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Crushed stone trails provide a user-friendly, all-season surface for all types and ages of visitors, including strollers, wheelchairs, and road bikes.

arrow See Rio Grande Trail Corridor Study: Trail Surfacing Report from Anasazi Trails, Inc.


The art of building crushed stone trails

By Tony Boone

Arrowhead Trails, Inc. has built over 500 miles of natural surface trails since 1995. Their specialty is machine-built, 48" wide trails for mountain bikers, runners, and hikers. Even though 95% of their new construction is with native soils, they are receiving more requests for soft surface, accessible trails built with 3/8" minus crusher fines; or crushed stone, cinder or rock dust as it is called in other areas.

photo of trail along stream

crushed stone trail located above normal floodway by a stream

Whether it's a trail to school in an urban area or a core loop of your open space trail system, crushed stone trails provide a user-friendly, all-season surface for all types and ages of visitors. If built properly crushed stone trails can meet the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines. Accessible trails often service an incredibly diverse range of visitors including: hikers, bikers, runners, strollers, mobility impaired, visually impaired, and wheelchairs.

Accessible crushed stone trails should be designed and constructed at grades less than 8% grade to promote accessible use. Trail tread grades of up to 10% for short distances are allowed but difficult for most visitors seeking an ADA trail to enjoy. Overall trail grade averages of less than 6% will provide the most user-friendly experience and offer the most sustainable natural trail surface if compacted crusher fines are to be used.

Many parks and open space areas are constructing accessible, soft surface trails into their trail systems. In areas with long periods of rain or snow and clay or silt based soils, park infrastructure trails are often surfaced with concrete or crusher fines to minimize muddy trail conditions and reduce facility maintenance.

High clay content soils typically cause trails to be slick and muddy when wet. They also take longer to dry out since their extra fine particles don't give up water easily. Trail treads surfaced with 4-6 inches of compacted fines over a landscape fabric can eliminate many of the problems associated with soils and climate. Landscape fabrics or geotextiles are also the key to preventing vegetation from growing into the trail and preventing commingling of the crusher fines with the natural soils.

photo of man compacting trail

compacting Crusher fines with a vibratory plate
compactor to produce a solid surface


Since crusher fine trails usually cost in excess of $10.00 per linear foot it is important to construct them right the first time. Success relies on getting the right materials and installing them correctly. Mistakes often result in poor compaction, soft surface conditions, non-accessibility, and inevitably costly repairs.

Crusher fines in their purest form have no soil mixed in, they are pure crushed stone. Gravel and crusher fines differ from one another in that gravel is screened to remove the fines which contain the natural binders/cements. Gravels remain loose because of dead air or pore space within the matrix which allow them to drain well and resist compaction.

Crusher fines retain their inherent soil cements and binders which promote soil compaction. Fines that contain too many rounded particles (like some decomposed granites) are more difficult to interlock and often yield a loose and unconsolidated surface. Angular particles like andesite, dolomite, and certain types of granite can easily be wetted and compacted to meet the ADAAG.

A good indication of the strength of a rock binder is the hardness of the parent rock. The harder the source rock, the stronger the binders will be. Crushed rock contains the original rock cements and binders within the rock dust. These binders, combined with water and then compacted with a vibratory roller or plate compactor should produce a solid, compacted surface that resists significant deformation from hiking boots and mountain bike tires. We frequently see baby strollers and road bikes using our crushed stone trails.

A sieve analysis for trails, using 3/8" minus crusher fines, typically describes the material with the following specifications:

If the surface of a crusher fines trail becomes loose and uncompacted over time it can often be wetted, reshaped and recompacted provided the fines have not sifted to the bottom and the larger particles floated to the top. Poor compaction can be the result of a variety of influences that include improper wetting and compacting during installation, lack of particle angularity, trail grades greater than 6%, and/or inadequate amounts of natural soil cements or lack of fines in the parent material that act as binders. Some “refreshing” of trail surfacing material is required on a routine basis. Trail tread grades over 6% will require significantly more maintenance since they tend to unravel or erode faster.

photo of smooth crushed rock trail

A typical crusher fines trail at Bluff Lake Nature Center, Denver, CO

Ultimately, simple dish testing of the available materials and comparing them to one another will likely give you the best results. Don't forget that the majority of your aggregate costs will be in the transportation of the material and not the material itself. It is prudent to consider paying higher costs in transportation if no suitable material can be located close to your project site. The worst situation is to use inadequate material that will never compact and unravels with minimal use.

It should be noted it is not recommended to surface equestrian or ATV trails. These users most often prefer native soils and less stringent construction standards. Some mountain bikers also fall into this category of preferring native soil or natural surface trails assuming it is not deep sand or wet muddy clay. Loamy soils, like sandy-clay-loams that contain rock or cobble are often more durable under hooves or forces associated with accelerating wheels.

In summary, the best crusher fines or aggregate material for trails construction exhibit three critical characteristics.

For more information visit Tony Boone's website at For more articles and resources on crushed rock and other trail surfaces visit and click on "Paving & surfacing" from the Topics menu.

arrow See Rio Grande Trail Corridor Study: Trail Surfacing Report from Anasazi Trails, Inc.


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