The navigation term Height of Land is a phrase you’ll often encounter when reading hiking trip reports, trail descriptions, or guidebooks. But it’s very difficult to get a clear definition of what it means unless you ask someone who knows.
Height of land is used to mean a local high point on a trail, road, or along a ridge where you stop going up and start going down. It’s basically used to describe a high-point that’s not a summit.
For example, take a look at the topographic map above. The Cedar Brook Trail is marked in red and climbs gradually from both the north and the south until it reaches a local high-point at 3,000 feet, circled in blue. This is a local height-of-land.
Height-of-land is a useful navigation term because you can use it as a landmark when describing a location to someone else as in “the trailhead is at the height-of-land on the Jefferson Notch road.”
Historically, there’s some evidence that height-of-land was used as a boundary to circumscribe the territory of Indian tribes or nations. The term is also used to describe the boundary between watersheds, although that meaning is not necessarily accurate or relevant when talking about hiking trails or roadways.