Recognising different kinds of pathways, tracks and trails in the bush
There are many different types of bushwalking pathways, tracks and trails across Australia. Some routes have proper concrete paths, while others are merely the faintest trace of a track. Collectively, they are known as ‘ways’, a rather awkward and confusing word considering it has other meanings too! Nevertheless, it’s the best word to describe tracks, trails, sealed pathways, metal boardwalks and so on.
While some ‘ways’ are well maintained with signposts and facilities, others have irregular signposting or none at all. Some, but not all ‘ways’ are marked on maps, distinguished by different colours and line thicknesses.
Recognising from a map the different ‘ways’ the route follows is helpful. If you have a sense of how well-defined (or not) the route is, you’ll be well prepared for sections that are vague or not well signposted. Hence if something different appears, then alarm bells sound. It gives you time to stop and double-check that you’re still going the right way.
Sealed road Features of a sealed road
Sealed roads are recognised as properly formed and constructed road surfaces made with materials such as tar, bitumen, or concrete.
Some bushwalks make use of sealed roads to connect between sections of bush or national parks. Take care of vehicles and other motor traffic when using these roads. Walk on the right-hand side of the road to face oncoming traffic.
Sealed roads are typically depicted as solid red lines on topographic maps.
Unsealed road Features of an unsealed road
Unsealed roads are categorised as routes accessible by vehicles that are not sealed, metalled, or gravel roads.
Bushwalks will commonly use unsealed roads to connect between different sections of bush. As with sealed roads, take care of vehicles and other motor traffic when using these roads. Walk on the right-hand side of the road to face oncoming traffic.
Unsealed roads are typically depicted as solid orange lines on topographic maps:
Management trail Features of a management trail
Management trails are used by land managers to access the areas they look after. They are not generally open to public vehicles. Management trails include fire-trails, which have strategic importance for fighting bushfires. They are usually an unsealed surface, about the width of a 4×4 car, with tire markings or ruts on the trail. Fire trails have contour banks to control erosion and track degradation, and sometimes passing bays or areas for vehicles to turn around.
Many bushwalks follow firetrails as they provide relatively easy walking. Although vehicles are rare, still take care when walking these roads.
Management trails are typically depicted as dashed orange lines on a topographic maps. Longer orange dashes indicate it is a vehicular track. Shorter orange dashes indicate a four-wheel drive track.
Path Features of a path
Paths are sealed walkways. They are generally flatter trails, and some are wheelchair user accessible.
In Australia, only a few of these paths exist, and they are generally short distances to a lookout.
Sealed paths, boardwalks and tracks are not generally drawn differently on topographic maps. They are represented by dashed black lines.
Boardwalk Features of a boardwalk
Boardwalks are used in areas with sensitive vegetation or boggy, muddy walking areas. They are quite common in Tasmania, as well as wetland areas. Sealed paths, boardwalks and tracks are not generally depicted differently on topographic maps.
Track Features of a track
In Australia, a track is an unsealed pathway (except Victoria, where a ‘management trail’ is a ‘management track’, and a ‘walking track’ is a ‘walking trail’). Many bushwalks are tracks, some with better signposting than others.
Sealed paths, boardwalks and tracks are not generally depicted differently on topographic maps.
Faint tracks Features of a faint track
Faint tracks are standard on Grade 5/6 walks. These tracks might be overgrown, poorly maintained, or never a track in the first place but just a pad that has developed over time. Sometimes, animals will create tracks across ridgelines or down to waterways that provide easier walking for bushwalkers.
Faint tracks are generally not depicted on topographic maps.