Byways, Greenways and DIRTways: Simple Differences to Keep In Mind

Posted: March 3, 2015

Trail Terminology


If you are a designer with experience in trails, you’ve probably heard plenty of the following terms outside of the common “multi-use trail,” including: multi-use path, bike path, bike trail, walkway, pathway, byway, greenway, linear park, dirtway, access trail, and more!

So what do they all mean, and which one is right for your project? Take a look for a quick comparison and overview of byways, greenways and a relatively new term - DIRTways.


A byway is a lesser used route or path not following the major roads. Some byways are scenic or National Byways, while others have historic significance. Generally speaking, byways are traveled by vehicles and not by foot. Byways take travelers off of the beaten path (literally) and usually into more rural areas. Because byways are not exposed to the heavy traffic of main roads, they take a long time to develop signs of wear and tear. While many byways are paved asphalt, some are simple dirt or gravel roads.

GreenwaysWithlacoochee State Trail Florida-363213-edited

Greenways are becoming a popular type of path in urban and rural areas around the country. They are designed to be linear, multi-purpose trail systems that maintain and foster nearby vegetation. Greenway paths, particularly in more rural areas, can be composed of just dirt and grass - no paving or hardscape material required.

In urban greenspace design, there are usually paved areas to create walkable spaces and encourage alternative transportation (via foot and bicycle). These greenways have a function similar to parks, though more linear in design. The pavement material specified for this type of project depends on expected use. If cyclists will be the primary users of the greenway, for example, a loose gravel or crushed stone path likely won’t be the suitable material choices.

Tybee-Savannah Greenway Trailblazers Ride jpg-423249-edited


Mecklenburg County’s Park & Recreation Department in North Carolina has a surface type on its greenway spaces that they refer to as DIRTways. DIRTways are almost like a combination of byways, greenways and large, flat rocks used as stepping stones. DIRTways are precisely what they sound like: unpaved trails, traversed by pedestrians and are often only accessible on foot.

A paved greenway may take several years to design, gain proper funding, contract and develop – so DIRTways allow public access and enjoyment of the space in the meantime.  They’re rugged and generally not recommended for use for things like strollers and roller blades. DIRTways are meant only as temporary trails — some kind of paving, eventually, is recommended - apart from the most rural of areas.

And More...

What did we miss?! If you have other trail-related terminology to share, we'd love to hear it. Feel free to include in the comments section below. 

Photos by Visit Florida and Savannah Bicycle Campaign

Related Articles:

Topics: Multi Use Trails and Greenways