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.

Designing Near Wetlands, Streams, Forests, and Other Environmental Resources
This presentation discusses the seven biggest considerations for planners and designers when designing near wetlands, streams, forests, and other environmental resources.

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.

How They Did It: Advocacy, Planning, and Creating Equestrian Trails Through Organization
In partnership with the Equine Land Conservation Resource, this webinar will explain how joining or creating an organization will help in addressing issues such as poor trail design, lack of maintenance, and general misunderstanding of horses that can result in loss of trail access. Please note: This webinar can apply to all trail activities, but examples in this webinar reference equestrian trails.

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 Management (Part 3 of 3)
One part of a three-part series on the Introduction to Trail Planning, Design and Development, and Management. PART THREE: In the Introduction to Trail Management we will discuss visitor and maintenance management.

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.

Technology in Trail Building and Planning: Drones and LiDAR
The use of emerging and evolving technologies such as drones, photogrammetry, RTK GPS, 3D modeling, and LiDAR technology to inventory and analyze existing trail conditions.

The Devil is in the Details: Common Trail Design Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
The goal of this webinar is to teach planners, landscape architects, engineers, and trail committee volunteers a variety of best practices for trail design. Hard surfaced trails are not as easy to design as they seem.

Trail Design Details: The Wins and Losses
This presentation will share both the wins and losses from one planner with extensive experience in trail planning and design, including background on the creative process, testing, problem solving, and evidence of success and sometimes failure.

Trail Planning Technology: A Digital Toolbox
Learn how to use a variety of mobile and desktop based technologies to assess, plan, and design trails across the country.


Resources and Guides on Trail Planning and Design

A Handbook for Trail Design, Construction, and Maintenance
The purpose of this handbook is to lay the foundation upon which the North Country NST will achieve a degree of consistency from one segment to another.

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.

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.

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.

Developing Water Trails in Iowa
Practical guidelines and templates for planning, site design, signage and construction in the state of Iowa.

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.

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.

Guidelines for the Design, Construction and Maintenance of Sustainable Trails
The Ontario Trails Strategy describes our vision for trails in Ontario and recognizes the many benefits of trails for health and prosperity and highlights the importance of environmental protection.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Planning and Building Trails in Under-Served Urban Communities with Multiple Partners
Two case studies lay out the opportunities and challenges with completing trails through a lengthy planning, design, and construction process with multiple planning partners and project funders.

Planning and Managing Environmentally Friendly Mountain Bike Trails
This guidebook can be used to assist in successfully planning, designing, and constructing mountain bike trail systems, while keeping in mind that user issues must be addressed at every stage of development.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Two Trail Design Books Cover "How to Think" and "How to Do It"
A review of two popular trail design books.

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.

Water Trail Planning 101
A quick how to guide for developing water trails


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

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 strengthen the local economy.

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.

Planning Trails for Hidden Valley Park Natural AreaA 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.

Power Lines Along Trails
Examples of electric transmission lines in shared utility corridors with trails, rail-trails, and greenways.

Trails With Two Adjacent Treads
Separate trails in the same corridor provide for different activities.


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

More Articles in this Category

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail

The Fort River Birding and Nature Trail is a universally accessible trail. It was presented with the 2014 Paul Winske Access Award by the Stavros Center for Independent Living.

Trail Design & Maintenance

For trails to be considered “sustainable” they must meet these recreational needs while providing adequate protection to the environment while minimizing trail maintenance.

American Trails Webinar - The Science of Sustainable Trail Design and Management

This webinar describes the three most common forms of trail impact, identifies the most influential factors to develop and maintain sustainable trail networks, and discusses methods for rating trail sustainability.

Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook

The purpose of the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook, 3rd Edition is an information resource developed to provide a unified reference document on prevalent and best practices as well as adopted standards relative to highway-rail grade crossings.