Steps in the Right Direction

Leah Walters
October 22, 2018

When building a beautiful and memorable trail, there are five key components to consider. These steps include but are not limited to, making the trail beautiful and accessible for all. The more work that is put into the trail from the start, the less that will need to be done later. Quality and style are essential when designing a structure that has the power to change the way that people interact with nature. That being said, there are five key elements that you should consider when designing your trail. 

Give your trail a purpose

  It is absolutely essential to understand how your trail will be used. Will it be a trail meant for the exploration of nature or will it be a transportation trail to get visitors from point A to point B? Answers to these questions will help you to will guide you to choose the best location, design, material and construction process.

Make it accessible 

  This is arguably one of the most critical components of any type of trail. It is important to accommodate visitors of varying abilities and ages. You can design a trail to accommodate every visitor including those in wheelchairs, strollers, or those that aren’t able to walk on uneven surfaces. Equal access for everyone is essential to the success of a trail and a park. In general, there are three accessibility factors that must be considered… 

  • Slope is usually what we think about when we think of accessibility. A good rule of thumb is to keep your grade less than 5 percent for any distance of your trail.
  • Width is another key consideration in accessibility. In general, the width of your accessible trail needs to be 48” with areas for passing and turn around.
  • Tread (surface): You'll want to avoid obstacles such as curbs and steps. Highly refined surfaces, paved surfaces, and surfaces such as walkways and boardwalks allow users to traverse difficult terrain and encourage a more diverse group of users.
  • For more specific guidelines and regulations, visit the American Trails’ ADA considerations page. 

Integrate your trail with nature 

  The most popular trails successfully integrate with the nature that they encourage visitors to see. Parks and trails provide an excellent opportunity for exploration and interaction with nature. This can be a very educational experience for people of all ages. The best way to experience nature without damaging it is an elevated walkway. Elevated walkways help to limit the potentially harmful effects that human presence can have on nature, while still maximizing visitor enjoyment of the park. 

Make your trail beautiful

  While the nature around you trail is already beautiful, there are things that you can do to make your trail more aesthetically pleasing. Particularly beautiful spots, also known as focal points, can give your park unique element. Elements such as bridges, rest spots, boardwalks, and other added points of interest are aesthetically pleasing for your visitors and create impressive focal points. 

Make it last

  In order to save some effort down the road, it is important to do it right the first time. This statement is applicable to most things in life, and trails are no exception. Sustainable trails require the following elements:

  • Stable, low-maintenance tread material to last in both wet and dry conditions.
  • Adequate management of storm-water runoff by allowing natural filtration and slope drainage.
  • On-going maintenance and stewardship

In conclusion, adhere to these five steps – have purpose, create accessibility, integrate with nature, make it beautiful, and choose sustainability – and you’ll have a trail that’s memorable to visitors for years to come.