I've been out hiking in wilderness areas when I came across an unmarked trail. It wasn't on a map but it appeared to lead in the direction I wanted to go. I decided not to take it in case it was a game trail leading in the wrong direction.

In the future, how can I tell if this is just a game trail or if this is an unmarked trail used by locals?

  • Well you can't. It's just a trail. Anyone or anything could of made it, or it could be used by humans or animals.
    – user2766
    Jan 27, 2016 at 15:15
  • Game trails may have less big boot prints, smaller animal prints, potentially more poop than a regular track - however it could easily have been a GeoTrail!
    – Aravona
    Jan 27, 2016 at 15:29
  • 2
    Additionally game trails tend to be VERY narrow and and may run through brush even though the brush protrudes into the trail. Animals do not tend to break trim or break off branches for convenience, humans do that.
    – Escoce
    Jan 27, 2016 at 16:18
  • 4
    Why would anyone vote to close this question? O.o
    – OddDeer
    Jan 28, 2016 at 7:34
  • A state trapper once told me that animals like people always choose the path of lest resistance. That means under, over or around obstacles that that we would not normally do.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


I'm going to give some things to look for, but none of these are definite giveaways. It is very unlikely you will be able to tell a barely used human made trail from a game trail.

Hikers like to be very obvious about the trails they make, and established trails are well worn. If a trail is very narrow, has undisturbed or barely disturbed ground cover, and is a bit overgrown, it's likely to be a game trail.

Look at the ground cover. If it looks identical to the surrounding ground, it's more likely a game trail. Look for upturned or heavily compressed leaves (relative to the surrounding ground cover) and footprints. These are signs of human use, although the leaf disturbances might also come from animal use. Animals will use human made trails, so hoofprints don't tell you much either way. If you are somewhere without leaves, just compare the ground surface to the surrounding area. The bigger the differences, the more likely it is to be a human trail.

Look at the vegetation up top. If you see broken branches, especially from waist to eye height, it might be human activity. If you don't see broken branches, but there are none to snag your clothes or poke you in the eye, it usually means a person removed them.

Look for litter. This is a sure sign of human use. Keep in mind that the trail might just lead to a party spot for locals.

Additionally, game trails that do look like human trails usually revert to typical game trails in a hundred feet or so at most. So if you start following it, then realize it's getting harder to follow, it's probably a game trail.

  • 2
    You often get bicycle tyre tracks on human trails as well, which is quite an obviously give-away. Just to add, very short trails which disappear or thin out suddenly may not necessarily be a game trail. GeoTrails are left by Geocachers and can go anywhere from 2m to 50m diverted off a path, leaving what very much may look like a game trail as you'll find we walk back the way we came. A GeoTrail by definition is a trail where there isn't, or shouldn't be one. but it's the easiest way to get to a cache.
    – Aravona
    Jan 28, 2016 at 16:03

The biggest giveaway is that you can't follow them for very long before you encounter an obstacle. Usually it's branches hanging over the trail that you have to duck very low to get under. The trails will also often mysteriously disappear, and then miraculously reappear later on. Animal droppings and hoof/paw prints are also a dead giveaway. There isn't really any rhyme or reason to a game trail most of the time, they're usually just the path of least resistance through the woods that many animals end up on.

Where you find the trail is also often an indicator. Large mammals, in the Rockies at least, will often leave a trail traversing a mountain a third of the way up, and about two thirds of the way up the mountain, as well as on ridge lines. You'll also find trails traversing around the bottom of a scree slope, because many hoofed animals don't like to walk over scree.

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