Sustainable Trail Development

A Guide to Designing and Constructing Native-surface Trails

What is a sustainable trail? Building a sustainable trail system takes into account many factors. Most importantly, a sustainable trail should have as little impact to the environment as possible; this is accomplished through proper trail planning, design, construction and maintenance. A properly built trail will last for generations to come with little maintenance needed and will blend into the natural surroundings.

by International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)

Prepared By: Richard Havel, Trails Planner for Town of Castle Rock, Parks & Recreation

Native-surface trails, also known as soft-surface trails, use the existing site materials to construct the final trail; this defers from paved trails in which, in some circumstances, asphalt or concrete may be used as the trail material. Because of the nature of the material used to construct native-surface, the principles of sustainable trail development are vital to the longevity of the trail system as a whole.

Well-constructed trails will withstand erosion and are more enjoyable to use. Poorly designed trails will create an unpleasant experience for riders and walkers as well as a financial and volunteer resource drain.

This guideline will focus on native-surface development guidelines to help insure the success of the final trail.

About the Author


The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit educational association whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve great mountain biking experiences.

More articles by this author

More articles in this category

Ice Age National Scenic Trail: Trail Stewardship Notebook

posted Mar 27, 2024

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail (NST) is a thousand-mile footpath highlighting Wisconsin’s renowned Ice Age heritage and scenic beauty. The Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) and its partners can shape users’ experiences. As stewards of the land and the Trail, we can help users develop a connection with the land and create a sense of wonder — even pique their curiosity enough to further explore the Trail.

Outdoor Enthusiasts Enjoy the Vermont Shorelines Thanks to the GEOWEB® Soil Confinement System

posted Mar 26, 2024

Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy scenic views along the Vermont shorelines thanks to the GEOWEB® Soil Confinement System.

Winter Bike Lane Maintenance

posted Nov 25, 2023

This white paper provides collected best practices on winter bikeway maintenance as seen in US cities and around the world. The paper covers snow removal from bikeways, different types of de-icing surface applications and their advantages/disadvantages, and best practices for winter maintenance prioritization and scheduling. The paper also includes a brief discussion on innovative winter maintenance techniques either in use or in development.

Winter Maintenance Resource Guide

posted Nov 25, 2023

Who is responsible for winter maintenance—property owners or government agencies—and what are the challenges?

1,386 views • posted 08/03/2020