May 31, 2008

Trails.com Review

If you've searched the web for information on a trail or peak, chances are you've come across a listing from Trails.com, a subscription-only website offering trail information and topo maps. For $49.00 per year, Trails.com claims to give you unlimited access to over 40,000 trail guides and topo maps for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Generally I prefer my websites free, so I always ignored Trails' ubiquitous listings—though I often wondered what their content was like. Recently, Trails.com absorbed my favorite online map service, Topozone.com. That plus Trails' 14 day free trial offer prompted me to take a look at their service. The verdict? Trails.com offers a depth and breadth of coverage that is considerably more than I was expecting. Is it worth $49 a year?

Let's start with the free 14 day trial.

Click through to Trails.com, and you'll be prompted to create a user account. To help keep you motivated, Trails offers a decent package of incentives right from the start, including a few free catalogs, travel guides, and two free issues of Backpacker Magazine. Chose the ones you like and keep moving.

Next comes the dreaded credit card field. Yes, Trails.com wants a charge card number in exchange for your 14 day 'free' trial. If you're like me, this alone is enough to make you give them the digital finger and take your business elsewhere, but for the sake of the review I decided to take one for the team and persevere.

Trails.com Arizona Trails Trails.com Mount Williamson Detail Page Trails.com Guide Sample Trails.com Guide Sample Trails.com Topo Map Sample

I have to say, I'm glad I did.

Log into your new account, and you get a simple but effective interface offering a variety of ways to search or browse Trails' immense content database.

What kind of content do you get to access? Here's the surprise (at least for me): Trails.com gives you direct access to complete unaltered excerpts from hiking and climbing guidebooks.

Imagine my surprise when a search for "Mount Williamson" turned up the full Bairs Creek Cirque section of Paul Richins Jr.'s 50 Backcountry Skiing Descents in California.

Click through to the report, and Trails gives you a preview page which includes current weather conditions for the Mount Williamson region, a list of links for local resources (including travel and hotel reservations), and a short excerpt from the guidebook. You can also find current conditions—or post a report here yourself.

You also have the option to view the entire text of the book's Mount Williamson section.

You can view and print the text, formatted as a flash document.

The scan quality is excellent: clean and clear. No jagged text dots or scan blemishes in sight.

At this point in my Trails.com experience, I realized that when they say unlimited access to 40,000+ trails, they're talking about access to actual sections of guide books.

A quick search of the Trails catalog revealed excerpts from quite a few books which are currently sitting on my bookshelf.

Suddenly, $49.00 a year seemed like a pretty darn good deal to me.

You're not just accessing web-only content here; you're given access to a huge list of published guidebooks (see list below) from regions all across the country. That makes the yearly subscription fee a reasonable alternative to individually buying guidebooks for trails, canyons, and mountains as you need them. Even if you do have a big book collection already, it's likely they're all regional. With Trails' reach, you can search guidebooks for peaks and trails in states far and wide.

How complete is Trails.com's 40,000-trail database?

I ran searches on a wide variety of hikes, like Paria Canyon, Rainbow Bridge from Navajo Mountain, Mount Holy Cross, and of course the Bairs Creek Cirque. Overall, Trails' comprehensiveness is very impressive. I was able to stump it with arcane scrambles like the Walter Powell Route or Flagstaff's Lost Burro Trail, but in all fairness these aren't really officially recognized hikes.

Regarding your 14 day free trial, Trails limits you to three guidebook viewings, presumably to prevent you from downloading everything in sight and then cancelling. You can save the complete trail guides (I chose the Bairs Descent, Mt. San Jacinto's Cactus to Clouds, and a bike route along the Los Angeles River) in the "My Trails" section of your account, and view/print them at will. Full membership lifts this restriction, allowing unlimited access.

As mentioned earlier, Trails.com has now absorbed Topozone.com, which featured searchable topo maps in a variety of formats from across the U.S. Unfortunately, Trails.com has not as yet added the full functionality of Topozone, though perhaps this is currently being phased-in. In any case, Topozone was free (for unlimited viewing) and free of a registration requirement, so the loss of Topozone remains significant.

Trails.com does feature its own set of searchable USGS quads. These appear to be the 7.5 series maps. Resolution for web viewing is adequate (1600x1200 pixels), but less inspiring for printing: 8x10" at 150 dpi. Once again, Topozone offered considerably higher resolution scans, as well as the full complement of editions. Hopefully, these will eventually be added to Trails' service.

If you've never browsed through Trails.com, it's worth giving the 14 free days a try. If nothing else, you can find and download three of your favorite hikes or hikes-to-be, and then cancel your account before the trial period ends and it switches over to a regular, annual subscription. On the other hand, if you regularly travel to a wide range of locales, and you want premium-quality information about all of them, you'll easily get your money's worth out of the Trails database of guidebook excerpts.

I have to say, I wasn't expecting to find information of this level of quality from Trails. It is definitely a big advantage being able to search through so many guidebook articles for a single subject (example: a Mount Whitney search returns over 120 results).

Well, there's only one bit of business left: cancelling my free trial. I was a little apprehensive about this. I'm sure we're all familiar with horror stories about 'free' trials which require you to jump through an impossible set of hoops to cancel, locking you in to an endless loop of unanswered customer service calls.

Trails.com makes it effortless to cancel. Just click the "My Account" link at the top of every page, and there, in plain sight, is a link that allows you to cancel. Click 'cancel my trial' once and you're done—no last-minute pleading or attempts to change your mind.

Nice.

UPDATE: since I first published my Trails.com review in May 2008, it has received a steady trickle of comments, almost none of which are positive. Many people complain that Trails' business practices are deceptive, and especially that charges appeared on their credit cards that they were not expecting. My experience with Trails.com was entirely different: I signed up, browsed their content, and canceled my membership with no issues and no hidden charges. The frequency of negative comments from others, however, is alarming — April 10, 2010.

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow



  1. bob smith says:

    I got hit with an annual membership renewal for $49 for trails .com. I am always careful never to allow an autorenewal or automatic charge to my card. I don’t know how this happened but beware of trails.com. When you sign up for the 14day free trial they collect all the payment information they need. Be sure you know what is suppose to happend during the “free trial perial” and how you get out of it or you will be surprised a year later when the charge shows up on your credit card like I did. Keep printouts of proof.

  2. Andy says:

    Bob,

    What you describe is pretty typical nowadays: ‘free’ trials require a credit card for sign-up, and then convert automatically to full subscriptions after the trial period ends unless you specifically cancel before then.

    One way around this is to purchase a temporary credit card number. You can set the expiration date on these so that they expire before the end of the trial period.

    Based on my experience with Trails.com, however, I’d say there’s no need for such extreme measures. Trails was up front about how the trial works, and they made it easy to cancel in one click.

  3. vickie says:

    I also was hit up for the membership fee which is advertised as unlimited for 14 days FREE on the first day of my unlimited 14 day membership. I joined just before the site went down for updates and had thought the three guides was a mistake since there was no mention of this anywhere in the sign up process. I am presently contesting it with my credit card company. I had downloaded 19 guides and was told that I could not cancel since my account was so heavily used. If 19 out of 40,000+ is heavy use then there must be a lot of people not using there accounts at all.
    I personally could not recommend this site. Almost everything I found there is available elsewhere on the internet if you dig deep enough. I could have purchased the two guides I had downloaded from for $20.

  4. Andy says:

    Hmm…when I tried the free trial, it was after the three-guide download restriction had been put in place. I can see how allowing unlimited content downloads during the trial period could lead to problems.

    I do agree you can find a lot of information for free elsewhere (http://www.summitpost.org is one of my favorites), but esp. for climbers and backcountry skiers, the guidebook access in Trails.com’s library is impressive.

    It’ll be interesting to watch this thread and see what other people’s experience with trails.com was like.

  5. LemonChicken says:

    14 Day Free Trial is misleading…Even though on their Home Page it clearly states “14 day free trial”, it is actually 3 free maps. I too was charged the full $49 and contacted Customer Service asking them to please refund the charge since it was only the first day of the “14 Day Free Trial.” They came back with quite a short and blunt email basically saying that it is indicated on other areas of the site that it is actually 3 free maps and that I was out of luck to get my money back. They even threatened saying they have screen shots of my access and that they will retain for future reference if I press further! Wow! I actually was thinking of legitamately joining but not after such responses from Customer Service! I will be filing with the Better Business Bureau.

  6. Donnie says:

    I too started a trial, but when I went to try to use that magic ‘forth’ guide, it told me I had to have a subscription. I decided it was worth it and have used the heck out of it. I don’t understand how you can ‘accidentally’ go past that and get ‘stuck’? I have been a member for two years now and have had a lot of friends use the trial, one of them forgot to cancel it out and emailed in (unlike the above customers, he had used two guides) and they didn’t hesitate to give him back his money. I saw the email from the ‘threatening’ customer service saying they were sorry he had to go but they understood and since he ‘was in the trial guideline’ they would reverse the fee (and they did, he got it back in 4 days) and that was TWO months after he got ‘hit’. I don’t think the above people should have computers, lol. Do they search for the ‘Any’ key, hahaha. No, I am a loyal customer and in all the people I have sent there none of them tried to get something for nothing, and that is what these look like. You saw the site, Sierra, right out in the open and told you when you were using a guide. Curse of the internet, I want it free (Oh, and Sierra? I used to use Topozone.com too, and they did have a subscription…I never paid for it but I remember they did, maybe I should have, maybe they would still be in business?).

  7. carey says:

    I joined 2 years ago, when they offered something called a “lite” subscription – 15.00/year. It also auto renews, but the fun part is that you CANNOT disable it. Shady shady. I also have to say that the site is really really SLOW. Also – it just used the google maps tops that are free. the only real value of this site is the trail descriptions from the guidebooks. Trails.com has a lot of work to do before it has any value to it – clearly they make their money on folks like me who are too busy to wade through their site and cancel, or by charging 50 bucks to folks who don’t read their tiny print terms and conditions. Why can’t they just be transparent in their business practice. there are a lot of blogs/forums out there with the same information – it is worth the time to just google ‘em and skip this website.

  8. David says:

    Trails.com may offer convenience, but most of the guides I can either get at my library, skim at REI, or get equivalent info on summitpost.org, all free.

    And as for the takeover of topozone, it’s just as well. You can now download and print any USGS quad in full quality for free. Just go here:

    http://store.usgs.gov/

    And click the map locator link on the left.

  9. Manny says:

    They DON’T have a Customer Service PHONE NUMBER ! What does that tell you about how much they want to deal with customers???

    You can only reply via a fill-in email. It has been 3 hours, no response. I got socked for the $49.50 annual fee two days before the end of 2008, I don’t even remember signing up?

    No problem, I called my credit card company and disputed it

    They give no warning that you’re about to get locked in…

    underhanded.com I’d say

  10. Aaron says:

    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER sign up for a “FREE” trial that requires your credit card.

    Companies which use these sketchy tactics to get customers should not be rewarded.

    There are too many good companies providing this info for a much better value. There are too many good companies which respect their customers.

    trails.com – a bunch of scammers.

    My 0.02.

  11. Kristin says:

    Like the first post, I received email after email from trails.com. I couldn’t get around the give your credit card info. I received an email from trails.com for a special rate of 29.95 and thought okay for 30 bucks I’ll give it a whirl and immediately signed up.
    Surprise. I got charged the full amount. I sent an email the next day, when I could confirm the charge, and haven’t heard a peep from them, and I was only asking for the difference. I am sending another email, followed by a registered letter requesting a full refund, we’ll see if I finally get a response.

  12. Sue says:

    Well,my experience has to do with booking a hotel reservation. Never heard of trails but it came up on my search engine. I booked through them without realizing there was a $5 fee. That would have been bad enough but, when I got to the hotel, they had no record of the reservation. I called trails and the only thing I got was the statement: our computer shows that the reservation was acknowledged by an automated response. Of course the automated response could have been “we don’t accept emails from…” etc. Hey, the good news is I didn’t fall for the trial offer!

  13. steve says:

    I think that this web site is a scam! I signed up for the trial and two weeks later tried to unsubscibe. I spent two hours trying to find something to click to unsubscibe me from the that web site. I gave up, got side tracked and now im being charged every month for something I never use. DONT BE LIKE ME, DONT SIGN UP, DONT USE THIS SITE.

  14. Mark says:

    Scam artists. My subscription will be auto-renewed from now until the end of time unless I change my checking account info. Looks like I’m going to have to do just that, because the “customer service” at trails.com is ignoring my requests to take me off the auto-renew list. Thanks, sleazy company!

  15. Chip says:

    I joined a couple of years ago and was a little surprised when it auto-renewed last year; I believe the terms & conditions mentioned that it would, but I thought they’d give me a little notice before doing so. It is not hard to disable the auto-renew feature (I just did): log in, go to My Account, then under Account Options, choose “Disable Auto-Renew”. It is straightforward. But do it before it renews as you won’t get a partial refund.

    I have not had much luck using this site but perhaps it is because I loathe unnecessary scripts running on my computer. There are about 11 scripts that try to load when I do a search for and try to bring up a topo map. I see no reason why I should load all these scripts dealing with ads. I pay enough for a membership fee and don’t appreciate their need for additional income via ads. But I’ve disabled those scripts and I don’t see my map.

    Anyway, Trails.com won’t get more of my $$.

  16. Jenny says:

    We got a $49.95 charge on our card. Looked up the website so that I could find out what it was for. From the above it looks like the annual membership. Since there was NO phone contact #, I tried the email and it bounced back. Does anyone know if they are out of business?

  17. Joe says:

    this is a scam dont’ give them any credit info, they have no contact info and will charge your card. They do not respond to emails.
    DO NOT JOIN THIS SITE. It also sucks anyway!

  18. Chris says:

    I thoroughly enjoy my yearly membership and was never mislead.

  19. George says:

    I am dealing with recurring charge issues RIGHT NOW with trails.com!

    I now know that there are lots more like me..so write me here so we can compare notes.

    It’s a little bike shop in california and have already theatened action in the past..BUT they keep on charging my acct. They do not return phone call..even alledging fraud, from their little anser machine. BEWARE THIS WEBSITE! George

  20. Chris says:

    Still, this site has served me well… I use it Weekly to get up to my Peaks… AWSOME SITE!

  21. catherine says:

    I also did the trial offer, and then canceled it a few days later. Or at least I thought I canceled it–apparently not-the 49.95 just showed up on my credit card statement. Lesson learned-all I can add to this forum is to stay well clear of this company. They’re up there with FreeCredit Report.com… Class action lawsuit is right around the corner, hopefully.

  22. Chris says:

    You should never do a Free Trial Offer… There is always a period of time when you cancel and when acct. books flip so… people always get caught by the wheel….. I have done so myself a time or two on other things… Thats what free trials are about, you forget you subscribed and they make money… you know how this works people…

    Maybe you don’t and you are the people who house and clothe solicitors…. my apologizies… keep it simple, keep it safe…

    nothing is free

  23. Brian says:

    Trails.com has DECEPTIVE marketing. What is a “Free Unlimited 14-day Trial”? It’s actually an excuse to get your credit card, and as soon as you click on two “guides” they turn it off. LOSERS!!

  24. Alicia says:

    I signed up for the 14 day free trial, then I was out of town and forgot to cancel it in time. When I came back and thought about to cancel, the free trial was ended and I have been enrolled to the trails.com unlimited program… there is no option online to cancel membership, so I called, emailed…. no reply so far… after I saw all the reviews above, I think I’m out of luck, and won’t be able to get partial refund at all (even the membership was just started 4 days ago).. I think it’s very unreasonable to refuse refund of remaining time…

  25. Alicia says:

    Additional to my posting on 8/9, trails.com finally replied my refund request by email. They agreed to issue full refund to me and were very polite :)

  26. Andy says:

    Alicia,

    Thanks for following up! Glad you got your issue resolved to your satisfaction.

  27. BitDrifter says:

    First about trails.com:

    It is a wonderful site for discovering trails you haven’t done and then researching those trails through maps, reviews, GPS tracks uploaded by users, and the guidebooks. It however is buggy, but not unusably so, it is just things like adding a review and not having the review counter be incremented, small stuff but irritating.

    As for the trial:

    I did the trial, it was good they had it, because I don’t like to sign up for subscription sites unless I can check it out, and that is what it allowed me to do. When I viewed a guidebook it said right there that you have 2 guidebook downloads still available, you have to fairly unobservant to not see it. This restriction seemed reasonable to me because I am sure this is one thing they pay out for to have on their site, so they don’t want the trial users going around for all of their favorite hikes or upcoming hikes and printing them quickly to a digital format like XPS (forget paper) and then canceling (yes there are assholes like that).

    As for the “I can get this information for free if I DIG DEEP ENOUGH”:
    Well duh, seriously, DUH! The point of signing up for trails.com is so you can have all that information aggregated in one spot so you don’t have to DIG DEEP or enter a bunch if different search terms and a lot of reading to get what you want. It is time vs money, and I would rather save my time and spend some money so I don’t have to waste hours before my trip aggregating the information myself.

    Trails.com is wonderful, sign up for it.

  28. BitDrifter says:

    Oh, and as for problems with auto-rebill via contacting CS. On your “My Account” page, there is this option right in your face that says and I will copy and paste it:
    “Disable Auto-Renew Payments”

    Try that.

  29. Kevin says:

    Can someone recommend any other trail listing sites?

  30. Adeline says:

    I subscribed to trails.com and found the transition from “trial membership” to paid membership to be very clear. Each time I clicked on “view guide” the site notified me how many “free views” I had remaining. The subscription info was very clear about when I would be charged for membership. If that wasn’t clear enough, the site paused after I had used up my free views and notified me it would charge my card if I viewed again and required that I accept the charge to my card. So far it has given me exactly what I need. I like to hike but don’t have a lot of time to research in books or on the web. It is a well spent $49 for me.

  31. Jessica says:

    I too was charged $49.95 for a “trial” membership. Cancelling or contacting CS at Trails.com is a joke. I sent multiple emails using the email form on the website and left multiple messages by calling the hotel and gear numbers they had. Finally got a refund, with complete silence on their end.

    They have a grade of F on the BBB with good reason. I am going to file with them as well. I encourage you to file so we can get these guys shut down. No matter the information they may provide, phantom charges and avoiding customer service is no way to run a decent company.

    For anyone else trying to contact Trails.com use this info. The # goes straight to voicemail but leave a message and you may magically get your money back. Good luck!

    customerservice@trails.com
    1-888-872-4579

    To file with BBB against Trails.com
    http://www.la.bbb.org/Business-Report/Trailscom-100082815

  32. LloydW says:

    Disappointed. I looked for biking trails in North Virginia – it had only about a dozen and they were taken from 2 books called Biking Virginia and Bike Virginia. No original content. The biking trails it did have were neat and looked good, but the overall website was cheesy as hell and filled with ads for footwear and even singles! Sometimes, I had to search my screen for the information I’d clicked on because it was filled with so many ads. Also, check out veloroutes.org/bikemaps for a great free tool to create your own routes on a google map and generate your own elevation profiles. Trails.com is simply really awful. I cancelled my 14-day trial after 1 day – the trial only lets you view details of 2 trials.

  33. Chuck says:

    I too was hit with a $49 renewal, 12 months after never subscribing to anything more than perhaps a 14 day trial. The phone number above had a recording that said to call back later; not even voicemail. I will dispute the charge and will file a BBB report.

  34. ch says:

    Used the number above 1-888-872-4579
    to connect to customer service when I could not cancel my account in time due to problems with the website. They took care of it immediately. Maybe they are listening to the complaints…

  35. fluffernutter says:

    More comically, after reading all these complaints, I’m unable even to use the ‘free’ trial. Each attempt to download any content takes me directly to a ‘upgrade to full membership’ page. Given the pains people have expressed here, I cancelled my trail less than an hour after activating it, without anything but annoyance to show for it.

    Boo, hiss!

  36. BAdams says:

    I fell for it too! The phone number above works though, I spoke to them and they cancelled my subscription and issued me a refund.

  37. Doctor Impossible says:

    Canceled on the 14th day of the free trial. A few days later I noticed the 49.95 charge on mybank statement. Called the above number (1-888-872-4579) and was assured that my money had already been refunded.

    Will post back here in a few days as soon as I can confirm.

  38. Doctor Impossible says:

    Got my refund, apparently if you cancel on the last day of the trial their billing software bills you then automatically issues a refund? Weird, but at least I got my money back. Good luck to anyone else who gets stuck with this problem, I recommend trying that number and ignoring the email help system.

  39. Simone says:

    Signed up for the free trial, and noticed they placed a $1 charge onto my credit card statement, just like many other free trials, to make sure the card actually works. As of right now, it is 2 trail details, I think you can look at maps as much as you want, but I have not found a way to blow up the map to print it or draw a trail on the map before printing (like on the Topo! software?)
    So far I like the service, the 2 excerpts from the guide books have been helpful.

  40. joe llama says:

    This website seems VERY shady. It’s listing parks in MY town that I’ve never heard of, can’t find ANY info on, and that no one I know has ever heard of. Yet they have reviews talking about boat ramps, fishing piers, and the types of fish that can readily be caught at these places … Anyone else find parks and areas that don’t exist in their areas?

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