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The asphalt surface of the Glacial River Trail in Wisconsin changes to crushed stone as it transitions from neighborhoods to countryside.

RTC Resources

RTC's January 2007 Trail of the Month, Florida's Withlacoochee State Trail, used crumb rubber for a portion of its surface.

Book: Trails for the Twenty-First Century, second edition

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Go to RTC's Trails and Greenways Publication Library

For more information, please contact the appropriate regional or national office .


Additional Resources

National Center on Accessibility: Trail Surfaces: What Do I Need to Know Now?

American Trails: Trail Design and Construction. See section on Surfacing.

USDA Forest Service: Soil Stabilizers on Universally Accessible Trails


Plan, Design, Build

Trail Surfaces

Explore the latest resources on this topic:

Surfaces in RTC TrailBlog
Surfaces in the Library

When choosing a surface for your trail, consider the following:

  • User acceptance and satisfaction
  • Accessibility
  • Cost to purchase and install materials
  • Cost of maintaining the surface
  • Life expectancy
  • Availability of material

Before you choose a specific trail surface, you should also consider the pros and cons of hard surfaces and soft surfaces.

Hard Surface

  • More accommodating for multi-use trails
  • More expensive but requires less maintenance and can withstand frequent use

Soft Surface

  • Less expensive
  • Often does not hold up well under heavy use or varying weather conditions

Hard Surfaces

Works well for bicycle commuters or inline skaters, but typically can't be used by equestrians; requires minor maintenance such as crack patching, yet has a life expectancy of seven to 15 years; flexible surface that requires use to remain pliable, and will last longer with heavy use; possible environmental contamination during construction. (Often used in urban areas, or near trailheads and access points. Average users travel 2-4 miles.)

Hardest, expensive, longest lasting, up to 25 years or more; appropriate for urban areas with severe climate swings and susceptibility to flooding.

Crushed/granular stone (limestone, sandstone, crushed rock)
Can hold up well under heavy use; complements aesthetic of natural landscape; can accommodate nearly every trail user if crushed and compacted properly (except inline skaters).

Soil cement
Mixture of pulverized native soil and Portland cement, rolled and compacted into very dense surface; cheaper than asphalt; drainage is very important to prevent erosion.

Resin-based stabilized material
Resin is a tree product that binds aggregate or soil particles together; less environmental impact than asphalt; cheaper if surface is stabilized soil; aesthetics better match surrounding environment.

Used for wetlands, most expensive.

Recycled materials
Like old rubber tires worked into concrete on Florida's Withlacoochee State Trail, recycled materials are also becoming more popular, yet there hasn't been extensive testing on them to know their longevity or wear tendencies. Boardwalks are the most expensive per mile to build, followed by concrete and and asphalt (cost estimates are per mile):

  • Asphalt: $200K - $300K
  • Concrete: $300K - $500K
  • Crushed/granular stone: $80K - $120K
  • Soil cement: $60K - $100K
  • Resin-based stabilized material: varies
  • Boardwalk: $1.5 mil – $2 mil

Soft Surfaces

Natural earth
Maintenance includes fixing drainage problems, repairing eroded areas, removing new vegetation; costs $50-70,000 per mile for 10-foot-wide trail; can be built by volunteers.

Wood chips
Blend well with the natural environment; work well as parallel tread next to asphalt or concrete; decompose rapidly; do not accommodate wheelchair use; require constant maintenance to keep width and surface steady; entire surface needs replacement every two years; costs $65-85,000 per mile for 10-foot-wide trail; can be built by volunteers.

The cost of surfacing a trail with asphalt or concrete may be prohibitive in the beginning stages of trail building. This initial expense shouldn't deter your plans if you need to start trail development right away. You may be able to upgrade from a "soft surface" like dirt or crushed stone to a hard surface like asphalt or concrete once you have secured funding. For example, the Cannon Valley Trail in Minnesota began as crushed stone, and was then upgraded to asphalt to accommodate commuting cyclists and to attract touring cyclists.

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