From OpenStreetMap Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Public-images-osm logo.svg highway = path
Forest path and trees.jpg
A generic path used by pedestrians, small vehicles, for animal riding or livestock walking. Not used by two-track vehicles. Very broad, non-specific meaning. Show/edit corresponding data item.
Rendering in OSM Carto
Rendering-highway footway.png
Group: highways
Used on these elements
should not be used on nodesmay be used on waysshould not be used on areasshould not be used on relations (except multipolygon relations)

Typically not used by four-wheeled (two-track) vehicles

Useful combination
See also
Status: approvedPage for proposal

highway=path indicates a generic path that is used by pedestrians, small vehicles like bicycles, for animal riding or livestock walking. This includes walking and hiking trails, bike paths, horse and stock trails, mountain bike trails, as well as multi-use paths for cyclists and pedestrians or similar combinations. Certain types of paths are tagged more specifically with highway=footway, highway=cycleway, and highway=bridleway, but in many cases none of those quite fit so highway=path is used instead.

For urban paths which are intended primarily for pedestrians (potentially with bicycle=yes), some argue it's better to use highway=footway, others prefer only use highway=footway for formal footways (with a footway-traffic sign or sidewalks). Actual usage of highway=footway vs highway=path differs between mappers and areas.

A highway=path is not for use by four-wheeled (two-track) vehicles. Often the path is simply too narrow. Other times it is wide enough but such vehicles are prohibited (except for official maintenance or emergency use). A path-like way where four-wheeled vehicles are allowed, is likely better tagged as a highway=track or highway=service.


Additional tagging is highly recommended for paths. Without access and surface tags, routing engines may penalise the use of a path. Difficult hiking paths should be tagged with a sac_scale difficulty, to prevent people unwittingly choosing a route which is too difficult for them.

Optional tags
Key Value Comment
Which modes of transport are allowed to use the path. All paths should ideally have access tags; without these, data users must make an assumption about which default access rules apply.
surface * Information about the physical surface of the path. Recommended for all paths, very useful for routing engines.[1]
sac_scale hiking
A difficulty rating scheme for hiking trails. Recommended for mountain trails.
mtb:scale 0–6 A difficulty rating scheme for mountain-biking.
dirtbike:scale 0–6 A difficulty rating scheme for dirt-biking.
trail_visibility excellent
How visible the trail is on the ground.
incline 0–100%
For marking a way's incline (or steepness/slope).
width Length, numeric Describes the actual width of a way. The default unit is metres.
informal yes
Distinguish purposely built paths from informal ones, a.k.a. path=desire.
operator * The name of the organization that maintains the path. Data consumers may use the presence of an operator tag as an indication that the path is an official trail.
symbol * Describes the symbol that is used to mark the way along the route

Legal access

For the mapping of public rights of way in the UK (specifically England and Wales), see UK public rights of way.

A highway=path could be:

Only use the general access=* key when an access restriction applies to all transport modes. If only specific transport modes are forbidden, for example, at a vehicle no-entry sign, use a more specific restriction like vehicle=no or motor vehicle=no.


Example Mapping Description CyclOSM
Zeichen 240 - Gemeinsamer Fuß- und Radweg, StVO 1992.svg

+ foot=designated
+ bicycle=designated
+ segregated=no

Signposted foot and bicycle path. CyclOSM bicycle-foot-designated-segregated-no.png

+ smoothness=excellent/ good/intermediate
+ surface=paved/asphalt/concrete/paving_stones

with a smooth surface CyclOSM bicycle-foot-designated-segregated-no-smooth.png
Zeichen 241-30 - getrennter Rad- und Fußweg, StVO 1992.svg

+ foot=designated
+ bicycle=designated
+ segregated=yes

Signposted foot and bicycle path with dividing line. CyclOSM bicycle-foot-designated-segregated-yes.png

+ smoothness=excellent/ good/intermediate
+ surface=paved/asphalt/concrete/paving_stones

with a smooth surface CyclOSM bicycle-foot-designated-segregated-yes-smooth.png
Zeichen 240 - Gemeinsamer Fuß- und Radweg, StVO 1992.svg

Zusatzzeichen 1022-11 - Mofas frei (600x450), StVO 1992.svg

+ foot=designated
+ bicycle=designated
+ mofa=yes

Signposted foot and bicycle path with additional permission of motorised bicycles (mofas).
Waldweg Hexenstieg (2).JPG highway=path

+ foot=yes
+ bicycle=yes

+ horse=no

+ motor_vehicle=no
+ surface=ground

+ smoothness=intermediate

A path with explicit tags for access, surface and smoothness, which makes it clear for other mappers and data users that it has been evaluated for access (based on a access sign or regulations that apply on that location)
Urban path to Tanker Hill - geograph.org.uk - 3357538.jpg

Jena Track roots.jpg
Trail visibility good1.jpg


A path that is not tagged for access, surface or smoothness. Other mappers and data users can only guess whether this path is in reality legally accessible and practically usable for a certain transport mode and have to rely on some form of assumed default values, which vary between data users and use cases.

Be aware that due to the wide variety of path qualities, routing engines may apply a penalty for cycling or other modes of transportation (or make incorrect and different assumptions) for paths without other tags that specify surface, smoothness or access conditions.

Note that adding only bicycle=yes will not tell data users the difference between the paved vs the unpaved paths and adding surface=unpaved without smoothness=* will not tell the difference between the third path that will be acceptable for a much larger portion of cyclists than the second path.

CyclOSM path-smooth.png

Considerations for data consumers

Usage of this tag varies regionally, and paths without any additional tags are common. Consequently, paths require careful interpretation by data consumers to avoid causing map users inconvenience, or worse. [2][3][4][5]

Major pitfalls when consuming this data include:

  • Sending map users down paths which are legally off-limits, invisible, or which have an unsuitable surface.
  • Not adequately representing the difficulty of hiking paths, and causing map users to choose a path which is too difficult or dangerous for their skill level. This can present a serious safety risk.[6]

When displaying paths, especially in rural areas, maps should make clear which paths are tagged as more difficult on the sac_scale to avoid leading users along difficult routes. Also consider using the trail_visibility, informal, access and surface tags to prioritise rendering.

Routers should carefully consider the weighting of paths which don't have access or surface tags, as these could be legally off-limits or have an unsuitable surface.

Disputed usage

People scrambling up a mountain route, likely https://www.openstreetmap.org/way/517237335

highway=path is described as a generic path usable by pedestrians, non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles, and livestock such as horses. However, for lack of a more specific tag, it has also become commonly used for steep, rugged routes that do not fit this description. On these routes (or sections) an able bodied person does not walk upright, but instead scrambles using hands and feet to proceed up or down the slope. Riding a bicycle or horse on a scramble is functionally impossible in most cases.

Because of this, usage of highway=path for scrambles is disputed and there is a lack of consensus on how to properly tag them. A proposal for a new tag highway=scramble has been made but has not gained enough support for approval:

See also


  1. "For the love of God, if you must use highway=path, please, please, please, please add a surface tag with a commonly-used value."
  2. "Right now I am consuming data for a cycling router and highway=path is the bane of my life."
  3. "Horridly complex tag, everyone uses it differently."
  4. "Just as an example, from a data-consumer POV, here's my current rules for rendering highway=path (...) I have seen highway=path used to mean anything from something that is not even visible on the ground, to something that is impossible to distinguish from a small road (...) Map renderer's frustration, I suppose..." https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/tagging/2020-May/052747.html
  5. New road style for the Default map style - highway=path is evil (search for "highway=path, highway=footway problems")
  6. “Concerns raised over crowdsourced maps used by popular hiking apps”. The Great Outdoors. 2023-01-10.