Trail Markings

Surely you’ve heard of trail blazing….that adventuresome spirit that is found among pioneers and those who like to try new things. Trail blazing has a more literal meaning, and that is the practice of marking a path so that others may follow. Established trails may be in excellent condition, leaving no doubt as to where your next steps will take you. Other trails may be only faint footpaths, overgrown with brush and weeds, or buried under a mud or rock slide, or washed out by a recent flood. Paths that go through rocky areas are sometimes hard to see because you can’t see the previous hikers’ footprints in the dirt. This is especially true in areas where there is a lot of slickrock, like Sedona. Recognizing trail markers will help you find your way. Looking beyond the obvious trail signs such as those installed by the forest service, there are several types of markers you may run across while on the trail. While hiking, keep your eyes peeled for the type of trail markers used, and the location of the next marker.

Some trails are marked with affixed markers, which could be metal, plastic, or wooden shapes which are usually nailed to trees, such as the photo at the top. In some areas where there are numerous trails criss-crossing each other, you may find that they’re color- or shape-coded.

cairn2        basketcairn

Rock cairns are carefully arranged piles of rocks, commonly used in open areas where leaving blazes on trees is not an option. Many of the trails in the Sedona area are marked with cairns. Basket cairns are a somewhat more sophisticated version of a simple rock cairn, where a wire basket is filled with rocks. These types of cairns are a little more durable, and less likely to be washed away in a flood. You’ll see some of those as we hike around Sedona.


Blazes are marks, usually on trees. Notch blazes are carved into the bark of the tree. Paint blazes may be applied with spray paint or brushed on. Sometimes paint blazes are used to color code an area where several trails intersect throughout a hiking area. Some blazes are “coded” with symbols such as these:


Flags are another way of marking trails by using colored plastic ribbons tied to branches. Whatever method is used for marking the trail that you’re on, chances are that it will be consistent along the way. So if you’re following a trail, and suddenly the trail marking system seems to have changed, you may want to make sure you’re in the right place!


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