Definition of Switchback

Discover the definition of switchback, a zigzagging trail in mountainous terrains used for hiking, biking, and driving. Learn about benefits, types, examples, and statistics!

What is a Switchback?

A switchback is a mountain trail or road that zigzags back and forth, typically at a steep incline or decline, to cover elevation in a relatively short distance. It is commonly used in hiking, biking, and driving routes in rugged terrains.

Types of Switchbacks

There are two main types of switchbacks: ascending switchbacks, which help climbers tackle steep inclines, and descending switchbacks, which enable hikers or drivers to navigate steep descents safely.

Benefits of Switchbacks

Switchbacks help prevent erosion on steep slopes by reducing the gradient of the trail, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly. They also provide natural rest stops for hikers and bikers to catch their breath and enjoy panoramic views.

Examples of Switchbacks

  • Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park features a series of switchbacks that lead to a narrow spine with breathtaking views.
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park includes switchbacks that traverse the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains.

Case Studies

In Yosemite National Park, the Mist Trail incorporates switchbacks to climb the steep granite steps of Vernal Fall, reducing erosion and offering a scenic route for hikers.


According to a study by the National Park Service, switchbacks have been proven to reduce erosion on trails by up to 80% compared to straight ascents or descents.

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