When you’re researching a new trail, there’s so much information to digest—length, vertical gain, type of trail, level of difficulty. Here’s a cheat sheet of trail terminology for the next time you hit the dirt to get your #100ALMILES.
Loop trail—This type of trail is exactly what it sounds like—you start and end in the same location. Many people like this type of trail because you don’t see the same scenery twice, it’s almost impossible to get lost because there’s only one trail to follow, you don’t need to worry about how to get back to your car, and once you commit to doing the loop you need to finish it.
A great example of a loop trail in Birmingham is the 16-mile Red Trail at Oak Mountain State Park. While technically a mountain bike trail maintained by Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers (BUMP), hikers and trail runners use the trail as well. Just be sure to be aware of your surroundings and yield to the bikers.
Out-and-back trail—This trail is also simple to follow and is self-explanatory. You have a starting point and head out to the end of the trail or to a specific spot, then turn around and go back the way you came. The distance of the trail is measured in its entirety.
A popular out-and-back trail is the Vulcan Trail above downtown Birmingham. There are parking lots on both ends of the 2-mile trail, and people usually walk to the opposite end and then go back to their cars.
Point-to-point trail—A point-to-point trail starts and ends in different locations, requiring some planning ahead of time for either a shuttle or car drop. You can turn a point-to-point into an out-and-back by just turning around, eliminating the need for two vehicles.
Section hiking the Appalachian Trail is a well-known point-to-point destination. Water trails such as the Coosa River are also popular point-to-points, since you put your boat in at one location and take out further down the river.
Lollipop trail—This type of trail combines a loop and an out-and-back to create what looks like a lollipop from above—you walk out on one trail, turn onto a loop trail, then come back out on the original trail.
Ruffner Mountain’s Quarry Trail to Possum Loop Trail is a great example of a lollipop.
Connector trail—These trails do exactly as they sound—connect one trail to another, often
Oak Mountain State Park has many connector trails that link their main trails together. They’re easy to follow because they’re named after the trails they connect, such as Red-Blue Connector or Yellow-White Connector.
Spur trail—A spur trail is a trail that branches off the main trail and usually dead ends, requiring you to turn around and go back the way you came. Spur trails can lead to scenic points, campgrounds, or waterfalls, but not always.
Red Mountain is full of spur trails that lead to old mines and other features. Just make sure to stay on the trail. Getting off trail in an old mining area can be very dangerous.