Recreation: Molding Your Woods To Fit Your Needs

How do I build a trail?

The vast majority of landowners does not look at their trees and think timber, rather they look at their woods and see relaxation or deer or birds or hiking. Often the trees aren’t seen as a way to create or maintain recreation opportunities. No matter what you see when you look at your woods, the trees are inherently tied to that vision. If you understand that connection, you can get the right arrangement of tree to achieve your vision of relaxation or deer or birds or hiking.


You appreciate your woods for the beauty they provide. All the senses come in to play when you are walking in your woods. You see the leaves fluttering in the wind, you smell the damp ground after a rain, and you hear the frogs singing as a sign that spring is finally here. In order to enhance or even preserve these aspects, it helps to define what features in particular you are most interested in.

Are there particular colors or textures you like? Leaves, needles and ground vegetation provide different shades of green or different colors all together. Then fall comes along where the likes of aspen, oak and tamarack provide another view of colors. Leaves and bark also lend to texture; think about the peeling of birch and puzzle pieces of red pine bark. Do you like to walk in your woods and have a clear open path, or do you like to get lost in the variety of shrubs and vegetation at your feet?

When you are wandering, what do you hear? Leaves rustling? Birds singing? Trees creaking? Water rushing or trickling? Grouse drumming? Is there something missing that you used to hear?

What do you smell? Wild leeks under your feet? Leaves and other debris rotting? Fresh cut trees? Balsam fir?

Each of these sense experiences can be influenced through various management techniques (planting and cutting trees). To learn more about how to manage for aesthetics, check out the publication Woodland Visions.

Wildlife: Hunting & Viewing

There are numerous ways that landowners enjoy wildlife. Many have purchased woodland property as a place to hunt. Some enjoy the tracks and nests of visiting wildlife. Others keep lists of the bird species they’ve seen. Each of these contributes to how landowners use and recreate on their property. The topic of wildlife is covered in greater detail on the wildlife page of this site, and it is important to consider that aspect in the overall vision of how you use your woodland.

Hike, Ski, Snowmobile, ATV… Trails

Access to and through your woodland can improve the opportunities for recreation. Roads tend to be more permanent, and may require permits. This website provides detailed information on the basic elements of trail design and layout.
Trails can be more flexible, though you should carefully consider potential uses and number of users before you start to clear and construct any paths. Do you want a more primitive or established experience on your trail? This can be achieved with trail surface, trails width and how winding it will be. The potential uses of the trail will also define trail aspects such as width, corner radius and sight distance. Other considerations include how long you want the trail and whether there are points of interest you want included along the way. The Trail Design for Small Properties publication provides in-depth details on how to plan, build, and maintain a trail that fits your needs.

Related Blog Posts

Getting the most out of your forest trails
Recreation and invasive pests
Spring wildflowers and edibles

Related Publications

Trail design for small properties
Recreational Forest Trails: Plan for success
Best Management Practices for Water Quality: Forest Roads
Roads section of the publications site

Looking for More Information? Try:

Wildlife page