filed under: economics of trails


Trail Towns: Creating Memorable Destinations for Trail Users

From Trail Towns: Capturing Trail-Based Tourism, by Allegheny Trail Alliance (2005)

Enhancing communities to benefit more from trail tourism along the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

photo credit: Mary Shaw

On the Great Allegheny Passage: a shuttle for hikers and cyclists is an important service to encourage both trail use and town access; photo by Mary Shaw. All rights reserved.

The guide covers many aspects of creating towns that are appealing to trail tourists:

"Recreational use of rivers and trails can bring new visitors to nearby communities. This guide is designed to help leaders in these communities, these 'Trail Towns,' take advantage of the economic opportunity that rides or walks into town. It will help you transform your town into a more inviting and memorable tourist destination, and in the process, make your town a better place for your own residents to live, work and play."

What is a Trail Town?

A “Trail Town” is a destination along a long-distance trail. Whether on a rail trail, towpath, water trail, or hiking trail—trail users can venture off the trail to enjoy the scen- ery, services, and heritage of the nearby community with its own character and charm. It is a safe place where both town residents and trail users can walk, find the goods and services they need, and easily access both trail and town by foot or vehicle. In such a town, the trail is an integral and important part of the community.

A Trail Town is a vibrant place where people come together. It may have a bike shop, an ice cream parlor, casual restaurants, a grocery store, and quaint local shops.

It has wide sidewalks, clean streets, bike racks, and benches at convenient locations. It has places to rest for the night. It generously meets the needs of both the trail users and the town residents. A Trail Town is a friendly place that encourages trail users to visit and welcomes them with warm hospitality.

Trail Towns are not stand-alone communities; they are linked by the trail corridor. Trail users may be passing through a town on a day trip or long-distance trek, or may drive to a community and park to access a river or trail.

Download the 51-page Trail Towns: Capturing Trail-Based Tourism (pdf 4.8 mb)

Download the 51-page Trail Towns: Capturing Trail-Based Tourism (pdf 4.8 mb)

Trail users want to explore interesting places in their travels and will need services that your town can provide. Basic elements of a Trail Town strategy include:

  • Enticing trail users to get off the trail and into your town
  • Welcoming trail users to your town by making information about the community readily available at the trail
  • Making a strong and safe connection between your town and the trail
  • Educating local businesses on the economic benefits of meeting trail tourists’
  • Promoting the “trail-friendly” character of the town
  • Working with neighboring communities to promote the entire trail corridor as a tourist destination
  • Recruiting new businesses or expanding existing ones to fill gaps in the goods or services that trail users need

Any trail, long or short, is a valuable asset to a community. It provides free recreation for people of all ages and fitness levels, and offers opportunities to study nature or local history. This guide is oriented to towns that connect to long-distance trails, ones that attract travelers from outside the local community and are not used solely by nearby residents. Studies show that the longer a trail is, the farther people will travel to visit it, the longer they will stay, and the more money they will spend. A day-tripper will spend four times as much as a local user will spend, and an overnight visitor will spend twice the amount that a day-tripper will spend.

Published September 2015

More Articles in this Category

Impact of Trails Hub

Everything you need to know about the positive impact of trails on health, environment, economics, and more.

2022 CDT Small Business Survey

As a connector of landscapes, communities, and cultures, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) provides a setting for community members, decision makers, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, and everyone connected to the lands and waters of the Divide, to come together to discuss how to steward the vital natural, cultural, and historic resources found across its entirety. With this report, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition hopes to highlight the role of the cooperative stewardship model in the management of the CDT, what we accomplished in 2021, and what we are looking forward to in 2022.

Deciding on Trails: 7 Practices of Healthy Trail Towns

A book review of Amy Camp's 2020 book of ideas to help fulfill dreams of developing a trail town program.

Economic Impact of Parks

An Examination of the Economic Impacts of Operations and Capital Spending by Local Park and Recreation Agencies on the U.S. Economy