Trail riding

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Main articles: Trail, Bridle path and Mountain biking
Trail riding in Dornbirn, Austria, It is often a group activity.
Mountain bike trail in the Forest of Dean, England.

Trail riding is riding outdoors on trails, bridle paths, and forest roads, but not on roads regularly used by motorised traffic. A trail ride can be of any length, including a long distance, multi-day trip. It originated with horse riding, and in the UK and Europe, the practice is now called horse or pony trekking. But the term now includes mountain biking, mixed terrain cycle-touring, and the use of motorcycles and other motorized all-terrain vehicles. It may be informal activities of an individual or small group, or larger events organized by a club. Some equestrian trail rides in the USA are directed by professional guides or outfitters, particularly at guest ranches. In some parts of the world, trail riding (of what ever kind) is limited by law to recognized, and sometimes function-specific, trails that are waymarked. In other places, trails may be less maintained and more natural. Trail riding can include other activities, such as camping, hunting, fishing, orienteering and backpacking.

Multi-use trails[edit]

Rail trails[edit]

Rail trails (disused railways converted into multi-use trails)) often provide invaluable trail riding for mountain bikers, and sometimes also equestrians, in many parts of the world. They are also open to walkers. Typical examples are the Downs Link a 36.7-mile (58.7 km) footpath and bridleway in southern England, the Trans Canada Trail (which will eventually stretch 23,000 kilometres (14,000 mi) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic ocean), and in Australia the 95 kilometres (59 mi) Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail. The Trans Canada Trail can be used by hikers, walkers, cyclists, horseback riders, as well as cross country skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers in winter.[1]

Bridle path (definition)[edit]

The discussion of actual bridle paths can be found in subsequent sections.

A bridle path, also bridleway, equestrian trail, horse riding path, bridle road, or horse trail, is a trail or a thoroughfare that is used by people riding on horses. Trails originally created for use by horses often now serve a wider range of users, including equestrians, hikers,[2] and cyclists. Such paths are either impassable for motorized vehicles, or vehicles are banned. The laws relating to allowable uses vary from country to country.[3][4]

In England and Wales a bridle path now refers to a route which can be legally used by horse riders in addition to walkers, and since 1968, by cyclists.

In the US, the term bridle path is used colloquially for trails or paths used primarily for people making day treks on horses, and usually used only on the east coast, whereas out west the equivalent term is trail. The term "bridleway" is rarely used in the U.S. Most of the time horses are presumed allowed to use trails in America unless specifically banned, although rules differ among locations.[5]

Equestrian trails[edit]

Many long-distance trails have sections suitable for horse riding, and a few are suitable for horse riding throughout their length, or have been developed primarily for horse riding. The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) in Australia is the longest marked multi-use trail in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales to Healesville, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside of wilderness areas. One of the objectives was to develop a trail that linked up the brumby tracks,[6] mustering and stock routes along the Great Dividing Range, thus providing an opportunity to legally ride the routes of stockmen and drovers who once travelled these areas with pack horses. This Trail provides access to some of the wildest, most remote country in the world.[6] The Bicentennial National Trail is suitable for self-reliant horse riders, fit walkers and mountain bike riders.[7]

In the United Kingdom the British Horse Society is developing a network of horse trails known as the National Bridleroute Network.[8] A number of long distance multi-use trails have been created in England, including three National Trails, the Pennine Bridleway, 192 km (119 miles), The Ridgeway, 139 km (86 miles), and South Downs Way, 160 km (99 miles).[9]

The United States has few if any formal designations for bridle paths, though horses are generally allowed on most state and federal trails, roads and public routes except where specifically restricted. Often, horses under saddle are subject to the same regulations as pedestrians or hikers where those requirements differ from those for cyclists. In most states, horses are classified as livestock and thus restricted from areas such as the right of way of the interstate highway system, though generally permitted to travel along the side of other roadways, especially in rural areas.

Some trails managed by the U. S. Forest Service and other governmental entities may restrict access of horses, or restrict access during certain times of the year. For example, horses are allowed on the American Discovery Trail, which crosses the country,[10] but only on specific sections of the Appalachian Trail.[11] Access to trails and pathways on private land is generally left to the discretion of the landowner, subject to the general trespass laws of each of the 50 states.

Within the United States National Trail Classification System,[12] equestrian trails include simple day-use bridle paths and others built to accommodate long strings of pack animals on journeys lasting many days. Trail design parameters for these uses include trail base width and material, trail clear width, trail clear height, access to water suitable for stock (not human) use, and trail routing.

Pleasure riding[edit]

The term pleasure riding is used in sometimes instead of trail riding. This refers to a form of equestrianism that encompasses many forms of recreational riding for personal enjoyment, without any element of competition. Pleasure riding is called "hacking" in United Kingdom, and in parts of the eastern United States and Canada. In other pars of the United States, particularly the American west, the term trail riding is commonly used to describe pleasure riding, particularly on public lands. Many horses are suitable for pleasure riding, including grade horses and other animals of ordinary quality and good disposition. Such horses are sometimes called hacks, particularly in those areas where pleasure riding is known as hacking.

Equestrian Competitions[edit]

See also: Competitive trail riding, Endurance riding, Judged trail ride, Trail (horse show)

There are competitive events, which test the horse and rider's ability to navigate obstacles commonly found on trails, such as opening and closing gates, crossing streams, etc. The level of difficulty of a competitive ride will vary by trail or terrain. In recreational trail riding, having fun and enjoying time spent in natures rather than peed and form are the goals.

Mountain bike trails[edit]

Downhilling in Russia

Mountain bikes are typically ridden on mountain trails, fire roads, logging roads, and other unpaved trails. These types of terrain commonly include rocks, washouts, ruts, loose sand, loose gravel, roots, and steep slopes. Mountain bikes are built to handle this terrain and the obstacles that are found in it, like logs, vertical drop offs, and small boulders. Mountain bikes, therefore, are more sturdily constructed than regular bicycles, have larger knobby tires, more powerful brakes, and the lower gear ratios needed for steep grades with poor traction.

Trail riding on a mountain bike can be:

  • (1) On short, steep, highly technical, constructed trails.[13]
  • 2) On longer trails, like bridle paths, rail trails, farm and forest roads and towpaths. The South Downs Way in England and the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, in the USA would be examples.[14][15]
  • (3) On hiking trails that can include steep mountain trails and high passes. These rides that can last for days.[16]

Off road bicycle trails are generally function-specific and most commonly waymarked along their route. They may take the form of single routes or form part of larger complexes, known as trail centres. Off road trails often incorporate a mix of challenging terrain, singletrack, smooth fireroads, and even paved paths. Trails with an easy or moderate technical complexity are generally deemed cross-country trails, while trails difficult even to experienced riders are more often dubbed all-mountain, freeride, or downhill. Downhilling is particularly popular at ski resorts such as Mammoth Mountain in California, USA or Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, where ski lifts are used to get bikes and riders to the top of the mountain.

Long rides on hiking and mountain paths have some resemblance to cycle touring but the latter usually take place on tarmac. However, mixed terrain cycle-touring, nicknamed "rough riding" in Canada and the USA and "rough stuff" in Europe, is a form of trail riding, because it involves cycling over a variety of surfaces and topography, on a single route, either using a mountain bike or hybrid bike. A new style of travel called adventure cycle-touring or expedition touring involves exploring remote regions of the world on sturdy bicycles carrying lightweight gear. This type of trail riding is in fact a form of backpacking.[17]

Birth place: California[edit]

Mount Tamalpais, California, USA, and the surrounding areas in Marin County, California are recognized as the birthplace of mountain biking.[18] In the 1970s, mountain biking pioneers such as Gary Fisher, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze were active. The 2006 film Klunkers chronicled their story, solidifying Mount Tamalpais' legendary status as a trail riding destination.

The area is popular for mountain bikers due to Mount Tamalpais’ proximity to a highly populated geographic region, ease of access, beautiful and varied terrain, and views. Many trailheads surround the mountain, and the paved and dirt fire roads that cross Mount Tamalpais and adjacent foothills provide many options for people of all fitness levels. Most offroad cyclists reach Mount Tamalpais through the towns of Ross, Fairfax or Mill Valley, and the less used access points that exist through the towns of Larkspur and Kentfield. The Old Railroad Grade fire road that begins in Mill Valley, once the right-of-way of the Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railroad, is the easiest route to traverse up the mountain to its peak of 2,571 feet (784 m) at East Peak.

Like other popular mountain biking areas, there has been considerable controversy around trail access on Mount Tamalpais for mountain bikes, both in terms of environmental impact and the safety of other trail users. As a result, bicycles are generally restricted from narrow, single-track trails, though bicycles are allowed on most fire roads. However, through the growing connections of trails established by the Bay Area Ridge Trail, mountain bikers have access to multi-use trails such as the Dias Ridge Trail. In addition, the non-profit Marin County Bicycle Coalition is playing a growing role to improve access for mountain bikers to singletrack and multi-use trails by working collaboratively with the Marin Municipal Water District,[19] which manages 18,500 acres in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other organizations.

United Kingdom[edit]

In England and Wales bridle paths, and some other rights of way, such as byways and 'Roads used as paths' (RUPP), are open to cyclists, but not footpaths. This includes three National Trails, the Pennine Bridleway, 192 km (119 miles), The Ridgeway, 139 km (86 miles), and South Downs Way, 160 km (99 miles).[9] However, in Scotland there is no legal distinction between footpaths and bridleways, and it is generally accepted that cyclists and horseriders may follow rights of way with suitable surfaces.[20] Rights of way are somewhat limited in Nothern Ireland.


There are many opportunities for long trail rides in Europe, including routes through the Swiss Alps that involve crossing high Alpine passes.[21]

Mountain biking in the Julian Alps, Slovenia

In France The Grande Traversée du Massif Central (The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central) is a long-distance mountain bike trail that crosses from the Massif Central in the centre of France to the Mediterranean sea, from Clermont-Ferrand to Sète, south of Montpellier, 718 km (446 miles). It was developed by the two outdoor organizations Chamina and the FFC (Fédération Française de Cyclisme), and was the first long-distance mountain bike trail to be completed in France. Subsequently other trails have been created known as VTT routes (‘Vélo Tout Terrain’, or all-terrain bicycle) in the Pyrenees and French Alps, Most of the route is on minor country roads or off road on a variety of surfaces, from wide forest roads to narrow, muddy woodland tracks, but there are with some steep, rocky sections. The majority of the route does not require technical mountain biking skills, but there are a few more difficult, technical sections, some of which can be avoided.[22]

Extreme trail riding[edit]

Megavalanche is a mountainbike downhill marathon style event in France that mixes gravity-assisted excitement with endurance levels of fitness, guaranteed to test both nerve and physique. The most famous round is run from the French Alps town of Alpe D'Huez, starting on the glaciated summit of the Pic Blanc (3,300m) and descending to the lush meadows of the valley bottom at Allemont (720m), after some 2000 metres down and 30 km along.

Another example of an extreme trail ride would be the traverse of the knife-edge ridge of the Cuillins, in the Isle of Skye, Scotland by Danny Macaskill.[23]

Problems and maintenance[edit]

There is some criticism of trail riding when excess or improper use of trails may lead to erosion, the spread of invasive plants, conflict with hikers, or harassment of wildlife. Off-road or trail activity is usually not permitted, as such activity may also raise the risk of soil erosion, spread weeds, and cause other damage. However, many responsible equestrians, mountain bikers, and off-road motorcyclists, especially those who get involved in these sports by joining an organized club, perform hours of trail maintenance every year. Many organizations also sponsor educational events to teach newcomers about safety, responsible land stewardship and how to improve riding techniques.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trans Canada Trail
  2. ^ Old Bridle Path trail in NH White Mountains
  3. ^ "bridle path". Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved July 24, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Bridle Path". The American Heritage Dictionary (Fourth ed.). 2007. 
  5. ^ Concord Monitor: "N.H. drops plans to limit horse use of state trails after complaints"
  6. ^ a b The Bicentennial National Trail, Welcome to One of the World's Great Natural Adventures
  7. ^ BNT
  8. ^ Ride UK: the National Bridleroute Network
  9. ^ a b Ride-UK: National Bridle Route Network provides details of other long distance bridle routes at
  10. ^ <>
  11. ^
  12. ^ National Trail Classification System, FSM 2350, and FSH 2309.18, Federal Register: July 3, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 127), Pages 38021-38052 online copy on
  13. ^ Mountain bike trail centres UK [1]
  14. ^ Heart and Stroke Foundation Challenge event[2]
  15. ^ Ohio & Erie Canal: Biking [3]
  16. ^ Todd Remington of the Colorado Rough Riders, "alpine cycle-touring", [4]
  17. ^ Stephen Lord, Adventure Cycle-Touring (2006)
  18. ^ Mount Tamalpais [5]
  19. ^ "which manages 18,500 acres in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed". MMWD. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 
  20. ^ Outdoor Access Scotlanf
  21. ^ My Switzerland
  22. ^ The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central by mountain bike, road bike or on foot, by Alan Castle. Published by Cicerone Press [6]
  23. ^ Video: Danny Macaskill-rides-stunning-ridge [7]


  • Kinsey, J. M. and Denison, Jennifer, Backcountry Basics Colorado Springs, CO: Western Horseman Publishing, 2008