Trail Planning and Design Hub

Everything you need to know about trail planning and design for long lasting trails.


Planning trails and greenways includes many skills, such as identifying routes and experiences for park systems, developing plans for regional and statewide systems, developing goals and objectives for trail projects, and more.

This hub includes resources for all manner of trail planning and design to create sustainable, long lasting, and well built trails.


Free Webinars on Trail Planning and Design

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

Integrating Trails into Park Planning

Sponsored by South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and hosted in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association. Attendees can expect to come away from this webinar with a toolbox of best practices and resources that get into the nitty gritty of how to understand trails as park elements, plan for their sustainable integration into existing and future parks, and build trails and trail networks as powerful tools for connecting your parks to the public.

Introduction to Trail Planning (Part 1 of 3)

One part of a three-part series on the Introduction to Trail Planning, Design and Development, and Management. PART ONE: In the Introduction to Trail Planning we will discuss different types of trail plans including Master Plans Conceptual Plans, Development Plans and Management Plans.

Introduction to Trail Design and Development (Part 2 of 3)

One part of a three-part series on the Introduction to Trail Planning, Design and Development, and Management. PART TWO: In the Introduction to Trail Design and Development we will discuss sustainable trail design that is common for trails as well as unique elements associated with specific types of trail use

Introduction to Trail Maintenance Management Planning

If you already have a Trail Maintenance Management Plan this webinar will present some ideas on how you might improve it. If you are considering developing a one, you will get information to consider so you can make good decisions about how you might best move forward with the development of your plan.

Effective Wayfinding Signage: Trail System Planning, Design, and Implementation

Hear from three different organizations how to prepare effective, user-friendly, and time-dynamic wayfinding signage guidelines.


Resources and Guides on Trail Planning and Design

Water Trail Planning 101

A quick how to guide for developing water trails

Landowner Outreach and Trail Planning

The most important part of the planning process is building relationships with the people affected by the proposed trail and its potential users.

Pursuing Equity in Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning

The purpose of this paper, intended for transportation practitioners and decision-makers, is to define transportation equity-related terms in the context of planning for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs; synthesize and highlight recent research findings related to the travel needs of traditionally underserved populations and the role of pedestrian and bicycle planning in addressing equity concerns; and to share strategies, practices and resources to address bicycle and pedestrian planning inequities.

Inclusionary Trail Planning Toolkit

This report will discuss how community organizing principles and practices can help organizations and agencies connect with the communities they are working in to achieve comprehensive community engagement. As a lack of resources is a common obstacle to achieving an inclusive process, Section Three of this report outlines low cost outreach methods and emphasizes the importance of leveraging existing community based resources.

Trail Planning, Design & Development Guidelines

This 300-page spiral-bound publication, several years in the making, provides a first-ever comprehensive "how-to" guidebook for developing all types of recreational trails.

Getting Started: A Guide to Planning Trails

The 44-page guide covers the key topics: Getting organized, Going public, Trail planning, Integrating natural values and recreational use, and Landowner issues and concerns. This is a joint publication of Parks & Trails New York and Hudson River Valley Greenway to encourage successful trail projects at the local level.

Planning and Zoning Guide for Horse Friendly Communities

Since land is saved locally, it is vital that horsemen understand the basics of planning and zoning and how this impacts horse keeping, breeding, competing and recreating, as well as equine related businesses in their communities, in order to retain access to horses and enjoy their benefits.

Trail Planning Skills and Competencies

Specific skills used in planning individual trails and greenways; identifying routes and experiences for park systems; developing plans for regional and statewide systems; developing goals and objectives for trail projects.

Greenway Planning, Criteria, and Strategies for Implementation

Greenways provide numerous and diverse benefits to local municipalities and their residents. This plan focuses on the economic, ecological, recreational, social, and transportation benefits of greenways.

Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind - Terminology

A list of key words, concepts, and terms used in the study of wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

San Jose Trail Network Toolkit Planning & Design

The City of San José is a recognized national leader for trail development and its network approach to ensure equitable access to recreation and active transportation trails.

State of Victoria’s Guidelines for trail planning, design and management

The State of Victoria’s Guidelines for Trail Planning, Design and Management aims at “development of exceptional trail experiences. A useful feature is a trail planning and design checklist. The book also covers management models, marketing and brand- ing, community and stakeholder engagement, and monitoring and review.

A Landscape-Scale Approach to Refuge System Planning

Team (PIT) was chartered to address this recommendation from Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 21st century strategic vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our charge was to investigate how Refuge System planning will address large-scale conservation challenges such as climate change, while maintaining the integrity of management and conservation delivery within our boundaries.

Incorporating Qualitative Data in the Planning Process

This report highlights emerging tools, techniques, and resources for gathering qualitative public and stakeholder input to inform the planning process, improve project outcomes, and contribute to streamlining project delivery.

Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind - Introduction

This handbook will help trail planners and builders balance the benefits of creating trails and being stewards of nature, especially wildlife.

Interpretive Planning Tools for Historic Areas, Historic Trails and Gateways

This toolkit was designed to assist managers in developing and implementing regional or site-specific interpretive plans. It describes each step in the process from the early planning stages through implementation to evaluation.

Using Wildlife Fright Distances to Inform Trail Planning

Sponsored by NY State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. This presentation will focus on minimizing the negative effects on wildlife in a recreational setting.

Planning Trails With Wildlife in Mind - Wildlife and Trails Primer

The Primer provides discussion of broad wildlife topics, plus key concepts and rules of thumb to help with trail planning and management

Cattle Guards for Off-Highway Vehicle Trails

One of the greatest sources of contention between recreationists and livestock permittees as trail use increases is gates.

Two Trail Design Books Cover "How to Think" and "How to Do It"

A review of two popular trail design books.

Community Trail Development Guide

VDOT developed this guide to aid the process of grassroots trail planning, based on the knowledge of experienced planners, research of best practices around the nation as well as the State, and the understanding gained from trail development process in the Town of Middleburg.

Concrete Trails Keep You on the Right Path

If a hard surface recreational trail is in your future, you owe it to yourself to look at the benefits of cost, construction and long term reduced maintenance that can only come with a trail paved with concrete.



Grade reversal diagram from Hidden Valley Park Natural Area Trail Design and Construction Erosion Mitigation Manual

Grade reversal diagram from Hidden Valley Park Natural Area Trail Design and Construction Erosion Mitigation Manual

Success Stories of Trail Planning and Design

Planning trails for Hidden Valley Park Natural Area

A planning team comprised of the project partners and local residents was formed to address an unplanned system of trails and off-road vehicle routes in the Kansas City open space park.

A Landscape-Scale Approach to Refuge System Planning

Team (PIT) was chartered to address this recommendation from Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 21st century strategic vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our charge was to investigate how Refuge System planning will address large-scale conservation challenges such as climate change, while maintaining the integrity of management and conservation delivery within our boundaries.

Attracting Bike Tourists to Your Trail: Lessons from the Canalway

This guide will set forth strategies for building on what you already offer to enhance the appeal of your community and your business to bicycle tourists and strengthening the local economy.

Power lines along trails

Examples of electric transmission lines in shared utility corridors with trails, railtrails, and greenways.

Trails With Two Adjacent Treads

Separate trails in the same corridor provide for different activities.

Low water stream crossings for trails and greenways

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

Signs and Etiquette for Shared-use Urban Trails

Encouraging different types of users to share the trail is just as important on urban trails as it is on backcountry trails.


Trail Planning and Design Focused Organizations

American Trails Business Directory Listings

Check out the Trail Planning and Design Firms category in our business directory for over 200 businesses across the country that specialize in this field.

Published February 2022