Trails and tourism presentation to the Ontario Trails Council Annual Conference Peterborough, May 2004

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Presentation to the Ontario Trails Council Annual Conference Peterborough, May 2004

John Marsh

Trail Studies Unit, Trent University, Peterborough.


The aim of this article is to introduce the topic of trails and tourism that is discussed in more detail in subsequent sections of the proceedings and in the summary of the workshop discussions on trails and tourism


The article defines some of the terms used, and provides examples of trails that attract tourists. Then, it offers a framework for the analysis of trail tourism and checklists for evaluating the tourism potential of a trail or trail system. Finally, it poses some questions about trails and tourism that were offered to stimulate discussion of this topic at the conference workshop.


A trail may be defined as a narrow linear route primarily intended for recreational travel by walking, backpacking, portaging, running, cycling, horseback riding, wheelchairing, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dirt-biking, and ATVing.

Tourism may be defined as the phenomena associated with people travelling for pleasure away from home for more than one day.


A variety of trails in Canada have increasingly attracted tourists. These include:

  • The West Coast Trail, B.C.

  • The trail around Stanley Park, Vancouver

  • Trails in the Rocky Mountain National Parks

  • Trials in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

  • The coastal trail in Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario

  • The Bruce Trail, Ontario

  • The trail long the Niagara Parkway, Ontario

  • The Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail

  • Trails and canoeing portages in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario

  • Trails in Ottawa

  • Snowmobile trails in Ontario and Quebec

  • Cycling Trails in Quebec

  • The rail-trail across P.E.I.

  • The East Coast Trail, Newfoundland

  • The Chilkoot Pass trail, Yukon

  • The trail through Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut

  • Some sections of the Trans-Canada Trail

It should be noted that the majority of trails that attract tourists are in parks, which are an attraction themselves, and are generally well managed.

Examples of trails in other countries that attract international tourists include:

  • The Appalachian Trail, and other national trails in the U.S.A.

  • The Inca Trail in Peru

  • The trail around Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

  • The national trails of England and Wales

  • The pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

  • Trails in the Alps of Europe

  • The trails to archeological sites in Egypt and Jordan

  • The trail up Mt.Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

  • The trail to Mt.Everest (Sagarmatha), Nepal

  • Trails in the panda reserves of China

  • The trail up Ayer’s Rock (Uluru), Australia

  • The tracks in the national parks of New Zealand

A framework for analyzing trail tourism can help us understand why the above trails attract tourists, and suggest questions that need to be answered to evaluate the tourism potential of a trail.


Trail tourism can be comprehensively and systematically analysed using a supply and demand model.

Trail tourism depends on supplying trails and associated facilities and services, and having or developing demand for them.
For any tourism to flourish, the so-called “4As of tourism” must be supplied: Attraction, Access, Accommodation, Advertising.


To evaluate the tourism potential of a trail, the following questions should be answered with respect to the Attraction, the Access, the Accommodation and the Advertising, as well as the Demand for these.
Evaluating the Attraction:

  • Is the area spectacular, scenic, historic, culturally interesting?

  • Does the area already attract tourists?

  • Is the weather attractive?

  • Is the trail easy, challenging?

  • What uses are appropriate on the trail?

  • Is the trail well designed and built?

  • Is the trail well maintained?

  • Is the trail safe?

  • Is the trail patrolled and are rules enforced?

  • Are there supporting facilities: signs, benches, parking, toilets, garbage containers, etc.?

  • Is the trail interpreted?

  • Are events held on the trail?

  • Is the trail as attractive as others?

Evaluating Access:

  • Is the trail near major cities?

  • Is the trail near major highways?

  • Do paved/gravel roads lead to various points on the trail?

  • Can the trail be reached in winter?

  • Is the trail wheelchair accessible?

  • Is there public transport to the trail?

  • Is there a fee to use the trail?

  • Is it easy to obtain a permit or pay a fee to use the trail?

  • Are there businesses arranging trips on the trail?

  • Is the trail more or less accessible than other trails?

Evaluating Accommodation:

  • Are there cafes/restaurants near the trail?

  • Are there grocery stores nearby?

  • Are there toilets nearby?

  • Are there hotels, B.&Bs nearby?

  • Are hotels providing facilities and services especially for trail users?

  • Are there campgrounds at the trailheads or along the trail?

  • Are there cabins along the trail?

  • Are the facilities as good as those on other trails?

Evaluating Advertising:

  • Is there a detailed map of the trail for users to take with them?

  • Is there a guidebook describing the trail?

  • Is the trail described on a website?

  • Is the trail described in local, regional and national tourism print and media advertising?

  • Is the trail being promoted in articles in newspapers/magazines?

  • Have potential user groups been made aware of the trail?

  • Are there signs on highways near the trail directing people to it?

  • Are there signs at the trail naming the trail, indicating uses, rules, destinations, distances, manager?

  • Is the trail as well advertised as others?

Evaluating tourist demand for trails:

  • What trail activities are increasing/decreasing in popularity locally, nationally, internationally?

  • What statistics are available on trail use, and trends in use?

  • Do tourists already visit the area?

  • Where are tourists from, nearby cities, other provinces, USA, overseas?

  • Conduct surveys in potential markets

  • Conduct surveys of trail user groups

  • Conduct surveys on the trail

  • Determine user preferences, concerns, willingness to pay

Discussion Questions:

To provoke a discussion of existing and potential trail tourism in Ontario, the following questions could be posed and answered:

- Which trails in Ontario are now attracting the most tourists?

  • Why are these trails attracting the most tourists

  • Why are other trails not attracting tourists?

- What must be done for more trails to attract tourists?

- What role should government agencies play in trail tourism?

- What role should the private sector play in trail tourism?

  • What role should NGOs, e.g. OTC play in trail tourism?

Marsh, J. “Ecotourism”. In: Paehlke, R. (Ed.) Conservation and Environmentalism: An Encyclopedia. Garland, New York, 1995.
Marsh, J.S. and Bengert, B. (Eds.) Trail Development and Tourism. Ontario Trails Council and The Trent-Fleming Trail Studies Unit, Trent University, Peterborough, 1996, 186pp.
Marsh, J.S. “An International Perspective on Trails, Tourism and Events Linking Them.” Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Conference. Fleming College, Haliburton, 2000.
Marsh, J.S. and Schutt, A. “Marketing Recreational Trails.” Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Conference. Fleming College, Haliburton, 2001.

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