Access Keys:

Skip main menu

Hierarchy of Trails Routes

What is a "green road code" for vehicle users? 

A "Green Road Code for Vehicle Users" accompanies a colour-code system for each route.  

  • Red = Route has a lot of use, proceed with great care and follow advice or signs explaining special controls in place.  These routes are under the greatest pressure or conflict between different users and the environment.  
  • Amber = Route has moderate use, proceed with special care - there may be a lot of other users or land management issues.  It may not be passable in all weathers.  
  • Green = Proceed with caution - the route is passable at all times and there may be no management in place.                        

We are able to provide the same information for Cumbria (The Lake District National Park plus the rest of Cumbria, outside of the Yorkshire Dales National Park).  The Cumbria information is intended to include the Lake District area, and expand it to Cumbria outside the National Parks. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has produced its own guidance on MPV use. Please follow the link at the side of this page.

Recreational vehicles in the countryside such as 4 wheel drives (4WDs) or motorcycles can sometimes raise emotive issues regarding noise, pollution, erosion and conflicts with other users.

We have therefore produced the Hierarchy of Trail Routes as a guidance to highlight routes where mechanically propelled vehicles can sustainably go for recreation.  "Mechanically Propelled Vehicles" means all motorised vehicles, mostly 4WD and trail bikes, but also quad bikes.  All these vehicles should be road legal, taxed, insured and registered - by law!

What does "Hierarchy of Trails Routes" mean? 

The Lake District National Park Authority ran for years a successful project called "Hierarchy of Trail Routes".  This approach involved close partnership with user organisations.  The aim of the system is not to promote or prevent use, but to encourage responsible use.  

The hierarchy manages sustainable levels of activity on routes through voluntary restraint where possible, rather than statutory measures such as Traffic Regulation Orders.   At the same time, the use and condition of routes is monitored.  Some routes in sensitive areas can become badly eroded, and in such places recreational motor vehicle users are asked to comply with management measures.  For example, one-way traffic systems for vehicles, or a route permit system.  User organisations are involved in the decision-making and monitoring.  

Important Information

In recent years periods of increased rainfall have been experienced in Cumbria. This has lead to more water based erosion particularly on the steeper tracks, and to longer periods when low lying routes are waterlogged and vulnerable to damage, particularly by heavier or fast travelling vehicles. Please take this into consideration when planning your itinerary, and consider not using routes where your passage is likely to cause damage, or make use by farmers and others more difficult.



What has Cumbria County Council done? 

Volunteers have surveyed more than 220 unsurfaced routes, to assess how sustainable use of the route is, and which "colour" each route should be.  People can then access this information from this website by downloadable pdfs for them to match up with their Ordnance Survey (OS) maps at home.  The idea is that people can "know before they go" and understand some of the reasons behind the decision-making (red, amber or green).  

For reference, the OS (Landranger, 1:50,000) maps you will need are:


  • OS 85 - Carlisle and the Solway Firth area 
  • OS 86 - (Haltwhistle), Brampton, Bewcastle and Alston area
  • OS 89 - West Cumbria, Cockermouth and Wast Water area
  • OS 90 - Penrith, Keswick and Ambleside area
  • OS 91 - Appleby-in-Westmorland, Brough and Kirkby Stephen area
  • OS 96 - Barrow-in-Furness and South Lakeland area
  • OS 97 - Kendal, Morecambe bay and Windermere area

What routes have we included?

Since the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 routes shown on the Definitive Map as Public Footpath, Public Bridleway and Restricted Byway do not have any public motor vehicle rights of way, and it is a criminal offence to use them without the landowner's permission.

Similarly it is illegal to drive or ride on fields or open land without the landowners' permission. Doing so is particularly liable to cause damage to the landscape and the soil structure, and causes great offence to other groups of recreational users, to local residents, and to farmers and others for whom the land is their livelihood.

For more information on the NERC Act, follow the quick link in the code of conduct box on the right of this page.

What have the surveys found?

The surveys have been completed by volunteers, and reflect their capabilities and opinions generally, on the basis of the conditions they encountered in autumn - winter 2007.  Cumbria County Council is very grateful to all the volunteers who took part.  You will be able to download each survey sheet so that you can "know before you go" and understand some of the reasons behind the decision-making.  Of all the 220 routes considered: 

  • We have found 17% unsuitable from the start (find out why by following the link on the left-hand menu),
  • We have found 66% green (minimal use and management intervention needed),
  • We have found 22% amber (moderate use and management intervention needed), and
  • We have found 12% red (significant use and active intervention needed).           

In order to build on this information, we would greatly appreciate any feedback, either from recreational vehicle users, or landowners, farmers, local people, walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.  You can contact us (the Countryside Access team) here or by providing feedback through the Cumbria Local Access Forum.  

All comments will be considered for additions to the survey sheets.  A site meeting with a ranger could also be arranged where necessary.  

Please use the links on the left for each OS Landranger sheet to navigate to the information you need.   There is also some information to download and links below.