Trail Wayfinding: How to Signpost Hiking Trails- 5 Ideas

Mark Woolmer

Wayfinding is essential for all hiking trails, whether a gentle stroll through a country park or a more intense climb around the Brecon Beacons, the Cairngorms, Lake District or the Peak District.

Directional and informational signage ensures that all trail users, from experienced climbers and mountain bikers to families and first-time visitors, know the correct routes to take, steer clear of dangerous drops or rock faces, and, importantly, understand how to find their way back if the weather turns.

Becoming lost and disoriented on a hiking trail can be stressful and cause even the fittest hikers to panic. This can create unnecessary risks and put pressure on rangers and rescue teams to guide walkers to safety.

It’s also well worth using professionally designed, strategic wayfinding on routes with historically relevant sites or landscapes, rare native species of wildlife, or amenities such as picnic areas, cafes, and restrooms to ensure each attendee has a positive experience.

In this article, we discuss the right ways to signpost hiking trails and sharing some ideas and inspiration to help you select the optimal signage.

Why Is Wayfinding Essential for Hiking and Outdoor Trails?

Wayfinding systems aren’t simply one or two signs but rather a well-considered network of signals, directions and information that communicate key information with everybody using a trail. The best signage will depend on the messaging you need to convey and the typical demographic using the site. For example:

  • Warning signs can protect visitors from areas of high risk, such as very steep or dangerous climbs, cliff edges, and protected areas, or prevent other issues, such as antisocial behaviour and littering.
  • Safety signs help direct traffic flow, indicate the nearest help point, or separate different types of users, such as walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers.
  • Directional signage keeps visitors heading in the right direction, aids confidence in navigating the trail, and points out amenities or focal points.

The trick is to design signage with your visitors in mind – ensuring they don’t get lost, can find all the important services, and can digest information quickly and easily.

Five Suggestions for Hiking Trail Wayfinding

Of course, we always suggest reviewing the terrain, layout, and any pinch points or higher-risk parts of a hiking trail before creating signage, thinking about who will be reading each sign and how well you are meeting their needs.

Trails often used by families and local schools, scout groups, and forest schools who explore and look for specific plants, animals, or trees, for instance, may require picture-based signage that children can understand rather than purely text-focused signage.

Ground-Level Waymarking Posts

Nature Reserve Waymarking Post
Nature Reserve Waymarking Post

Our first recommendation is the erection of waymarking posts at ground level, which are easy for anybody using a hiking trail to see, whether on foot or riding a bike. You can erect waymarking posts at regular intervals and all crossroads, using simple badges and arrows to share relevant information.

Common examples include arrows or colour-coded badges for different routes your visitor might wish to follow and safety warnings about restrictions on the type of vehicles or activities permitted on the trail.

Timber waymarking posts are popular since they fit well into the outdoor landscape and are visible without being intrusive. You can also opt for engravedlaser-etched lettering denoting the name of the path or trail, which remains clear in any weather conditions.

Fingerpost Signage

Pedestrian Fingerpost Wayfinding Sandringham
Pedestrian Fingerpost Wayfinding Sandringham

Where trails converge, and visitors can take several paths, a fingerpost sign is a great way to clarify which routes lead to which attractions or amenities. Hiking trails might, for instance, have a fingerpost with multiple ‘fingers’ pointing towards:

  • Picnic areas and cafes
  • Scenic routes or beauty spots
  • Help points or first aid facilities
  • Bathrooms and play areas for children

If you are also using ground-level waymarking posts, you can choose a fingerpost with the same timber, finish, and colour and coordinate badges, symbols, and fonts to ensure all your waymarking is instantly recognisable and cohesive.

Timber Ladder Signage

Ladder signs are often used in outdoor visitor centres, alongside entry points, ticketing booths, or car parks, to ensure traffic is well-controlled. Each step in the ladder is stacked above the next, giving ample capacity to include as many signs or directions as needed.

Wood Directional Ladder Sign
Wood Directional Ladder Sign

For a hiking trail, that might mean having one panel for a visitor centre or park range, another for each trail, explaining the ability level of each, directions to parking, payment desks or play areas, and another for restrooms or a café.

We produce custom ladder signs in timber and recycled plastic or contemporary metal finishes, all of which are weather-resistant and durable.

Waymarking Discs

Discs are easy to recognise and interpret. They use a familiar round format with a colour-coded arrow or icon that can match all your other directional signage or coordinate with maps and visitor guides.

Used extensively throughout multi-user hiking trails that might act as bridle paths, cycleways, and hiking routes, each waymarking disc can be positioned either on a directional board or post as required or affixed to other natural parts of the landscape adjacent to gates, stiles, or entry points.

UV-cured discs retain their colour and clarity over time. They can replicate well-known signage, such as the blue disc indicating public cycling routes or match your brand colours and lettering.

Directional Signage for Hiking Trails

Interactive Wayfinding Trail Post
Interactive Wayfinding Trail Post

Finally, we’d suggest a high-profile entrance signdirectional sign at a prominent place where visitors first enter the site or at the primary entrance at the start of the hiking trail.

Choose from treated timber and traditional or contemporary signage, and optimise the space with maps, icons, trail outlines, and any other information you’d like every visitor to have before they begin their hike.

These vertical signs are visible to all and can be seen when arriving in a vehicle or on foot, presenting a professional, well-managed trail centre or outdoor park without the potential that visitors will be unsure where to go, how to ask for help, or which trails to follow.

Adding features such as QR codes to download a map can further improve the effectiveness of directional signs and overall trail safety.

If you would like more information about any of the hiking trail signage mentioned here or to discuss the right wayfinding system for your outdoor centre, please get in touch at any time.

Mark Woolmer

Mark Woolmer

With a strong background in art and design, Mark is passionate about the capacity for excellent design as a communication tool, leading the Fitzpatrick Woolmer company and focusing on strategy, business development and continual improvement.

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