Proposed features/Social path

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Social path
Status: Canceled (inactive)
Proposed by: danrademacher
Tagging: highway=social_path
Applies to: Way
Definition: physical trail created through repeated use, distinct from an intentionally created and maintained path, often with environmental and safety impacts
Drafted on: 2016-03-20

Current status

After discussion on the talk page and on the mailing lists here and here, we decided to withdraw this proposal. As an alternative, we will use the combination of existing tags: highway=path plus access=no and informal=yes

The previous proposal is here, for posterity:


Use the "social_path" value to mark so-called social trails (also known as bootleg trails): game trails, detours, or short-cuts that have seen sufficient pedestrian use that they appear to be highway=path. Such trails often contribute to erosion and may represent hazards to both humans and the environment.

Social trails are considered unauthorized by managing agencies and are often inventoried for remediation purposes. In extreme circumstances (e.g. emergencies) they may be used for travel in the same way in which game trails can be followed. However, users of these trails should assess the relative risk in the case of emergencies: using a social trail may be extremely hazardous, and may be more dangerous than the emergency the user is trying to escape from.


Use of unauthorized trails can have significant environmental impacts in terms of erosion and habitat destruction, and it can also lead to dangerous situations where casual hikers find themselves in steep or otherwise hazardous terrain. We need a way to mark these trails so they can be excluded from public-facing wayfinding maps. Simply deleting the trails is unlikely to be effective since mappers tracing aerial imagery would have no idea that a past trail was removed and would not be able to distinguish it from an intentional path.

Giving park agencies a way to manage and communicate the intentionality of their trails within OSM would encourage them to use the map and see OSM trail mappers as a resource in helping disseminate accurate wayfinding information within their parks as well as contributing to remediation efforts.

Some commenters (see here and here) have suggested using the existing highway=path tag, with supplemental tags such as access=no or informal=yes, or a new supplemental tag path=social_trail, or adding an operator tag. However, these supplemental tags are too easily ignored by data consumers and renderers, which is problematic given the destructive and hazardous nature of social trails in many areas. This proposal argues that it is better and safer for data consumers and renderers to opt in in order to show these ways, rather than the existing situation where a renderer has to actively opt out to remove trails with access=no or informal=yes. The default should err on the side of safety.


This post includes links to several examples where we have tried out use of this tag. Note, the tagging on these features has been changed subsequently.

You can see the changesets here:


Tagging is simple:

Applies to

  • Way


OSM's default map style ("Mapnik") will need some indicator that these trails exist but aren't intended for use. For most public purposes (custom maps based on OSM data), these trails should not be rendered at all.

Features/Pages affected

  • Some existing ways are likely social trails and it may be appropriate to reclassify them as such. This will best be done incrementally in collaboration with managing park agencies in any given location (as they're typically aware of the highest impact social trails in their areas).

Usage statistics


Please comment on the discussion page.

See also discussion threads at