Tag trail_visibility: Proposed Improvements for this Descriptive Tag

I’d tag it trail_visibility=excellent: there is no doubt here where the path is, and it can be visually followed for quite some distance.

Yes I generally think of trail_visibility as the visibility of the path on the ground, since trailblazed:visibility also exists to indicate the visibility of blazes and markers.

That makes sense to me, especially when you add in informal, unmaintained, or poorly maintained trails. Sometimes a trail is clearly visible, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes a path is well cairned or marked, sometimes it’s not.

A common use case is trail_visibility=intermediate but there isn’t a real issue following the route if it’s also trailblazed:visibility=excellent (in the US say the Needles district of Canyonlands or the some of the routes in Acadia NP). You can also have paths that don’t have a trail, but are more of a route between markers or cairns - having trail_visibility=none but a positive value for trailblazed:visibility which are more common in Europe and some parts of South America.

There are some abandoned trails that are trail_visibility=bad & trailblazed:visibility=intermediate which also tells a useful story of what to expect.

tl;dr if you just want to know your likelihood of getting lost you look for the highest value of the two, but there are a lot of cases where I see having intermediate values for both being useful descriptive.

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Welcome to the forum!

I would maybe agree with you - if we had the luxury of designing a new tagging scheme from scratch. But the tag trail_visibility has been used over 600,000 times, and ever since the proposal was passed and the Wiki page created, the description has mentioned markers. This discussion has shown that quite a few people have been giving paths a higher trail_visibility rating if they were well marked than if the markers did not exist.

For comparison, there are only 38 paths in the world (query) that have trail_visibility=no despite being tagged as trailblazed, out of 70,000 paths with a trailblazed tag. This tells me that tagging the two separately is not widespread.

This is why I think that changing the definition of trail_visibility now to remove references to markers would be a significant redefinition of an existing tag. We would need to find a way to deal with the existing 600,000 paths some of which would need to have their trail_visibility “downgraded” as a result of that change…


Thanks all. It sounds to me like we probably map a lot of things very similarly, and the disagreement is just about the semantics of individual words (what is a trail? what is a route? do the rocks count as markers?).

About the path in Tenerife: When I suggested that this could be “excellent trailblazing” I was following the wiki definition of “trailblazed” very literally, which says that it refers to “the practice of improving visibility of trails … making them easier to follow, by use of a variety of … objects”. (If the rocks were poles, this would look a lot like the example in the Wiki for trailblazed=poles) If you accept the rocks as part of the “trailblazing” and then try to imagine what it would look like if they weren’t there, then there wouldn’t be much of a path left.

Anyway, now is probably not the time to discuss the finer points of the trailblazed tag :smiley: We have enough problems with trail_visibility.

I’m happy with most of the suggestions here for changes to the Wiki page

  • make it clear that the key is about the ease or lack thereof in following the path as mapped in OSM - this is the key point I think - how easy is it to get lost? - important for warning messages in hiking apps, hiding poorly visible path from general purpose apps, etc.
  • this includes both the visibility of the path on the ground as well as availability of any visual clues as to where the path is
  • this means that trail_visibility can be excellent even if the trail is not marked
  • it also means that a blazed trail / waymarked path can still be trail_visibility=no if the markings are so hard to find that effectively, the route is “mostly pathless” and “excellent orientational skills” are needed to follow it
  • markers/blazes can enhance trail_visibility [I would probably drop the “by one or two grades” bit. Otherwise someone else will be arguing in two years time about changing that “rule” because they’ve found an edge case that they want to tag as `intermediate` when without markings it would clearly be `no`. I say, let them do it if they want, if they have walked the path and think it’s the most appropriate value]

Let me add a few more suggestions.

  • while some routes (in the sense of route=hiking relations in OSM) are signposted or marked, this tag is not about markings or signage that help people follow a route e.g. decide which path to take at a fork. (There isn’t currently a tag for this.)
  • mappers should consider the terrain and the range of situations in which a path is likely to be walked. For example, an alpine hiking path only used in the summer should not be tagged as trail_visibility=no when it is covered by snow in the winter. For a path over often foggy hills that is used year round, cairns spaced hundreds of feet apart are not as good as markings that are closer together or a path that is clearly visible on the ground, etc.

We could also add some of the pictures in this thread to the Wiki page, with our consensus on how to tag them. (Only those pictures where there is consensus…)

What do you think?


I think a part of this probably comes down to cultural differences across the Atlantic. I don’t see trailblazed being used that often in the western US - cairns are sometimes used for trails (moreso in the southwest where there is a lot of slickrock) but in general people think of trail as the path itself, ala the first dictionary definition vs the second one that comes up in Merriam Webster, which is more prevalent in the Northeastern US (game trails with markers on trees etc), Europe, etc.

  1. a track made by passage especially through a wilderness
  2. a marked or established path or route especially through a forest or mountainous region

In the western US a trail is generally seen as the physical scar on wilderness, whereas a route can either be a trail, go between cairns/markers/blazes/waypoints, or be generated on the fly via off-trail route-finding. Most XC stuff is a route (Roper, Skurka, etc) and trails have physical trails (JMT, PCT). I don’t think wilderness areas are generally thought of or referred to as a paths, unless they’re paved and near a parking lot or something (or oddly inversely if one comes across a game trail or weak use trail).

Saying that a trail has excellent visibility when there is no trail is unintuitive, at least in this geographic region. Having open terrain linked together by occasional cairns or markers allows for small routefinding choices even assuming goes to each marker makes it more of a route vs a trail where all boots remain in the same x width of space and overlap.

I’ve started adding trailblazed=no to some trail_visibility=no routes I’ve come across that I’m too hesitant to delete just to hammer in that it is really is DIY routefinding. Having occasional random user placed cairns here and there doesn’t really count if there’s not a specific route they are following (and they generally just end up creating spider webs).

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So we need a new tag, actual_trail_visibility_lol_the_trail_is_it_visible :stuck_out_tongue:

I think, there are some people here, that know the stuff, even if not coming to the same conclusions in every instance: For example the Tenerife path looks to me like construction not marking. But it points at something, that I’d like to mention; The Swiss document is quite clear on that:

Mark, to keep people in a narrow area, a.k.a. path; vs. not mark, to keep unsuspecting people from being lead to places, where they get into trouble.

@ALL Before this topic falls asleep, I summarize:

  • Marks/blazes enhance trail_visibility; they might not be part of the path itself, but help in navigation/following what is mapped, at least guide in finding the path on the ground, especially, where it is hard to spot
  • Not necessarily enough though to turn any marked trail into one of the two top grades, where markers are mentioned in the documentation
  • Mappers enjoy kind of freedom in adjusting grade shifts
  • The author of the original proposal says, it was an error to add route markings to the trail_visibility set of features
  • He is a bit late, as this is long standing documentation and cannot be wiped at will
  • Any change to the documentation shall not make the trailblazed tag redundant

PS: After a bit of digging, trail_visibility is rarely tagged on marked paths in the area of my local knowledge. It is a bit of a mess though.

I added a draft proposal for an improved text to the talk page of the trail_visibility wiki. Please comment and edit as you like (or can I copy-paste it to the wiki page already?).

I’d remove the following paragraph for concision:
" Add the key trail_visibility=* to a way with one of the following primary feature tags:

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I altered the title of this thread a little for clarity. It is not a substantive change.

It does seem a little weird that trail_visibility as an abstracted combination of markers and any worn path/trail doesn’t have any related tags for the actual visibility of the path/trail itself, but does have detailed information for the visibility of markers. It’d seem to me that if you have one, you should have the other. :slight_smile:

This key describes attributes regarding trail visibility (not route visibility) and orientation.

Is up at the top of the trail visibility page. It should probably be rewritten if the consensus is the tag refers to the overall ease in understanding where the route is (which can consist of a trail/path and/or markers) and not the physical trail itself. It seems like at this point it’s turned into a misnamed path_visibility but that it’s too late/messy to fix the integration of markers into it. IMO since highway=path is the high level abstraction of what the map object as a whole is, logically trail and markers would be attributes of the path.

Maybe something like:

This key describes attributes regarding path visibility (which includes any physical trail or marker visibility) and the ease of orientation and pathfinding, and doesn't reflect the visibility of the trail itself.

If there was a visible trail, you wouldn’t need markers to understand where the path was without staring at your phone. :smirk:

Now I am completely at a loss: I always thought, the abstract entity was the route, a mostly verbal account, of how to get from A to B; From what you write, the path is the abstract entity? While I always understood path as something to be seen on the ground. And no, markers do not make a path, if so, then only from making people not stray too much so that, given enough use, a path can come into existence.

Path is somewhat abstracted in my mind, sorry if that was confusing. :slight_smile: This is how I see it as I trying to think in OSM semantics. The path consists of a mix of a physical trail one can see and markers that one can see (or not) - that is the abstraction I was thinking about. Caveat: I’m not an expert OSM user, though I do spend quite a lot of time in the backcountry/wilderness especially off-trail and have been learning as I make corrections to OSM as I encounter them in the field.

I’d say the route is the most abstract - it’s like you say someone trying to get from A to B regardless of what form that takes.

One of those ways can be a path. That path can consist of a physical trail (which may or may not be visible, on a spectrum) and/or markers (which may or may not be present at all, and if they are visible on a spectrum). You can have a path without a trail, or a path without markers, or a path with both. A path without both (or with both that are severely degraded due to being abandoned, damaged, overgrown, etc) would in my mind just be a “route” where people having to use advanced self-orienteering aka pathfinding aka finding your own path because none exists in any meaningful real world sense even if you are still trying to get from A to B and there was some path that went from A to B 40 years ago.

At this point we can have a highway=path with trail_visibility=excellent that has no visible path/trail at all because there are bright tall markers every 10 feet (think long runs of posts/cairns/markers on sandstone or granite slabs). In this case the path is abstracted aside from the actual markers, as people have to visualize it in their minds and follow that visualization.

I don’t agree this makes trail_visibility intuitive, but that’s how I understand it.

edit: added the second half of this comment. ^^;

I would personally/intuitively say that a path consists of a physical trail (either caused by repeated usage over the same place, or formally created by an organization) which may or may not have markers on it. If you just have markers spaced out then people have some freedom to create their own route between them and aren’t following a strict path. As you say, a path can form from repeated usage on a route, and in heavily used routes that have terrain amenable to it (aka not a granite slab) you generally have a path created where terrain is more constrained, which fades as things become more open/easy, then can re-appears again when things are constrained. It’s interesting seeing this happens even with game trails, as well as human used informal trails and abandoned/unmaintained trails that people still use.

On the high sandstone in Canyonlands there was a cairn below where we were, then one at the same altitude we were at past it. We chose not to drop there, as we were confident we could safely traverse terrain to the next one while being more efficient, many people probably do choose to go down and then back up again. We were still technically on-route (we went from Cairn A to Cairn B, they go from Cairn A to Cairn B) though we would have chosen a different specific (invisible) path to take than others.

My words, again :slight_smile: Perhaps, that is the main reason why I wanted the trailblazing tag to succeed in finding approval. Though, trust me, I did my share in marking (what you’d perhaps call PROW) ways. Blazes are in no way comparable to a trodden path.

I agree that the two aren’t equivalent, and I made some points in a previous post of mine as to why it’s good to have separate trail-blazed and trail visibility tags. I edited my response earlier to make it a bit clearer what I meant before you responded it.

At this point I think it’s worth explicitly pointing out the unintuitive nature of trail_visibility in documentation (how it is referring to the visibility of the path as a whole and can exist if there is no trail per se) if the consensus is that it’s too hard to change ingrained habits and existing data. I’d personally prefer if it was divorced from markers entirely.

I do think there are legitimate regional differences in how tags are used around the world (let alone the words path, trail, and route) - I know of others in the US that are currently using trail_visibility and trailblazed:visibility like I was for abandoned trails where the trail might be bad and cairns intermediate. No one in the US knows what the SAC_scale is unless they’ve done climbing in Europe or edit OSM or are just rating system geeks.

In terms of pure fidelity such trails that consist solely of markers would be node networks where each marker was a node placed with GPS waypoints, but that’s sort of insane from a human workflow perspective.

I just repeat that here, because I consider the preponderance on this pur hyperbole.

Well, let’s say “nearly no one,” it isn’t actually “no one” but it’s “almost nobody” or “relatively few.” (Compared to Europe).

Here’s two more proposed solutions after some further thinking,

Solution 1

  1. Keep trail_visibility as is (an effective path_visibility given it’s about the overall visibility of the highway=path object) with documentation to steer it clear of its original purpose. I and many others don’t read the not being about routes bit as addressing unclear signage at intersections (which isn’t a trail issue, it’s a junction issue) but as focusing it only on the physical impact upon the ground (worn/rutted track, footprints, lack of vegetation, lining stones, etc) vs the overall route itself.
  2. Create a new tag trail_surface_visibility that fulfills the original intent of the tag and explicitly exclude markers/trailblazed from it, referencing trailblazed on the trail_surface_visibility page.

Solution 2

This might just be a more US vs EU centric view, and probably isn’t worth the effort, but hey…

  1. Create a path_visibility tag as mentioned above but have it perform the same function as trail_visibility currently does (an alias in effect) and deprecate trail_visibility at some point merging things over to path_visibility. Some logic around picking the higher of either trail_visibility and trailblazed:visibility if they exist should solve most edge cases. Having them mean the same thing (while path is more accurate with how it is used now) should reduce the headache of trying to keep trail_visibility to it’s original intention and then have people start using path_visibility. This would also play well with highway=demanding_path potentially in the future.
  2. Create a new tag trail_surface_visibility that fulfills the original intent of the tag and explicitly exclude markers/trailblazed from it, referencing trailblazed on the trail_surface_visibility page. path_visibility will be used most often, but in cases where people want to comment on both the visibility of the trail/path itself and how it is marked that will be possible.