A fence lines the edge of a sandy beach-side trail
Hope Rowan

Trail Surface Types

When you are looking for the right trail to visit, one of the deciding factors is right on the ground (or water) in front of you! It is important to know what type of trail surface you might encounter when you are out on your adventure. Below are descriptions of the types of trail surfaces we list on Maine Trail Finder.

Summertime Trail Surfaces

Dirt/Forest Floor

A narrow trail with leaf litter travels through a spruce forest
Many roots crisscross a narrow trails
A narrow trail is covered in colorful leaves

Most trails in Maine utilize the natural surface of the area they travel through and in much of the state, that means dirt. Trails with dirt/forest floor surface can be cushiony narrow paths through spruce forests, but they also can be quite rooty or covered in leaves. Depending on the type of soil, dirt/forest floor trails can be muddy or wet after a rain or in the spring. 

Boardwalk/Bog Bridging

A wide boardwalk made of composite goes into a bog
A 3 feet wide wooden boardwalk crossed over a low and wet section of trail
A somewhat narrow wooden boardwalk goes into a swamp

Trail managers use boardwalks to cross muddy or wet areas or to provide access to interesting ecosystems like bogs. Many boardwalks are wide and built to accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. However, there are also narrower boardwalks, often in the middle of trails where the rest of the trail is not accessible. Boardwalks are usually made from wooden boards, but can also be made from composite or plastic materials. 

A bog bridge two boards wide goes across an alpine bog
A narrow bridge of two boards crosses a stream
A bridge made of small diameter logs crosses a stream

Bog bridges are also used to cross muddy and wet areas. They are much narrower than boardwalks and often are made of trees that were cut from the adjacent area. Many times, bog bridges are on more remote trails, but they are also found on some shorter and easier trails. Make sure to be careful when crossing bog bridges. They can be very slippery when wet!

Gravel/Crushed Stone

A trail surfaces with pea-sized gravel and detritus from trees
A crushed stone trail travels through a field of grass
A variety of sizes of rocks makes up the surface of a gravel trail

Trail managers sometimes import gravel and crushed stone to create a uniform trail surface. The size of the stones in the gravel can vary greatly. Many managers also use a compacted rock dust surface which hardens enough that many types of wheelchairs and strollers can travel over it. Although they generally drain better than dirt/forest floor trails, they can still be a become soft in spring or after heavy rain.


A flat, paved trail goes by a calm bay
A trail paved with bricks goes by a bay with ships
A paved trail passes by flowers

Paved trails are generally the most uniform trails in Maine. Usually they are paved with asphalt, but there are also brick and cement trails. Sometimes roots growing under the paved trail can create bumps that are hazardous to people using wheelchairs or strollers. Generally, paved trails are great in the spring and fall when other trails are muddy, though there can still be puddles.


A rock cairn indicates the direction of the trail as it passes over a rock ledge
Many jumbled rocks make up the talus slope that two women are hiking over
A trail marked with a white blaze on rock is made up of a mix of rocks and sand.

Maine is a very rocky state, and you often have to travel over rocks and ledge to get to where you want to go! Often, ledge trails are in the mountains and are rated strenuous and advanced, but some easier coastal trails can also go over ledge. Depending on the type of rock, these trails can be slippery when wet. Ledge trails often use rock cairns or blazes painted onto the rocks to indicate where the trail goes.

Rocky trails are also found across the state, but especially in the mountains. Take care on mid to small-sized rocks because they can shift under your feet. Rocks are also used to create staircases and waterbars that reduce erosion on steep areas and step stones that allow you to cross wet areas. Wear sturdy shoes or boots and be prepared to walk on rocks!


Wood chips and logs indicate where a wide pathway goes through the trees
A mix of woodchips and stones make up the surface of the trail
Two people walk on a trail of woodchips

As with gravel, trail managers use wood chips to create a more even surface on trails. Woodchip trails can vary greatly because unlike gravel, they decompose over time and need to be replaced.


A mowed path travels through a field in the late fall
A recently mowed path shows where the trail goes through a field of wildflowers
It is difficult to distinguish the trail in a mown lawn

Mowed trails through meadows can be quite pleasant, particularly in the summer when wildflowers are blooming. The grass height can vary tremendously depending on the mowing schedule. Also, grass trails can be soft and wet in the spring or after a heavy rain. 


A trail sign with an arrow indicates that the trail goes across a beach
Footprints in the sand show where the trail goes across a dry beach
A flat and wet beach

The sandy sections of trails are generally short, but they can take quite a bit of effort to cross if the sand is soft. Mostly, they are along the coast, but some lakeside trails also go through sandy areas. Wet sand is generally a bit firmer to walk on than sand above the high tide line. 

Paddling Trail Surfaces

Paddling trails, like land trails, access beautiful parts of Maine. Also like land trails, they vary greatly in difficulty and the "surface" is part of what might make a paddling trail easier or harder. 


Breeze makes a slight riffle on a relatively calm lake
Waves crash on the beach of a lake
A lake has mid level waves caused by morning wind

Because there is no current, lakes and ponds can be great places for beginning paddlers to learn the sport. However, please keep in mind that wind can create challenging conditions, particularly on large lakes. 


A calm river with a covered bridge in the background
Riffles on the water surface indicate some current on an otherwise calm river
Two people paddle a canoe through a riffle on a wide river
A kayaker paddles over a wave caused by a rapid
Water roils around rocks in a large rapid
A waterfall over large rocks

Rivers and streams are great places to paddle in your choice of watercraft. The difficulty can range from slow-moving, flatwater paddling to treacherous rapids and waterfalls, sometimes on the same stretch of river. Narrow streams can become dangerous when fallen trees create obstacles that water passes through, causing "strainers." Besides natural challenges, many rivers and streams also have dams and other manmade structures that require carrying around. Always check the trail map for noted hazards, recommended portages, and rapids ratings. Water levels can vary widely by season and rainfall; if possible, it is a good idea to check the water level of the river you plan to visit on the USGS website


Mid-sized waves crash on a rocky peninsula.
A sea kayaker paddles over small waves.
Two kayaks are pulled up on a rocky beach.

With countless islands, bays and inlets, Maine's coast can be a great place to paddle. However, paddling conditions can change drastically hour by hour. Always be aware of weather conditions and forecasts, and be prepared for cold water temperatures at all times of year. And of course, always know the tide schedule. On Maine Trail Finder, we list any paddling trail that may be affected by tides as coastal. 

Winter Trail Surfaces

The two winter surface types, groomed and ungroomed snow, are primarily used to differentiate between types of ski trails. However, with the growing popularity of fat biking, more singletrack trails are being groomed for that specific purpose. 

Groomed Snow

A wide ski trail with a section for skating and a groomed track.
Two groomed ski tracks make up the classic-only trail
A fat biker bikes over snow following a trail of other bike tracks.

Groomed trails provide a smooth surface on which to ski or bike. Many wider trails have a smooth section for skate skiing and two narrow grooves, called tracks, for classic skiing. If you use this type of trail, please do not skate ski or snowshoe over the classic tracks. There are also narrower trails groomed only for classic skiing with one or two pairs of tracks. Other narrow trails are groomed specifically for fat biking.

Ungroomed Snow

Ski tracks through 6 inches of new snow on a wide trail.
Ski track wind along a narrow trail in the woods
Ski tracks follow a trail in a field

Most trails in Maine have an ungroomed snow surface in the winter. On Maine Trail Finder, we use this surface type specifically to describe ski trails that are not groomed. Usually, wider and metal-edged skis are helpful on these trails. Of course, hiking trails have ungroomed snow in the winter, too - strap on a pair of snowshoes and get out there!

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