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Follow the blaze and stay on the Path

Updated: Jan 14

If you’ve been hiking on Southbury Land Trust preserves, or along the 2,000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, or any of the 57 trails that make up CT’s Blue-Blazed trails, you are probably familiar with tree blazes. Blazes are simply a directional to help you find your way.

Blue blazes on a tree show direction of the trail

From the beginning of time, people used various methods to mark their travels-among them, cairns to bent tree branches. What we call blazes may have simply started as a cut made by an axe into a tree to mark the path.

Today, it’s common and standardized on most trail networks to see colored rectangles set vertically on a tree and painted right on the bark to indicate the marked trail.

Here are a few samples of how to read blazes: One vertical blaze, straight up, means the trail continues straight. Two blazes with the right blaze set higher lets you know to take a right turn; conversely, a left blaze offset higher to the right blaze means to turn left. Two horizontal blazes designate the end of that particular trail.

Why are the marks called blazes? It may be a carryover, going back to the 1700s or before, when one would “blaze their way” through a forest.

Yes, there are different marks used for different purposes. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the conservation commission uses color blazes to indicate trail usage. Red signals a multi-use trail where horses and foot traffic are allowed. Orange blazes mean the trail is for foot traffic only.

Land trusts often use the colors blue, red, orange, and white to show the different trails or loops. Variations, such as adding a circle to the rectangle, are possible depending on the land trust. White blazes are the norm on the Appalachian Trail. CT Forest and Park uses light blue on its Blue-Blazed network.

Different systems for the blazes can be found in other countries. In Norway, for instance, the red, orange, and yellow blazes indicate seasonal use. In this example, the blaze colors tell hikers that these trails are good options in late summer and fall.

Unlike ski areas, where signage indicates difficulty ratings, hiking trail blazes do not necessarily correlate to how hard the trail might be. For that, you should read the online maps, topo maps, and info sheets at trailheads.


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