what works and what doesn't) for trail building.

Route Planning

Setting the route for the trail is an iterative process and could take a few tries to get it exactly right, especially if both summer and winter use are expected. Winter only trails must also consider variations in snowpack depth - i.e. early season vs late season use. A deep snowpack is ideal for setting trail markers, but it also hides a lot of obstacles that could be problematic earlier in the season or in a low snow year.

Decide what you're trying to do when choosing a route - are you just making the bushwhack easier, or are you building a trail? If you're building a trail focus on the ground and immovable obstacles like large trees and boulders. Think of the finished product, and mostly ignore the bush. It is worth considering how fast the bush will grow back - generally fast in open areas and slower under a forest canopy. Usually the easiest bushwhack line is not the best line for a proper trail.

General information on trail building can be found at Sites and Trails BC site and more specifically in Chapter 10 of the user manual which is available in PDF


If possible assign different colours of flagging tape to different meanings and/or different iterations of the trail. Suggested flagging types are given below:

  • The trail - of course you want to flag the trail. It may be useful to have different colours for different iterations of the trail alignment.
  • Stream / wet area - these may not be obvious in dry conditions so it may be a good idea to flag them while they are visible. The best time to find streams and wet areas is in the spring and early summer as the snow is melting.
  • For ski trails, flag problem trees (trees that get pushed over by snow and block the trail) in the winter so they can be cut down at ground level in the summer.

Many colours of flagging are available, but some are better than others. Pink and Orange are highly visible in forest environments. Yellow, green and blue are more difficult to see. It's also a good idea to use a different colour than nearby forestry operations so the trail flags are not confused with clearcut falling boundary flags.

Getting Permission

] You cannot just randomly go around cutting down trees and trail building in BC. Section 57 of the Forest Range and Practices Act and the Forest Recreation Regulation govern the building and maintaining of trails. The Sites and Trails BC site has a Proposal word document that you can download. The word document details what you can and cannot do with and without the permission of the Regional Recreation Manager.

Trail Markers

Trail Marker Design

For night travel, a retro-reflective material such as 3M Diamond Grade Reflective Sheeting is ideal since they reflect light from a headlamp directly back at the trail user.

  • The FMCBC has a good standard design for markers
  • Holes should be drilled in the markers near one corner. The diameter should be larger than the nail, but smaller than the nail head for a loose fit. With this method, gravity will keep the marker from spinning. Putting the hole near the corner will also prevent the top edge of the marker from being bent over by creeping snow. Also the loose fit will allow the markers to be pushed out as the tree grows, rather than being enveloped by the tree.
  • Use only aluminum nails to attach markers to trees, since these do not pose a safety hazard in sawmills should the tree ever be harvested in the future. The zinc in galvanized nails can also kill trees.
  • Aluminum nails are available to Dunbar Lumber. The regular price is $10 for a box of 100 (November 2011). A high volume discount may apply.
  • Trail markers from the ski trail to Brew Lake were purchased from Astrographic Industries
  • Trail markers for the Cerise Creek summer trail were purchased from Astrographic Industries for $1.95 with holes drilled (November 2011)
  • Trail markers for the Phelix Creek trail, and Callaghan Valley ski trails were purchased from Inprotect Systems

Guidelines for placing trail markers

  • Trail markers placed high, above the height of the maximum snowpack, will last much longer. This is especially true for right angle markers that stick out from the tree trunk. If trail markers are going to be placed below the height of maximum snowpack, smaller flush mounted marked should be used.
  • Don't place trail markers on trees that will be pushed over by snow. They won't last long. A marker on the trunk of a bigger mature tree will last much longer.
  • For high markers above the height of maximum snowpack, place the trail markers in the spring when the snowpack is high to avoid having to climb trees.
  • Trim branches on the tree that would obstruct the view of the marker. Consider that heavy snow can weigh down branches so that they point nearly straight down the tree. Also, snow can pile up on branches that are below a marker. A small bow saw, pruning saw, or heavy duty ratchet pruners are all good tools for this task.
  • Have someone sight the marker along the trail while it's being placed. As a bare minimum, the marker must be visible when standing near the previous marker. Ideally, from any point on the trail there should be two markers visible in either direction. An efficient strategy is for two people to both place markers facing each other at the same time.
  • Leave the nail head protruding about 1/2". This allows room for the tree to grow without enveloping the marker, and it also allows easier rework in case the marker needs to be repositioned. Angle the nail down so gravity will keep the marker close to the tree.
  • Each trail marker team should have one bow saw and one claw hammer.
  • For teams of three people, 2 hammers may make things faster
  • Younger forests with a curvy route and many small trees and bushes will likely require closer spacing in order to maintain sight-line between each marker.


  • Beverley Creek (Callaghan Valley) - planed 20m spacing. Actual usage 380 single sided markers covering 4.4km (average spacing 23m)
  • Hanging Lake (Callaghan Valley) - planned 20m spacing.
  • Cerise Creek Summer Trail- planned 20m spacing. Actual usage 392 single sided markers covering 3.4km (average spacing 17.3m)


Clearing width and height will depend on the expected use of the trail, and the type of vegetation.

  • Within the clearing width, small trees and bushes should be cut back to ground.
  • Tree branches that extend into the clearing area should be cut at the trunk.

The Sites and Trails BC site gives Typical Trail Clearing Guidelines on their [ Infrastructure drawings site]

Clearing Width

Vegetation has an effect on the required clearing width. In forests with lots of underbrush, especially young forests, a wider clearing width will be needed. In drier, well established forests where there is little to no underbrush, a narrow clearing width can be used. If the terrain is generally very open, it doesn't hurt to have the occasional narrowing between 2 trees, etc.

  • Clearing width should be about 1.5 - 2m for summer only trails. This seems like a lot, but is just enough room for two people to pass without having to jump into a bush. The tread width is typically much narrower. A wider clearing width allows for less frequent maintenance, as bushes and underbrush have more room to grown before they become a real nuisance.
  • For winter use trails, the clearing with should be about 3m, or more. BC Parks winter trails use a clearing width of 6m, as snow can push vegetation into the trail. If the trail is going to be well marked, such a wide clearing width is not necessary.
    • Steeper trails require more room to manoever when descending.
    • Young trees can get can pushed over by snow and block the way by mid winter. Trees that cause this sort of problem should be removed, even if they are outside the official clearing width. Old, well establish trees won't get pushed around, so they don't have to be cut back as much.
  • For trails that are winter use only, bushes (blueberry, huckleberry, devils club, mountain azalea, etc) should be left in place since they will be knocked down by the snow. Only trees should be cleared. Young trees and saplings should be cleared as well, because they tend to stand up in spite of the snow, and they also eventually grown into bigger, more annoying trees. By clearing away trees but leaving bushes, the bushes will take over the ground cover and inhibit the growth of more trees. Similarly on all season trails, bushes do not not need to be cleared outside the summer clearing width.

Clearing Height

  • Clearing height for summer use trails should be about 3m. This allows for some extra droop when branches get wet, or have a little bit of snow on them.
  • For trails used in winter, clearing height should be 3m more than the maximum snowpack. Cutting branches at this height can be very difficult so it's sometimes easier to just take out the offending trees completely.


  • Trail junctions should be signed with the destination of each trail branch, and preferably the distance as well.
  • Inprotect Systems made the custom trailhead sign for the Phelix Creek Trail
  • Carved and painted wooden signs are another option. The Roe Creek Ski Route has a wooden sign at the trailhead indicating the distance to the Brew Hut.

Tread Construction

The Sites and Trails BC site gives a standard cross section for a trail Cross Section standard drawing and it is available in PDF. The key piece of info to take out of this cross section is that NO fill should be placed on a slope above 50% or 2 Horizontal to 1 Vertical or 26.57 degrees or 0.4637 Radians which is a very flat!


The Sites and Trails BC site gives a standard bridge drawing gives a standard drawing and it is available in PDF


The Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC (FMCBC) has a cache of hand tools that member clubs can borrow for trail work. The tool cache is kept by Blair Mitten at his house in West Vancouver.

Tool selection will depend on what stage the trail is at. Clearing will require more saws and pruners. Tread construction will require more polaskis, pick axes and pry bars. Bridge building needs a chainsaw.

  • Bow Saws: small low profile saws are best for removing tree branches. Medium size saws are better for cutting small trees, etc. Mainly, the blade needs to be sharp. New blades are inexpensive compared to the difficulty of using a dull saw. Any tree bigger than 6" is easiest to leave for a chainsaw if one is available.
  • Pole pruners: Usually this tool combines a saw and a pruning shear on the end of a long pole. They are the only option available for trimming high branches if there isn't any snow on the ground.
  • Garden pruners: Heavy duty anvil pruners with long arms are best. Heavy duty ratcheting pruners are great for cutting slide alder, but awkward for smaller bushes.
  • Chainsaw: Chainsaws are dangerous. Never use one alone - always have a spotter. The spotter can help you carry the fuel and bar oil as well. Always use a full set safety equipment. Keep a felling wedge and an axe handy to free the saw if the bar gets stuck in a log.
  • Peavy: This is a tool for rolling large diameter logs. It pairs up nicely with a chain saw.
  • Polaski: for grubbing, cutting sidehill tread and digging drainage ditches.
  • Pick Axe: for cutting sidehill and digging drainage ditches.
  • Pry bar: for moving rocks.


Main article: Fundraising

MEC Grants have been used in the past to purchase trail markers, signs and bridge materials. Also, the FMCBC can supply trail markers and lend tools.

External Links