Difficulty Rating Legend

Below is an explanation of what you can expect the difficulty ratings to indicate. What one person thinks of as an "easy" hike, someone else might call "moderate"–so this legend explains what the difficulty ratings mean when used on HikeNewEngland.com's website.

Note that these ratings pertain to "summer" hiking under normal conditions. Winter hikes are usually more difficult since you may be walking on unpacked snow and possibly dealing with ice–not to mention dealing with colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours. Spring hikes may be complicated by high water flow and difficult or impossible stream crossings. So the hike ratings reflect the difficulty level of the hike under normal "summer" conditions, regardless to the season that the actual hike occured. You should adjust the rating up if you are hiking in a more challenging season or expect other types of adverse circumstances.

If you're unsure where your fitness and comfort level fits in with these ratings, it's always best to start with an easier hike. Then depending on how that felt, you can better judge what you're capable of for your next outing.

An easy walk on Lincoln Woods Trail to Black Pond (photo by Webmaster) Easy   

The hike is mostly level with easy hills mixed in and the walking is relatively smooth. You can certainly expect tree roots, small rocks, and things of that sort on any trail walk but for hikes rated as "easy" there won't be any big-step-up boulders to get past and no rock scrambling.

If a hike is long and flat, it will likely get a rating of "easy" in spite of its long distance. If a hike is short but has more than minimal elevation gain, it can also be rated as "easy" due to the overall level of the hike. i.e. If a big hill only accounts for a tenth of a mile of a hike, then it's probably something that people accustomed to walking on flat terrain can handle.

Easy hikes are generally suitable for anyone that enjoys walking. Just remember to choose an easy hike with a distance that you can comfortably handle.


This rating typically describes hikes that are not flat but whose elevation gain is less than 500 feet per mile. For an easy/moderate hike, you should definitely be prepared for a lot of uphill walking. Overall the uphills will be on the gentle side but there may be some short steeper sections.


Hikes rated as "moderate" usually gain 500-800 feet per mile. Moderate hikes usually ascend steadily at an incline that would be difficult for an unconditioned person to comfortably handle.


This level is used for challenging hikes that fall somewhere between the "moderate" and "difficult" ratings. Perhaps the average elevation gain falls within the criteria for "moderate" but there are enough steeper sections or rough segments to warrant a higher rating. This may also describe hikes that are quite steep but short enough in distance to give it an overall feel of something less than "difficult".


The hike is clearly difficult with steep inclines and often rough footing and/or rock scrambles. The elevation gain is usually greater than 800 feet per mile and is oftentimes 1,000 feet or more per mile (which is very steep).

There are lots of rock scrambles on the Cliff Walk path to Mt. Monadnock (photo by Webmaster) A hike may also fall in the "difficult" level if the terrain is very challenging: such as for certain rock scrambles, boulder-strewn summits where there is no typical "trail" but rather a constant procession of boulders underfoot, talus slopes, etc. Even if a hike's average elevation gain is less than 800 feet per mile, a hike will be rated as "difficult" if there are significant sections of the route that gain more than 800 feet per mile.

Rock scrambling   

Rock scrambling refers to the need to use both hands and feet in order to get past boulders or ledges that are part of the trail. Rock scrambles are a lot of fun but can also be tiring and there is an increased chance of injury.

However this does not refer to rock climbing where special equipment is used. Often rock scrambles pertain to obstructions than cannot be simply stepped over but otherwise aren't very high. But sometimes there are more challenging scrambles where you do gain a bit of height (typically no more than 10 feet) and there is the potential for tumbling.

Boulder-strewn trail leading to Mt. Jefferson (photo by Kathy Astrauckas)

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