What in the Blazes?. . .Information About Trail Blazes and What They Mean

For thousands of miles America’s hiking trails wander across ranges and rivers, reaching basically every corner of the country. The 11 National Scenic Trails alone offer almost 20,000 miles of hiking opportunities.

So how exactly does one successfully navigate these long trails? Anyone who has set foot on the famous Appalachian Trail has undoubtedly seen several of the infamous “white blazes”. The blazes are, at their simplest, trail “markers” to keep hikers on the right path.

A traditional blaze is 2” wide by 6” tall and is painted on trees, fence posts, rocks, or anything else available nearby. They can also be found in plastic or metal nail-up versions or as adhesive decals for carsonite posts.

A general rule of thumb is a single blaze should be visible at all times to a hiker on a well-marked trail, maybe two depending on the layout. Over-blazing (more than 2 blazes visible from one spot on the trail at a time) is considered overkill and can be classified as form of visual pollution.

Interpreting the blazes to find your way along a trail is fairly straight forward. A single blaze by itself just indicates that the trail ahead is fairly straight or obvious and you are traveling in the right direction. A double blaze indicates a turn in the trail, with the offset blaze (the top one) indicating the direction of the turn. Two blazes directly on top of each other with no offset just simply means “pay attention”, something about the trail up ahead may not be obvious.

Each long trail designates their own color for marking the trail, the AT famously adopting white. Spurs or loop trails often have a common but different color as well, in order to distinguish them from the main trail.

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