FAQ: Is asphalt a good choice for a trail surface?

Asphalt deteriorates over time and will require expensive maintenance to keep cracks and weeds and tree roots from making it unusable.

by American Trails Staff

Asphalt deteriorates over time and will require expensive maintenance to keep cracks and weeds and tree roots from making it unusable. Concrete, though maybe more expensive initially, is cheaper over its long lifespan especially if there is any possibility of seasonal flooding. To build an asphalt trail right you have to excavate and put in several inches of gravel or road base, and then 3 or 4 inches of asphalt. This article provides a good description of the process: Porous asphalt shows advantages for trail surfacing.

Unless you're building a bikeway as part of a larger community trail network, most people would use crusher fines. The exception is if you have flowing water along or across it periodically. If properly installed with appropriate crushed rock (not "gravel") it looks natural, compacts well, dries out after rain or snow, is "firm and stable" according to accessibility guidelines, minimizes tripping hazards, and doesn't feel hard underfoot. This has all the facts for design: The art of building crushed stone trails.

Another article giving the pros and cons of different surfaces: Rio Grande Trail Corridor Study: Trail Surfacing Report

And the attached presentation is very informative but geared toward a community trail system and especially greenways along stream corridors.

These and more resources are available in the Building and Maintenance portion of our Resource Library.

Related Resources

Attached document published May 2018

Webinars on YouTube that you might like

Trail Assessment for Accessibility and Sustainability

Feb 29, 2024

This webinar will explore the process of assessing natural surface pedestrian trails for accessibility and sustainability and will focus on developing new trails as well as conversion of existing trails.

Systemic Condition Analysis and Management for Multi-Use Trails

Feb 8, 2024

This webinar addresses the critical need for cyclical assessment and repair of a multi-use trail system to keep up with the usage and level of service demands from the public with a limited budget.

More resources in this category

FAQ: Trail Graduate Programs

posted May 24, 2021

Are there any graduate programs that are focused on trail planning, development, and design?

FAQ: Apps for Trail Management and Volunteers

posted May 19, 2021

Information on apps that can be used for trail management that would be suitable for volunteer-type organizations.

FAQ: What is the definition of a trail?

posted Jan 14, 2021

Defining a trail corridor in law, policy, and planning.

FAQ: Graffiti on Trails

posted Dec 2, 2020

Solutions to graffiti on trails.


5,035 views • posted 05/03/2018