Hiking 101: What are Trail Blazes?
When I first started hiking on longer trails, I didn't really understand what the blazes (aka trail markers) represented.
Not all trails are well-marked, but if they are, they generally follow certain principles. Main trails are typically marked with a strip of white paint and side trails are marked with blue. Usually, you'll find the markers on trees, but sometimes they're painted on rocks or even fallen tree trunks. So, if you're not sure you're on the right trail or on a trail at all – look around first before panicking.
Main trails tend to be longer in distance and have wider paths, while side trails are generally shorter and have narrower paths. If you're worried about getting lost, I suggest that you stick to the main trail. Also, keep in mind that not all trails are loops – so if there's a trail map, take a look. Sometimes markers are covered with snow in the wintertime, so don't rely on them.
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I was lucky to find this helpful sign on the trail at Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve. It's a great summary of what the blazes represent.
To give you an idea of what these markers might look like on an actual trail, see below. The two parallel lines with a marker on the top right means that you go right and vice versa if the top marker is on the left. A single marker tells you that you ARE on a trail – white usually means a main trail and blue means a side trail. "T" means the end of a trail.