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New accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas on federal lands cover new or altered trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, and beach access routes.


arrow Archived webinar hosted by American Trails on "Trails and the New Federal Accessibility Guidelines"

arrow Questions and Answers from the webinar on Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines; Outdoor Developed Areas


arrowMore resources on Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas


Access Board issues ABA Final Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas, including accessible trails, on federal lands

From American Trails

On September 26, 2013 the U.S. Access Board issued new accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas on federal lands. The guidelines provide detailed specifications for accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes, and other components of outdoor developed areas when newly built or altered. They also provide exceptions for situations where terrain and other factors make compliance impracticable.

photo of wheelchair on dirt trail

Accessible natural-surface trail in Denver's City Park

Requirements for trails and pedestrian access routes address surface characteristics, width, grade, and cross slope. Exceptions are included for these and other provisions under certain conditions stipulated in the guidelines. Departures are allowed where compliance is not practicable because of terrain or prevailing construction practices. Exceptions are also recognized where compliance would conflict with mandates such as the Endangered Species Act and other laws or where it would fundamentally alter a site’s function or purpose. 

Under this rulemaking, the Access Board is first developing guidelines under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) for outdoor developed areas managed by the federal government. Guidelines for non-federal sites covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be developed separately at a later date. The Federal guidelines originate from recommendations prepared by the Outdoor Developed Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee, an advisory panel chartered by the Access Board, of which American Trails was a member.

The guidelines apply to Federal land management agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corps of Engineers.

The guidelines cover only new or altered facilities, not existing ones. In addition to trails, the guidelines address beach access routes, outdoor recreation access routes, picnic areas, and camping areas. Guidance is provided for the following constructed features: camping units, picnic units, viewing areas, tent pads and platforms, camp shelters, parking spaces at camp or picnic units, RV spaces at campsites or dump stations, benches, picnic tables, fire rings, grills, trash receptacles, water hydrants, telescopes & periscopes, utility hookups, and outdoor rinsing showers.

Non-Federal entities that construct or alter facilities on Federal lands on behalf of the Federal government are also included. The Federal guidelines will also apply to the following:

Please note: This final rule does not apply to facilities covered under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or entities receiving federal grants and loans for work not on federal lands. Guidelines for non-Federal sites covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be developed separately through a subsequent rulemaking. The additional rulemaking will include a proposed rule that will invite public comment and then a final rule.

The Federal Guidelines are under the Architectural Barriers Act, and will be incorporated into the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ABAAG). The ABA and ABAAG are what apply to Federal Lands. Please note you can link to this page for more info about the ABA:

The Federal guidelines will become enforceable on November 25, 2013, 60 days after publication.


For more information

Archived webinar on the rule presented Nov. 2013 by the Access Board

Learn more and hear questions answered at the Access Board webinar on the Federal Accessibility Guidelines scheduled for October 17 from 2:30 to 4:00 pm (Eastern Time). Sign-up at

American Trails will be bringing you more details and analysis of the new guidelines, so watch for updates and check the links below for more information.

- Access Board news release on the new guidelines
- Text of the accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas on federal lands
- U.S. Forest Service news release on the new guidelines
- U.S. Forest Service updated 2013 Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails
- American Trails resources on accessible trails

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