Explanation of Trail Status Indicators

Chart Key:

RED = Wet – Stay off the trail
YELLOW = Fair – Some sloppy spots are present, use caution
GREEN = Dry – GET OUT AND RIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
BLUE = Freeze/Thaw – Trails can be ridden when frozen. Do not ride when muddy.

These indicators are maintained by a limited number of  volunteers who have other jobs.  Reliable reports from the ground and common sense trump the trail status lights. If the conditions on the ground don’t match what the status indicators tell you, please report it in the forums.  We rely on our volunteers to keep the indicators updated so the more people we have reporting on trail conditions, the more accurate the indicators.

  • Spotty spring/summer storms make it difficult to accurately post conditions.  Isolated storms can be extremely heavy in one area, but very light only a few hundred yards apart.  Volunteers will frequently preemptively change the indicators based on weather radar in the absence of on-the-ground reports.  More accurate information typically will filter in over time, allowing the indicators to be changed.
  • Summer heat and sunshine will dry different trails at different rates.  This will vary based on how sunny an area is, and how much rain the area has received in the past several days.  It is extremely difficult to predict how quickly trails dry without timely reports of conditions.
  • If you are new to the HMBA forums, don’t be surprised if volunteers do not immediately change the trail status based on your report.  Keep providing reports, anyway.  The more we get, the more accurate the indicators can be.

Don’t be afraid to go check on the trail in person if an on-the-ground report has not been posted in the forums or the status indicators have not been changed in a few days.

Whatever you do, however, please don’t continue to ride if you are rutting the trail or your bike is getting coated with mud.  That is the trail you are taking with you.

If the indicators suggest not to ride, and the trail is dry, by all means go ride.

The GREEN indicator is pretty obvious.  The trails are most likely in great shape for riding.  Keep an eye out for weather updates, however.  The status indicators are managed by volunteers and they might lag a little bit in changing the indicators.  Check the trail conditions thread under the relevant trail discussion in our Forums for the most recent information.

The RED indicator is also pretty obvious.  You will commonly see this one in wintertime when temps are consistently above freezing and in the springtime before the spring leaf-out.  You might also see it during wet spells at other times of year, or after an especially bad storm.  It also appears in special cases.  For example, during special hunts at certain parks when the park closes, special events (such as during the Hoosier Outdoor Experience at Fort Harrison State Park) when other activities might have space reserved (like the skeet shooting range near Schoen), after extreme storm damage requiring extensive cleanup, and other special cases.  Details will typically be found in the Forums.

The YELLOW indicator is difficult to describe concisely.  Usually it means conditions are not optimal, but are okay for riding.  Sometimes, due to the lag with volunteers changing the indicators, trail conditions may be GREEN or RED.  Check the trail conditions discussion for the trail you are interested in for details, and check the current weather and the forecast.  Sometimes, conditions indicators are changed because of a significant forecast of concern within the next 24 hours.  Sometimes the reality is worse than anticipated, or not as bad as anticipated.  If it has been several days since the last trail conditions report for a trail, and especially if the local weather has changed since the last report, feel free to scout the trail and post a more recent report.  Be sure to remember, if you’re leaving ruts on the trail, please bail!

The BLUE indicator is the most complicated to describe. This indicator lets you know that the winter freeze/thaw cycle is in effect.  In Indiana, this cycle does not occur on a precise schedule. When soil freezes all the moisture turns to ice crystals between the particles of the soil  and in clay or loam soil they are tightly packed together. As the moisture freezes the crystals expand and tear the clay apart shattering it, then as it thaws the soil become more porous and allows more moisture in. This is repeated with every successive thaw, and does not require recent rain or snow. It simply requires moisture to be present, which may have been there months prior. If the trails are dry before the freeze/thaw cycle begins, the trails will not be affected as much. As soon as moisture is added to the system, however, conditions degrade rapidly during each thaw cycle. The general rule here, however, is that if nighttime temperatures get below freezing, you should be safe for an early morning ride, before the sun is up in full force. Usually, if you are off the trails by 10:00am, you should have zero problems. Beyond that, it gets complicated by the presence of snow, sunshine, and wind. Some factors to keep in mind:

  • The presence of snow tends to insulate the ground.  If snow falls on warm soil, the soil will oftentimes not freeze and even if ambient temps are below freezing, the snow will melt from beneath, creating a muddy mess eventually.
  • If snow falls on frozen ground, it works the opposite way, snowpack can keep the ground frozen even when ambient temps are above freezing.
  • Sunshine on south-facing slopes can melt snow and frozen soil well into the 20’s.  This is why morning rides are most reliable during the freeze/thaw cycle.
  • Strong winds can help dry trails more quickly and if it’s cold and cloudy, can help keep them frozen solid for good riding.
  • Night rides on trails where night riding is permitted are another option during the freeze/thaw cycle.  If ambient temps have dropped below freezing and the sun is gone, the ground will begin to re-freeze.  For example, IndyParks does not permit night riding unless specific approval has been provided.  Most IN State Parks (except Ft. Harrison) close at 11:00pm.  Night riding is permissible on the Hoosier National Forest trails, IN State Forest trails, and at most private facilities (Gnaw Bone, VBR, etc).