On The Hunt: Scouting and Building Trails (The Safe Way) (Part 1)

Here's what you need to know when you decide to dive into Trail-Building.


The steps to Trail-Building are fairly sequential and easy to follow, usually, the hardest parts come first, and as you pass each hurdle the dream of a new trail or trail system becomes a reality. That being said, let's dig in!

  1. Digital Scouting and verification: finding suitable locations for a trail system.

  2. Acquiring landowner details and Physical scouting: verifying that you found what you are looking for and making sure you aren't trespassing.

  3. Approaching an agreement and sanctioning the trail(s): A crucial step in making your trails safe and also sanctioned (by proxy)

  4. Hot and Sweaty Dig Days: the fruits of your labor are sown here, this is the time to make the land into a fun and thrilling trail system!

Now that we have a basic outline of the procedure let's put on our nerd glasses and get dirty with the details. The process can take some time and so will the blog if I try to write everything in the same post. As such, this post will focus primarily on steps 1, 2 & 3, we will cover step 4 in the following post.


Step 1.

Digital Scouting and verification:

What is meant by Digital Scouting? In short, it's the process of spending countless hours of your life looking at a laptop screen looking for areas wherein you can build the trail system of your dream. The process is fairly simple but can take some time. To digitally scout you only need a digital mapping software like Google Maps or similar, I prefer using Google maps alongside Trailforks. Scouting online requires you to learn what a "Contour Line" is.

Contour line: In cartography, a contour line (often just called a "contour") joins points of equal elevation (height) above a given level, such as mean sea level. A contour map is a map illustrated with contour lines, for example, a topographic map, which thus shows valleys and hills, and the steepness or gentleness of slopes. (via Wikipedia)


Notice how many such contour lines are being cut by the lower trail relative to the higher trail.

An example of a steep gradient is when contour lines are very close to each other over a short distance and a gentle gradient is when the lines are fairly distant mapped on the same distance.

Depending on what riding you aim to get out of the trail, the skill level required, and the length of the trail/time you want each lap to be is affected by the contour lines.


While it may seem smart to make a fast dh trail screaming down the steepest parts of the hill, DON'T! These "contour line charges" erode very fast and also make it such that water falls down the same path. You'd be lucky if you have a rideable trail after a year.


A better alternative to cutting straight down is to cut across, this prevents major erosion and helps keep the trail safe while being fun.


An Overlay of topographic and satellite maps

a. When scouting for trails the first place I look is Google maps, I keep google maps open in satellite mode and I have Trailforks open with a topographic map. Step 1 is to line up both maps to be looking at the same area and the same scale, you can do this by switching to satellite mode on both and aligning them by items on the screen, switch the Trailforks map back to topographic after you set the scale. Keep moving the maps around if you do not see what you are looking for.

Pro Tip: Set limits/rules to your search, this will shorten the search radius and will help you narrow your options down. This is important if you want the trails to be easy to access or want them to be at a certain distance away from the city.

b. Depending on what you are looking for you may be required to rely more on a certain kind of map (for instance, if you are looking for a large hill or an area with significant elevation gain or drop, the topographic map is a better fit, whereas if all you are looking for is open land, the satellite map will help.

c. Look for features like rocks, truck paths, temples, or even forestation in the vicinity. this will help give you a perspective as to what use the land may potentially have. Large barren hills have more line choices and as such can be designed more towards freeride, wooded flatland can act as relaxed trail riding loops or short high speed trails, and wooded hills are the best for trail systems that focus on grip and skill like a race track, and flat open land is great for dirt jumps or a skills park.

d. Once you find what you are looking for in terms of location, switch the topographic map into an OSM map (open street map) to get a good general idea as to the nature of the land (Military, Reserve Forest, Private, etc.)

If the land is open for acquisition or has not been marked as restricted, now is the time to get in touch with the landowner to request to see the land, If you don't know who owns the land, it's time to visit the land to find out!

NOTE: Always ensure wherever you look that there is a good hospital nearby, pay a physical visit to see if all resources are available. If there is no good hospital nearby, it's better to look elsewhere.


Step 2.

Acquiring Land Owner Details and Physical Scouting:

a. Once you have found a prospective patch of land, go visit the area and try to locate signboards with numbers to the landowner, or better yet, find the security detail for the land and ask them for the details. This is the first step in establishing a good relationship with the landowner. If you are on their good side, a lot more can be done instead of starting on the wrong foot and trying to mend it as you go forward or getting prosecuted as a trespasser knowingly damaging property.

Note: Make sure all interactions and communications take place in writing (chats, letters, emails, etc.) This will aid your legal safety in the event of something going wrong or a misunderstanding.

b. Once the landowner agrees to let you visit the property, take notes on prominent features and key spots you wish to build through or around.

c. Go in with a clear idea as to what you want to make on that plot; a trail system, a skills park, or something different altogether.

d. It'll make sense to take a bike, a couple buddies, and some caution tape or flags to map a trail line, this is best practice and will help cut the time taken to build in half.


Now it's time to make a difference!


Step 3.

Approaching an agreement and sanctioning the trail(s):

This step seals the fate for the land you wish to use, a make it or break it moment. Meet the landowner over a coffee or somewhere where you can talk business and discuss you plan and grand idea with them. If you are someone who is young or can't really strongarm a deal, have someone who can do the talking for you. Listed below are things that should be discussed in the meeting.

Items to discuss with the landowner: 1. Your name and contact details

2. Your intention

3. The methods and implements used

4. Your entry and exit strategy

5. The nature of your operation and what pros/cons it may bring with it 6. The cost and time it will take to build and maintain it

7. A payment/fee structure to be paid by the riders and how that can play into the profit of the place. Note: In the end of the day, you are asking for someone to willingly let you use their land to build your trails, there needs to be some form of concession for them, to sweeten the deal.



If things go well, have an agreement signed with all details discussed in your meeting. Once both parties have signed this agreement, you are now in charge of building your very own trail system, HURRAY!

Things have gone very well up till now, and now's the tricky part...building the system from the ground up! Part 2 coming soon! Till then, PJ OUT!

P.S. Sorry, didn't have any meaningful photos to add to this post from my camera roll. Many photos are in line for Part 2!

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