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

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.

by American Trails Staff

Accessible natural-surface trail in Denver's City Park

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.

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:

  • Private entities that construct or alter camping facilities, picnic facilities, or beach facilities on Federal lands pursuant to a concession contract or other arrangement with a Federal agency under which the Federal agency reviews or approves the design of the facility and has a property interest in the facility;
  • State or local government entities that construct or alter camping facilities, picnic facilities, or beach facilities on Federal lands pursuant to an agreement with a Federal agency under which the Federal agency reviews or approves the design of the facility and has a property interest in the facility; and
  • Non-profit organizations and State or local government entities that enter into partnerships with a Federal agency to construct or alter trails or viewing areas on Federal lands.

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: http://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/buildings-and-sites/about-the-aba-standards

More Resources


• U.S. Forest Service updated 2013 Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails

The U.S. Forest Service has developed accessibility guidelines to provide guidance for the agency to maximize accessibility while at the same time recognizing and protecting the unique characteristics of the natural setting of outdoor recreation areas and hiker/pedestrian trails. These guidelines apply to new or reconstructed areas within the National Forest System.


Published September 26, 2013

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