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A (b)log of Natural Resources Info

How to build a trail through a swamp – Puncheon Trails

By Amy Ester, Former Environmental Science Educator

If you are looking for a way to build a trail through your swamp, marsh, or bog, look no further! This trail type uses nearby trees to create an elevated walkway, making it comfortable and easy to walk though your beautiful property.

Puncheon Trails

A Puncheon trail also known as a “bog bridge” is a perfect option for an inexpensive and relatively easy trail. Puncheon trails can take many forms, some more complicated than others. According to the National Park Service, a puncheon trail “uses sawed, treated lumber or native logs to elevate the trail tread above wet areas that are not feasible to drain. It provides a hardened surface that lasts for many years depending on the material used. 




Figure 1. Example of a puncheon trail from New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.










Figure 2. Example of a Puncheon Trail from USFS, Colorado.



Figure 3. A very simple puncheon trail detailed later in this post.










Recommended wood species: Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Tamarack is a unique and useful species to use for wood products due to the fact that it is virtually rot resistant. It does not need treatment to withstand exposure to the outdoors, thus making it a perfect option for our puncheon trail! Even more convenient, tamarack trees are often found in wet swamps, bogs, marsh areas, or wetlands.


Construction: a brief how-to

Before construction, check with your local Water Management Specialist with the Dept. Of Natural Resources to see if a permit might be required to construct your puncheon trail.  Wetlands are protected under federal law and state statute.

Using a chainsaw, fell large straight tamarack trees near where you’d like to build your trail. Ideally, you will construct your trail in the winter to avoid disturbing wetland vegetation. Also, a frozen wetland is much easier to traverse.

Cut a few pieces of the lower part of the felled tree for base logs, 2 to 3 feet in length. 

Then cut the remaining straight pieces of trunk in 8 to 12 foot long pieces.  Trunk log less than 6” diameter, near the top of the tree at the point where is narrows considerably, is too narrow for a stable walking surface. Saw the log in half lengthwise.  This takes time, patience, and attention to safety with a regular chainsaw bar.  Check every foot or so that the cut is still proceeding relatively straight through the log.  This can be adjusted by pulling up or pushing down on the chainsaw while cutting to maintain a straight cut. 

Two or three base logs should be placed down on the wetland surface for each half lengthwise log. 

Strategically placed, your trail will begin look like this. Be sure to saw a notch in the base logs so the lengthwise logs sit snugly on top. 




In the end, your puncheon trail will look something like the photo below. It is very important to remember that after construction in the winter, the logs will settle and shift during spring melt. Before using your puncheon trail after spring thaw, take some time to shift and adjust your trail so that it is level and safe.

Going beyond the simple:

For some, a professional looking trail is more important than ease of construction. If you'd like to build a more advanced trail system, please see the online resource below from the USFS on puncheon trail construction. These more advanced trails are especially important if your trail will be open to public use to ensure safety and longevity.

(scroll ¾ of the way down the page to find the Puncheon Trail section)


I hope that this article was a help to you as you strive to enjoy your beautiful property! Happy trails!