Pennsylvania Trail Design & Development Principles

Guidelines for Sustainable, Non-motorized Trails

A compilation of best practices and guidelines for the planning, design, construction, and management of your trail employing sustainable design.

by Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation & Conservation Partnerships Division

In this document, you will find a compilation of best practices and guidelines for the planning, design, construction, and management of your trail. Equally important, we present techniques for developing trails that create desirable and enjoyable experiences for your trail users. At the same time, these techniques employ sustainable design elements and construction practices that allow the trail to make use of natural systems so that the trail remains both physically and environmentally sustainable, which in turn leads to minimal maintenance and operational costs, making the trail economically sustainable over the long run.

Every trail project has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. A trail project needs specific evaluation of the site (which extends to the surrounding area beyond the trails physical corridor), trail alignment, potential resource impact(s), potential environmental opportunities, and existing physical and environmental constraints, in order to determine the design parameters of the trail. These unique challenges and opportunities may require that you stray from or refine these guidelines to take advantage of a particular opportunity, overcome a particular challenge or ensure the health and safety of your trail user.

The safety and well-being of visitors to your trail must always remain your primary concern. This guide does not provide a substitute for the professional expertise needed to make informed decisions regarding design, planning, construction, management, operation, and maintenance specific to your trail.

This comprehensive reference does, however, provide trail advocates, agencies, organizations, local officials, regional officials, and decision-makers with the basic knowledge needed to undertake a trail project with the assistance of professionals.

About the Author


The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), established on July 1, 1995, is the agency in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania responsible for maintaining and preserving the state's 121 state parks and 20 state forests; providing information on the state's natural resources; and working with communities to benefit local recreation and natural areas

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