What is the right word to call a road without asphalt?

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I found the term "beaten path", but it seems to be used mostly for human-made (rather than car-made) paths within a forest. What I need to describe is a known road that is often used by cars or other vehicles but that doesn't have a layer of asphalt.

Extra info

To get the picture above I used "African road" as search phrase.

  • 11
    "Dirt road." "Gravel road." Unpaved.
    – stevesliva
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 6:57
  • 1
    "The Nigerien road network: Paved roads are in green, "improved" (gravel or laterite) are in solid orange, "piste"s or dirt roads and tracks are orange dashes."
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 7:21
  • Building off the comment of @Graffito, these roads are sometimes called "unimproved".
    – James
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 11:22
  • "Gravel road" is what I'd generally use, here in the US.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 12:36
  • I'll note that it's difficult to determine whether the surface depicted in the above picture is simply the existing soil that's been graded smooth, or instead is the result of applying a layer of crushed rock or other such "imported" material.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 19:01

4 Answers 4


Such a road might be called "unmetalled" in Britain, "unpaved" in North America and "unsealed" in Australia and New Zealand.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_surface#Gravel_surface

  • 1
    "Unpaved road" is common usage in the UK too, and covers both dirt roads and gravel roads.
    – armb
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    An "unpaved road" in America refers to any road that is unpaved including roads covered in gravel. The road in this picture is more specifically a dirt road. However, I do hear them called both (it IS both) and have personally found it is regional. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 9:59
  • 100 years ago, in the US, a road covered with compacted gravel would have been proudly claimed to be "paved" by the county road workers. Only an dirt road (or pre-existing sand/gavel) would have been called "unpaved". Since then expectations have changed, but the written word always lags behind.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:58
  • In New Zealand a "metal" road is one with a layer of gravel, but no tar seal/asphalt. A dirt road like this would be an unmetalled road (not just unsealed).
    – Eric
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 1:15

dirt road is what I'd call it.

Google Image

A dirt road or track is a type of unpaved road made from the native material of the land surface through which it passes, known to highway engineers as subgrade material. Dirt roads are suitable for vehicles; a narrower path for pedestrians, animals, and possibly small vehicles would be called a dirt track. Wikipedia


There are overlapping classes of surfaced and unsurfaced roads, and undoubtedly the nomenclature used to identify them varies from place to place. At the simplest level, you have a "track" created and maintained by habitual use. In U.S. usage, the term "two-track dirt road" or "two-track forest road" may be used for roads of this type. You can see examples of this type of road here.

A step beyond a two-track dirt road is a "graded dirt road" (as shown in the pictures here), which has been cleared and leveled by a grader (an earth-leveling machine). This, I think, is the type of road that the poster is asking about.

Another step involves pouring and distributing a layer of gravel over the graded dirt road; this would be a "gravel road." As the images here indicate, there is some looseness in distinguishing between a gravel road and a graded dirt road and, but according to the Wikipedia article for Dirt road, the two have different features:

Compared to a gravel road, a dirt road is not usually graded regularly to produce an enhanced camber to encourage rainwater to drain off the road, and drainage ditches at the sides may be absent. They are unlikely to have embankments through low-lying areas.

Beyond that are roads with smoother aggregate surfaces, such as macadam roads. And finally there are paved or sealed roads of asphalt, concrete, Tarmac, or other combinations of materials.


In Ireland we call such a road an "unpaved road" as opposed to a "paved road" (a tarred road). Country lanes in Ireland are called "boreens" (from the Irish bóithrín) and will always have grass growing up the middle of its single lane, unless recently paved. A "bog road" is a similar road, leading to the bog.

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