filed under: livable/active communities


Trail Accessibility Hub

Everything you need to know about planning, building, and maintaining accessible trails.


Why Accessibility Matters

The demand for outdoor recreation on federal lands has increased dramatically over the last 30-years, and it is expected to continue to rise. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this into dramatic focus, as trails and public land use across the country are seeing 200-400% increases by Americans seeking the respite and well-being that outdoor recreation can provide. Yet, for a multitude of complex reasons, the majority of Americans—including persons with disabilities—still do not participate in outdoor recreation.

Access for people with disabilities is often perceived as a secondary consideration to other, more pressing needs. One of the underlying issues here is that many people (not just federal land managers) tend to "pigeon hole" the access issue as simply another special need of yet another minor constituency. For accessibility to receive a higher share of the resources that are available, resource allocators need to recognize that accessibility is an issue that does or will affect everyone. While it is true that the federal land management agencies have been expected to do more with less in recent years, it is also true that accessibility for persons with disabilities can be advanced in ways that compliment and augment other efforts to better serve ALL Americans who recreate on public lands.

These guides and resources provide a framework for moving toward more equitable access to the outdoors for all.


Free Webinars on Accessibility

These webinars from our American Trails Advancing Trails Webinar Series are free to the public.

Getting the Word Out about Accessibility of Trails and Outdoor Recreation

This webinar will provide an introduction to Universal Access Information and how it provides people with information they need to determine whether an outdoor recreation environment meets their needs for accessibility and their desires for an achievable challenge.

Accessibility: Outdoor Developed Areas Final Rule

This webinar will review the scoping and technical requirements for outdoor developed areas on federal lands and highlight the best practices for facilities covered by the ADA.

Youth Serving Accessibility – A Wonderful and Powerful Combination

This webinar will discuss how the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ attention has focused in the past few years on creating more inclusive public access through youth programs and collaborations.

Trails and the New Federal Accessibility Guidelines

This 90-minute webinar covered the trails portion of the final "Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines; Outdoor Developed Areas." These new accessibility guidelines for federal lands cover new or altered trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes, and related recreation facilities.

Water Trail Accessibility

This course is designed to help water trail managers and outfitters improve opportunities for people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy water trails.

Creating Accessible Trails with Universally Designed Interpretation

This webinar will provide an overview of Mass Audubon’s All Persons Hiking Trails.

Other Power-driven Mobility Devices (OPDMD)

On March 15, 2011, new Department of Justice rules took effect, specifying the “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD) that could be used on trails by “individuals with mobility disabilities.” If you manage a trail that is open to the public this rule applies to your facility.


Resources and Guides on Accessibility

California State Parks Accessibility Guidelines - 2015 Edition

The Accessibility Guidelines are intended as a reference manual and department policy on accessible design and shall be utilized in planning and implementing regular maintenance activities, construction projects, publications, exhibits, new programs, and special events. The guidelines are not a comprehensive set of requirements for all situations, but rather a summary of information from many sources which provide guidance for common uses in the State Park System. This document is an update to the 2009 edition.

Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines (FSTAG)

The FSTAG and the Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG) are the legally enforceable standards for use in outdoor recreation areas on the National Forest System for the facilities, routes, and features addressed in these guidelines.

Accessible Shared Streets

This document reviews notable practices and considerations for accommodating pedestrians with vision disabilities on shared streets. It focuses on streets where pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicles are intended to mix in the same space.

Soil Stabilizers On Universally Accessible Trail

For the past several years, national forests around the country have been looking for ways to make areas more universally accessible, while maintaining a natural appearance that is not as distracting as concrete, asphalt, boardwalks, and other obviously manmade pathways.

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.

Ramps for Accessible Trails and Shared-Use Pathways

Ramps, typically used for building access, are often provided on trails.

Stabilized Engineered Wood Fiber for Accessible Trails

Trails made with wood chips are difficult for those who use mobility aids because the surface is soft, uneven, and shifting.

Universal Accessibility of "Accessible" Fitness and Recreational Facilities for Persons With Mobility Disabilities

This study descriptively measured the universal accessibility of “accessible” fitness and recreational facilities for Ontarians living with mobility disabilities.

Best Practices of Accessibility in Parks and Recreation: A Delphi Survey of National Experts in Accessibility

As a result of frequent inquiries regarding best practices from practitioners, NCA initiated this research study in order to ascertain which practices in the field of parks and recreation accessibility management exceed the minimum standards set forth by the ADA and other disability-related legislation.

Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way

Public comment period closed February 2, 2012 on the new "Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way"

Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines; Outdoor Developed Areas

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), are issuing a final rule that amends the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines by adding scoping and technical requirements for camping facilities, picnic facilities, viewing areas, trails, and beach access routes constructed or altered by or on behalf of federal agencies. The final rule ensures that these facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Braille trail building and renovation

Braille trails and sensory gardens offer sustainable and accessible ways to safely experience the outdoors and provide opportunities to interact with nature.

FAQ: Do the low stream crossings for trails and greenways conform to accessibility guidelines?

Low water crossings are designed to allow normal flow under the trail, and to be over-topped during seasonal floods.

FAQ: What are the guidelines for constructing an ADA compliant remote access trail path in National Forests?

On September 26th the U.S. Forest Service released the agency’s 2013 Accessibility Guidebook on Outdoor Recreation and Trails that updates the agency’s direction on providing recreational opportunities accessible to everyone.

National Trail Surfaces Study

In 2007 the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) entered into an agreement with the U.S. Access Board and National Park Service to investigate natural firm and stable surface alternatives when creating accessible pedestrian trails, including crushed stones, packed soil, and other natural material.

Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design

Exhibitions are complex presentations that convey concepts, showcase objects, and excite the senses. However, as museums recognize the diversity within their audiences, they realize that exhibitions must do more: exhibitions must teach to different learning styles, respond to issues of cultural and gender equity, and offer multiple levels of information. The resulting changes in exhibitions have made these presentations more understandable, enjoyable, and connected to visitors’ lives.

Universal Access Trails and Shared Use Paths

This manual reviews Best Management Practices to utilize when planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining pedestrian trails for universal accessibility.

Educating trail users: advice for planning interpretive trail signs and exhibits

It’s up to you as a park steward to instill a sense of appreciation for the story that needs to be told – interpretive theme and messages of the trail must be well planned.

Analysis of Policies Addressing Trail Accessibility Rule on Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Issues addressed by local and state governments on the DOJ rule for use of "Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices" on trails, bike paths, greenways, and pedestrian facilities.

Basic Facts on Department of Justice Rule on Power-Driven Mobility Devices for Accessibility

On March 15, 2011, new Department of Justice rules took effect, specifying the “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD) that could be used on trails by “individuals with mobility disabilities.” If you manage a trail that is open to the public this rule applies to your facility.

FAQ: Should golf carts be allowed on paved trails in a small community?

Ultimately, this can be an accessibility issue if you want to deal with that.


Success Stories of Accessible Trails

Accessibility improved on Lake Mead trails

Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s two National Recreation Trails, the Historic Railroad Trail and River Mountains Loop Trail, received funding for surface and drainage improvements to ensure that the trails are in good condition for years to come.

Accessibility in the National Park Service

While notable advancements have been made, much is needed to break down the barriers and embrace greater inclusivity. Parks, programs, and leaders across the service need more education, guidance, support, and resources to create more welcoming experiences for a broad spectrum of audiences.

A Model for Accessibility: Learning on Crotched Mountain Trails

A sustainable trails that complies with the trail accessibility guidelines without changing the setting or outdoor experience.

Accessible Trail Opens Michigan’s Ocqueoc Falls to All

Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway leads visitors to the only publicly owned waterfall in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Cornelia, Georgia Builds Accessible Trails

The Universal Trail Assessment Process helps Cornelia, Georgia receive recreational trails funding for trail improvements.

A Model for Accessibility: Learning on Crotched Mountain Trails

A sustainable trails that complies with the trail accessibility guidelines without changing the setting or outdoor experience.

The Lion's Tale National Recreation Trail

The Lion's Tale is a National Recreation Trail that is specially designed to create a sensory experience for the visually impaired. Through a special mascot, Lop Ears the Mountain Lion, the trail tells a story using braille as well as other sensory methods.

OPDMD: Coming to a Trail Near You?

What's the right answer for mobility devices?


Accessibility Focused Organizations

National Center on Accessibility

The National Center on Accessibility promotes access and inclusion for people with disabilities in parks, recreation and tourism.

U.S. Access Board

The U.S. Access Board is a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostic equipment, and information technology.

Accessible Trails Foundation

Meaningful Outdoor Access for People with Disabilities

Beneficial Designs, Inc.

Beneficial Designs works towards universal access through research, design, and education.

National Ability Center

The National Ability Center empowers individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs.

Miracle Recreation

While all US playgrounds are required to be ADA-compliant, inclusive play spaces from Miracle Recreation® go beyond accessibility alone. As inclusive playground equipment manufacturers and designers, we make it possible for children of different ages and abilities to play together.

Move United

Move United’s mission is to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, competition, recreation, high performance sport and educational programs.

Outdoors for All Foundation

The Outdoors for All Foundation transforms lives through outdoor recreation. Founded in 1979 in the Pacific Northwest, Outdoors for All is a national leader in delivering adaptive and therapeutic recreation for children and adults with disabilities. Each year more than 2,900 individuals exercise their abilities thanks to the training and support of more than 800 volunteers. Outdoors for All’s programs includes snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross country and downhill skiing, cycling, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, youth and adult day camps, yoga, military programs, weekend excursions and custom events.

Aquatic Access, Inc.

Aquatic Access, Inc. offers a full line of water-powered lifts providing disabled access to in-ground and above-ground pools and spas.

Londonderry Trailways

Londonderry Trailways is a non-profit organization of citizens committed to improving and increasing accessibility to recreational trails.

Vista Group International

Vista Group International specializes in high-quality interpretive exhibit audio, tour guide systems, and outdoor SoundPost listening stations for accessibility.

Rochester Accessible Adventures

Rochester Accessible Adventures is on a mission to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities by guiding communities to create a culture of physical accessibility, social inclusion, and equitable open access in recreation, sports and tourism.

Published November 2021

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