Suppose there's somewhere you need to go, but getting there could be difficult or dangerous. Maybe you have to get into a walled city, castle, or Supervillain Lair, but the entrance is guarded by armed soldiers, monsters or worse. Maybe you have to cross a minefield or an uncharted deadly swamp where one wrong step could drop you into a pit from which you would never return. Maybe you've gotten into the enemy base and need to go to the control room, but you suspect that the main hallway with signs saying "control room this way" has more security cameras than all the other hallways combined. Maybe there's a range of mountains you need to cross, but your map doesn't show any pass nearby. Maybe you just need to go from one town to another, but you're a widely recognizable fugitive and don't want to be seen by other travelers on the road between them. Whatever the reason, there's somewhere you have to go, and obvious ways to get there either don't exist, would take too long, or would be near-suicide to use. If only there were some special route that's not widely known, one that could get you where you need to go while bypassing many of the obstacles in the way...
What you need is a Secret Path. This is a passageway that not everyone knows about that can be used to get somewhere that is difficult to reach or to go somewhere without being noticed. Sometimes a local guide will be knowledgeable about paths that outsiders are unfamiliar with.
Although these secret passages are sometimes lauded as "shortcuts," they can sometimes take longer than more obvious paths, and can be laden with treacherous hazards that make them even more dangerous than the danger they allow travelers to avoid. Expect any secret path through a swamp to be unpleasant, since Swamps Are Evil.
Common types of secret paths include back doors, Bookcase Passages, ventilation shafts, and underground routes such as passages through Absurdly Spacious Sewers or Tunnel Networks. See also Right Under Their Noses and Hidden in Plain Sight. If you make your own secret path, it's called Dungeon Bypass. Compare Secret Room for a similar concept just with a hidden room instead of a passageway.
- Brave: Merida and Bear!Elinor sneak back into the castle via the sewers.
- Black Cougar: The toymaker twists the top of his model lighthouse, causing the fireplace to slide away, and the wall behind to open up, revealing his toy-making room.
- Havenhurst: The apartment building has lots of secret passageways throughout it, which explains why the rooms seem smaller than they would realistically be.
- Misfit Heights: Dr. Zoltar pulls on a bust on a table, and a nearby slab of wall slides away, revealing a pathway.
- The Chronicles of Dorsa: Akella, a pirate, knows that every big city has secret tunnels used by smugglers to move illicit goods in or out. She searches for and locates one inside Pellon, which comes in handy.
- The Chronicles of Prydain book The High King. Achren leads the heroes along a hidden path over Mount Dragon into Annuvin, avoiding the dangers of other routes.
- The Dreamside Road: A hidden passage leads from the Cloud family mausoleum and into Sucora Cloud’s secret room, holding her stash of films, made to instruct Enoa in becoming a Shaper.
- Goblins in the Castle: Toad-in-a-Cage Castle is littered with secret passages, including one that leads to every room on its floor, and the one that leads from a clock to a staircase that goes down to the dungeons. William's been exploring the castle for years and found many, but knows there's more that he hasn't found yet.
- Joe Pickett: In Savage Run, there is a local legend about a secret path that allows passage through the otherwise uncrossable eponymous canyon. A local Indian tribe is supposed to have used to escape from the army under cover of darkness. However, the location of the path has been lost for decades. When Joe and his allies are fleeing from killers, his only hope of survival lies in finding it again.
- In The Lord of the Rings:
- Gollum leads Sam and Frodo through the Dead Marshes, using a path that the orcs don't know.
- Lord of the Rings also has the path the Rohirrim take to get to Minas Tirith, led by Ghân-buri-Ghân.
- The hidden West-Gate into Moria, effectively a secret passage to everyone but the Dwarves... and their friend.
- Meanwhile, back in the Shire, young hobbits would occasionally search for hidden passages in Bag End, convinced that Bilbo has concealed his legendary wealth there.
- Cirith Ungol, a small, lightly-guarded, and seldom-used pass near Minas Morgul allowing one to enter Mordor without having to cross the Morannon and use the Black Gate itself. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam that way, where the Hobbits discover there's a very good reason it's seldom-used.
- The Hobbit has a Dwarven door in the Lonely Mountain that foreshadows the later book's Moria gate — a secret passage into the very heart of the Lonely Mountain whose keyhole only appears on the rarely-occurring Durin's Day and whose key was lost for years.
- Space Marine Battles: In Fall of Damnos, Scipio's squad spends most of the novel looking for one to get close to Necron artillery, as all the easy ways are swarming with killer robots. Jynn provides one.
- Soldiers Of Barrabas: The third novel has enemies of Nile Barrabas from his Vietnam days kidnapping his girlfriend and saying "You've got 48 hours before we kill her. Come and get her." The Big Bad thinks his jungle fortress surrounded by booby traps and ambushes will take care of Barrabas and his men, but they kill an ambush squad and infiltrate up their hidden retreat path, which is free of booby traps.
- "Talma Gordon": The murderer used a secret path to reach Captain Gordon's chambers from the shore, which only the Captain and trusted members of his crew knew about.
- The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: Every castle, palace and temple is riddled with these. They're variously used for adultery, escapes or spying. While inside these places, no room can be deemed safe from people spying through holes in the walls.
- In An Unkindness of Ghosts, Sovereign Nicolaeus has a secret trapdoor under a chest in his chambers that leads to a Secret Room with one of the very few windows in the entire starship.
- Juniper Sawfeather: Just off the boardwalk at Cape Flattery is a hidden trail through the woods that leads to the waterfall of tears and the Cave Behind the Falls where Jolon is imprisoned. In Echo of the Cliffs, Naomi tells June and her parents where to leave the boardwalk to find the trail.
- The 100: Bellamy gets a detailed map of Mount Weather's air vents and unused passages, letting him get to places inside the Mountain while avoiding guards and locked doors.
- Babylon 5: When a Soul Hunter arrives, he goes to the local crime lord and buys a guide to the secret ways on the station, to enable him to get close enough to Delenn to collect her soul.
- The First Lady: Eleanor puts Hick in an adjoining room to hers inside the White House. Unbeknownst to most people this has a door connecting it, implying that they can continue their affair and says this isn't the first time the White House had such things happen. However, it's unclear whether they do.
- Help! I'm a Teenage Outlaw: Lady D. has a secret tunnel that leads out to the village from her wardrobe in the castle.
- Dungeons & Dragons: A campaign module includes a secret path intended to be the faster exit for the party, which spirals along the main path. The book suggests to prevent finding the outside path, to ensure that the player goes through the hazardous portion.
- The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures: There are a number of these, usually leading to a cameo and some items. Others end by unlocking Mike Matei and the Bullshit Man as playable characters. (Speaking of Mike, he can spot secret paths and destructible tiles, making searching a good deal easier.)
- Ian's Eyes: There is a secret passage in the library that Ian and North can open. To do this, they need to push the right letters in the right order.
- The Legend of Zelda: Most instances of The Lost Woods require you to traverse a very specific route to avoid being sent back to the entrance.
- Märchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift: In the dungeon, there's walls that can be activated to reveal a new path in that spot. Indicated by Mylne having a "!" speech bubble.
- Omega includes secret mountain passes, which cut down on travel time in the wilderness.
- Skies of Arcadia: There is a passage through Valua's sewer system that leads to the arena in the Coliseum. The sewer system can also be used to travel from Lower City to Upper City, even though free travel from Lower City to Upper City is supposed to be forbidden.
- What Remains of Edith Finch has a lot of these built into the Finch house. Edith needs to use these to get into certain rooms because her mother had sealed the doors.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The main characters use the sewers to sneak back into Omashu. There's also supposedly a "secret river" (but not secret enough not to be discussed in Fire Nation grade school) that leads to the Fire Lord's palace.
- My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "The Prince and the Ponies", the palace is riddled with secret passages, mostly of the kind where a wall folds back to reveal a hidden tunnel at the press of a specific brick, which Phillip, Suzette and the ponies use to sneak about without the guards or duchess' knowledge.
- Disneyworld in Florida is actually built above ground level. This is hidden by the terrain design. Underneath the park are passageways to allow employees to easily get from one part of the park to another more quickly than through the park itself. Contrary to rumor, Disneyland in California does not have underground tunnels, as the idea for them only occurred after construction of the park was finished, and tunneling underneath a theme park was deemed a very dumb idea. Knowing they wanted tunnels for their next park, but discovering the ground in Florida was water-logged to dig into, they built Disneyworld on the "second floor," with the tunnels actually being at ground level.
- According to historians like Herodotus, Xerxes gained an advantage in the Battle of Thermopylae when a Greek named Ephialtes told him of a mountain pass around Thermopylae, at which point Xerxes secretly sent 20,000 Immortals under the command of Hydarnes through so that the Persians could have the Greeks surrounded.
- When naval minefields became a common tactic in modern war, the defenders would have pilots (small-craft captains) who could guide friendly shipping through a safe path. Assuming that none of the mines had come loose and drifted into the path you were using.