Besides the trail itself, there are other facilities that
increase the quality of the user experience. These amenities are collectively
known as support services, and they fall into three general types.
- Trailheads and access points
- Rest areas
- Interpretive facilities
The importance of these facilities is sometimes overlooked,
but they should be incorporated into the initial and final planning of all
trail projects. The quantity, spacing, specific facilities, and size of these
support facilities will vary depending on a trail's proximity to cities and
towns, the traffic volume of the trail, the type of use, and environmental
considerations. The following guidelines give a general overview of what
and how many support services should be included in trail projects, but each
project must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the best balance
of facilities and cost.
Trailheads and Access Points
Trailheads refer to parcels specifically designed as primary
means of accessing a trail. They may include restrooms, maps, parking, picnic
facilities, and other recreational amenities. Access points refer to minor
connections between the trail and nearby parks, communities, or roadways.
Access points are important because many trails will run for long stretches
surrounded by private property, and access should be provided wherever possible,
but controlled so that ad hoc trails do not occur on private land. Some access
points are automatic, such as when a trail crosses a roadway, and others
may be carefully planned and implemented, such as a connection to a trail
which would require a railroad crossing.
When developing trailheads and access points, it is important
that designers recognize that people with disabilities enjoy all types of
trails in addition to pedestrian facilities and hiking trails. Furthermore,
people with disabilities participate in trail activities at a wide range
of skill levels. Therefore it is recommended that an accessible pathway be
provided to all trailheads and access points, regardless of the permitted
use modes. Furthermore, built facilities, such as restrooms and parking lots,
should be designed according to the ADA accessibility guidelines.
The following guidelines relate to the development and
placement of trailheads and access points.
- Trailheads should be placed at each terminus of a trail corridor, and
any place where a large concentration of trail users is expected, such as
at towns or major parks along the trail.
- An accessible pathway should be developed that connects parking and other
accessible elements to the trailhead.
- Trailheads should at least include parking and a trail map, but may also
include restrooms, drinking water, picnic facilities, horse tie-ups, and
other recreational amenities.
- Trailheads associated with equestrian, snowmobile, OHV, and motorcycle
trails should provide parking and turn-around space for trailers, and snowmobile
trailheads should be cleared of snow.
- Trail access points should be placed wherever trail access is expected,
such as at adjacent communities, schools, commercial areas, and parks.
- Trail access points should include signage identifying the trail (see
"Signage"), and may include a map and drinking
water. Limited parking may also be included, but because trail access points
are designed to give access from local amenities to the trail, it may be
Rest areas are generally small support facilities located
along a trail, which do not provide access to surrounding amenities. Rest
areas are places to stop and rest off the main traveled way of the trail.
They may also serve as interpretive areas or overlooks. The design of rest
areas can be as varied as the trail modes they serve, and the specific design
at each location should be considered individually. The following guidelines
set forth some general recommendations regarding trail rest areas.
- Trail rest areas should at least include a seating area and a place to
park the trail vehicle (snowmobile, bicycle, horse, etc.). They may also
include drinking water, restroom facilities, and signage. Rest areas on
equestrian trails should include hitching posts.
- Trail rest areas should be located approximately every half hour of travel
time. The distance between rest areas is dictated by the use modes on the
- Trail rest areas should be located after any prolonged uphill slope,
especially for bicycle and walking trails.
Part of the draw to a trail is to gain an understanding
of the environment through which it passes. Many trails will offer the opportunity
to educate the user on various aspects of the landscape, including native
plants and animals, geologic history, local history, and local economy. Interpretive
facilities should offer a view of the item to be interpreted, whether that
be the agricultural landscape in general or a specific type of tree. Some
trails may capitalize on many interpretive opportunities, while others may
offer them as educational diversions incorporated into rest areas. Each trail's
interpretive program is different and the extent of interpretation should
be based on the use of the trail, with interpretation facilities decreasing
as user speeds increase. The following guidelines offer some general suggestions
regarding interpretive facilities.
- Interpretive facilities should include signage with ample graphics, to
engage users of all ages. They may also include any of the rest area facilities
- Consideration should be given to providing interpretive information in
a format that is accessible to people with vision impairments and people
with limited English skills. This may include providing objects that can
be examined or manipulated, or providing audio information in addition to
- Interpretive facilities should be placed wherever there is a significant
cultural, historical, or natural phenomenon.
- Small interpretive facilities may be implemented more frequently if user
speeds are low, as on walking/hiking trails.