Permanent Courses

Permanent orienteering courses are an ideal introduction to orienteering and can be used for training purposes when local events are not available. The game's objective is to locate checkpoints on a course. The challenge comes from not knowing their locations ahead of time and the test is determining the best route between them. The fun, of course, is the satisfaction of finding all the checkpoints you set out to visit!

What is a permanent orienteering (O) course?

A permanent O course contains checkpoints or control locations (sometimes called "controls") designated on a map and set up within a park, using one of several types of permanent marker (some parks remove markers in the winter). The marker indicates that the user has found the correct site marked on their orienteering map. The image at left shows one type of permanent marker, which may be affixed to a tree or post.

City parks may choose to have no permanent markers, but can design courses requiring the user to answer questions based on some item or feature located at the control sites. You can purchase a map showing locations of the checkpoints for a nominal fee, either from the park itself or from the local orienteering club. The map will describe the type of marker used. Typically, checkpoints are selected and courses designed in consultation with a local orienteering club to provide varying levels of navigational difficulty. The user may then follow a designated course, or choose to visit any checkpoints s/he wishes to practice navigation in an unfamiliar area.

Where do I find a permanent O course in the U.S.?

Listed below are links to clubs with permanent O courses as well as some independent organizations with these courses. If there is not one in your area, consider teaming up with an orienteering club to design and establish one in your local park.







District of Columbia











New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York




Rhode Island

South Dakota






How do I use a permanent O course?

Plan to arrive at the park equipped with sturdy shoes that you don't mind getting muddy. If you'd like to visit controls located off-trail you might also want to wear long pants or gaiters to protect your legs. If you have one, take a compass to help you keep your map oriented correctly, though you most likely will not need one for a beginner-level course.

  • Purchase a permanent course map from the park or local orienteering club.
  • Familiarize yourself with the map and its symbols before you begin. The starting location is usually designated with a triangle, while checkpoint locations (controls) are circled. Controls might be man-made, terrain, and/or rock features, depending on the park.
  • Locate where you are now. Hold the map flat in front of you at waist level, and rotate it until it is "oriented" to the terrain, roads, and other features. Magnetic-north lines printed on the map will help if you have a compass.
  • Set out to visit the controls (O' 1-2-3 offers orienteering tips for novices) in the desired sequence. Be sure to keep your map oriented to the features around you and/or magnetic north as you change direction going from point to point. You may change your direction of travel between controls, but north will always be in the same place!
  • Check a control's description on your map so you know what you're seeking. The code corresponding to that control will appear on the marker located at the correct site. On most permanent course maps there will be a "control card" containing boxes in which you can write down the marker's code.
  • That's it! You're off to the next control, and so on to the finish.

SAFETY NOTE: On the remote chance that you become hopelessly "disoriented," don't panic — use your compass to follow the safety bearing given to return to a main road or other familiar location.

Establishing a permanent course

    1. Obtain permission from the land owner/custodian (park supervisor, district office, etc.).
    2. Determine control locations, making a preliminary selection on paper and consulting with an experienced orienteer (local club member).
    3. Locate locations in the terrain — check map accuracy, find convenient trees, streamer the locations, have locations verified by an experienced orienteer.
    4. Obtain approval of the selected locations from park officials.
    5. Obtain supplies (control markers, aluminum nails, maps, etc.).
    6. Place control markers on trees or posts. Add identifying codes.
    7. Draw control locations on a copy of the map.
    8. Prepare a brochure that will contain control locations, descriptions, beginner information, and the marked map. Explain how the map and course can be used. Include safety information (safety bearing, cautions, etc.). Design a control card (numbered boxes in which users can write down control codes) to be included in the brochure.
    9. Prepare a display for use in the park to promote the O course
    10. Print brochures and determine the selling price.
    11. Promote the course at the park and on the Orienteering USA Web site (contact webmaster). Outdoor stores can be designated as official map distributors, if desired, with proceeds to be returned to the club or park.

    Other considerations when designing and promoting permanent courses

    The optimal strategy for setting up a permanent course is not to think in terms of a specific point-to-point course, such as White, but to place a large number of control points, from which a specific set can be used for given day's activity. There could be many combinations that would make up a White course, and other combinations that would make up more advanced courses. If the course gets a lot of activity, a future project could be to move them to new locations. This not only presents new possible combinations, but also reduces the impact around the control points.

    As for markers, there are simple small markers, either aluminum or plastic, that can be nailed to a tree or, with more work and investment, a post. Markers on a tree can be removed easily and moved to a new location.

    —Larry B.

    Most of our permanent courses have a "white" level course long enough to be used for scouts to meet their 1-mile merit badge requirement. This tends to be one of the more frequent uses. Additionally, they have some intermediate / advanced controls which can be visited in any order to create a variety of training activities (although there may be a suggested yellow or orange level order).

    One of the big concerns of land managers is for markers that they do not have to mow around or maintain, so consider planning placements that do not interfere with mowing, and marker types that are durable and resistant to weather and vandalism.

    —Mike M.

    "Permanent" courses should not be permanent! Once enough people have visited a location, a path is worn to the control site, making  it no challenge at all, and damaging the forest envirionment. So ideally the map should be changed seasonally. That was the original intention of the TRIM system. Think of the set of controls as a planted garden that needs to be tended. I named one set after the members of our club. Maybe I should have asked each of those people to personally tend their marker - many of them have been pulled up out of the sandy soil or shot by hunters.

    —Catherine Y.

    One solution, as in ... Park is to put out a large number of controls which you can then divide up into maps of increasing difficulty and length. The Park has divided its maps up by odd and even numbers. In even-numbered years you can check out an even-numbered map and in odd-numbered years you can check out an odd-numbered map. There are few if any trails. To do the larger number of controls, it would be nice if the club helped and a number of Scouts took on such a project over the years, building on what was done before. Having the club work with the park brings nice returns when you wish to stage a meet (unless of course you have too much turnover in park personnel).

    —Chuck F.