Trail Difficulty Ratings

Level 1

  • Elevation gain between 500 feet and 1000 feet
  • Distance of about 5 to 7 miles
  • A few short, steep sections
  • Relatively even terrain

Level 2

  • Elevation gain between 1000 feet and 1500 feet
  • Distance of about 5.5 to 7.5 miles
  • Some steep sections
  • Uneven terrain

Level 3

  • Elevation gain between 1500 feet and 2500 feet
  • Distance of about 6 to 7.5 miles
  • Several long, steep sections
  • Rough terrain

Level 4

  • Elevation gain between 2500 feet and 3000 feet
  • Distance of about 7 to 9 miles
  • Frequent long, steep sections
  • Rough terrain, some scrambling

Level 5

  • Elevation gain between 3000 feet and 5000 feet
  • Distance of about 8 to 12 miles
  • Many long, steep sections
  • Often very rough terrain, more scrambling

All Randonnée hikes are numerically rated. The ratings are included in the description of each trip as well as in the handouts provided on the bus. The explanation that follows will help the new hiker to determine the appropriate level of trails to choose and thereby avoid unpleasant surprises.

When in doubt,
it is important to choose cautiously.

The main factors that determine the degree of difficulty of a hiking trail are 1) the roughness of the terrain and 2) the steepness and length of the ascents and descents. Other factors are trail length and total elevation gain.

A note on the roughness of the terrain: the surfaces of the trails we hike vary considerably. You might encounter a relatively even path through a forest, a rocky trail with many tree roots, steep rock slabs, sudden short ups and downs, boulder-strewn trails where “rock-hopping” is necessary, and short scrambles up rock faces. The terrain on a Level I hike is reasonably straightforward and the degree of difficulty increases as you go from one level to the next.

Here is an example to put these categories in perspective:

  • Start walking east at Décarie and Sherbrooke.
  • At Peel and Sherbrooke, turn left and climb up to Pine, then continue to the lookout chalet on Mount Royal.
  • Now retrace your steps. You’ve covered 6-7 miles and climbed about 500 feet.

So far this fits our description of a Level 1 hike. However, the terrain is very smooth and regular, and there are almost no steep pitches. On a normal Level 1 hike you would encounter terrain that is rougher and more uneven, and probably a few short, steep ascents.

Reasonably fit people should feel comfortable doing a Level 1, 2 or 3 hike. However, Level 4 and 5 hikes are fairly strenuous and recommended only for experienced and fast hikers.

Poor weather conditions will usually make a trail more difficult, so keep this in mind when selecting your hike.

All RA hikes have a time limit. Finishing time is generally 4:00 pm for a regular day hike, 5:00 pm for an extended hike. Remember that you must rely on your own resources to complete your hike safely and get back to the bus on time, so don’t try to do more than you can handle.

Avoid choosing a hike with a difficulty level that is beyond your capabilities.

Not all levels will be offered on all trips: please read the descriptions before signing up.

On an extended hike, most people can manage a hike one level higher than they would choose on a regular day hike.