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.

by American Trails Staff

Braille trails and sensory gardens offer sustainable and accessible ways to safely experience the outdoors and provide opportunities to interact with nature. Tactile additions such as Braille signs, guide ropes and path markers allow the visually impaired to enjoy trails and gardens without assistance, and accessible pathways remove barriers to mobility regularly experienced by those with disabilities.

A Braille Nature Trail is a nature trail with Braille informational signs and physical aides that allow the visually impaired to experience the trail unassisted. Braille trails usually include a guide rope for the visually impaired to hold and follow along the path with markers for Braille informational signs. Some trails have tactile walkways to provide direction, others have audio components such as guided audio tours or smartphone access, and many are wheelchair accessible.

A sensory garden is designed to provide tactile experiences through the use of specific plants in a specially designed layout to create opportunities and accommodations for the visually impaired and others with disabilities to enjoy the touch, sound and smells of the outdoors. Sensory gardens usually have Braille informational signs and aromatic plants to touch and smell, and can also have audio features, guide ropes or rails, raised garden beds, and tactile pathways for the visually impaired to utilize to walk along the paths unassisted. Many sensory gardens are also wheelchair accessible.

There is not much information on building or renovating a braille trail. As part of the American Trails Advancing Trails Webinar series, the Creating Accessible Trails with Universally Designed Interpretation webinar provides an overview of Mass Audubon’s All Persons Hiking Trails. The All Person Trails typically have boardwalks and bridges over or alongside wetlands, some navigational resources (such as rope guides or curbing for visually impaired visitors), wayside multisensory stops and displays, and trail materials in multiple formats including audio tours, braille signage and booklets, and tactile trail maps.

Here's a few locations where visually impaired visitors can enjoy a trail, and a few where technology allows a person to listen through a smartphone.

  • Beaver Brook/Stapleton Mountain Nature Trail in Genesee Park in Genesee, Colorado: the Braille Nature Trail leads visually impaired visitors along a dense wooded trail with guide wires and Braille plaques providing information about the surrounding forest. Benches along the trail provide a place to rest and enjoy the smell of the pine forest and calls of different species of birds.
  • The Dennis Braille Trail in Dennis, Massachusetts uses LaunchGuide, a new device with a QR code that can be read by your smartphone and helps the visually impaired enjoy public spaces through navigation aid and information.
  • The Braille Trail in Valley Falls Park in Valley Falls, Connecticut can be found at the front of the park. With a guide rope to grasp and eight stations with Braille educational signs, visually impaired visitors can wind their way through many of the relics and foundations remaining from the Valley Falls Industrial era. In 2007, the Friends of Valley Falls received a Recreational Trails Program grant to replace deteriorating wooden signs that describe the natural and historical features of the trail site in both English text and Braille.
  • Elephant Rocks Natural Area in Belleview, Missouri is designated as a National Recreation Trail. The asphalt trail features Braille interpretive signage and opportunities to explore the maze of giant elephant rocks. The rocks formed 1.5 billion years ago from magma, forming the red granite elephants, because the rocks stand end to end like a herd of circus elephants.
  • Lee McCune Braille Trail The site of the Lee McCune Braille Trail south of Casper, Wyoming on Casper Mountain was chosen because of the wide variety of plant life. Each station along the trail’s guide rails has information about the natural surroundings in English print and Braille. Visitors can hear a babbling brook, touch rough tree bark, and have other sensory experiences as they follow the trail through the forest, over a bridge, and even through a bog. The trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1976.
  • The Punta Tuna Reserve in Puerto Rico features QR codes (smartphone-scannable barcodes to assist persons with disabilities listen to information about the reserve).

You can also locate state contacts on our Resources by State page.

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