What Exactly is an Accessible Trail?

Trail access information plaque

Trail access information plaque

Although it’s relatively easy to determine if a building is wheelchair-accessible (stairs vs. a level or ramped entry), it’s a bit more difficult to evaluate the accessibility of a trail. At first glance it might appear that if a wheelchair-user can manage a trail, then it must accessible, right? Well, not exactly, because not all wheelchair-users have the same ability.

Hence the need for the creation of a set of standardized trail accessibility guidelines.

Granted, some accessible trails are short and level; however the official guidelines allow for a bit more variety. The guidelines were developed to offer some diversity, yet still make things manageable for a good percentage of wheelchair-users and slow walkers. And because of this diversity, not all accessible trails will work for everyone. That said, knowing the guidelines – which are listed below – will at least give you the heads-up on what you can expect to find on an accessible trail.

Trail Width

An accessible trail must be at least 36 inches wide; however if the trail is less than 60 inches wide, there must be a passing lane every 1,000 feet.

Cross Slope (Side-to-Side Grade)

An accessible trail must have a cross slope of 5% or less.

Running Slope (Trail Grade)

The grade of an accessible trail must be one or more of the following:
5% or less for any distance.
Up to 8.33% for 200 feet, with resting intervals every 200 feet.
Up to 10% for 30 feet, with resting intervals every 30 feet.
Up to 12.5% for 10 feet, with resting intervals every 10 feet.

Obstacles

Obstacles along the trail can be up to two-inches high; however if both the running slope and the cross slope of the trail are 5% or less, the obstacles can be up to three inches high.

Granted, some folks may not be able to negotiate the 12.5% grade of an “accessible trail” for even 10 feet; however the good news is that all accessible trails are required to be marked with signage that indicates the width, length, cross slope, grade and obstacles found along the way. In the end, not all accessible trails are short and level; however with the required trailhead signage, wheelchair-users and slow walkers can get a better idea of what trails will and won’t work for them.

And as I always like to remind folks, knowledge is power.