2.2.1 Recreational Trails, General

Download a printable version of this section
The Requirements in this Section apply to:
Government of Ontario, Legislative Assembly, and Designated Public Sector Organizations Private / Not-for-Profit Sector Organizations
Large Small
Yes Yes Yes

These requirements provide organizations with the minimum accessibility standards that must be met when designing new or redeveloping existing recreational trails that are intended to be maintained. Organizations are encouraged to use innovative design solutions to provide the highest level of accessibility within the context of local need, existing topography design opportunities and budget realities.

The signage requirements of the Standard provide minimum requirements for accessibility and are designed to allow organizations the flexibility to decide how large or small their signage should be. Organizations are expected to identify the location of the entrance/exit points for recreational trails in order to determine where the signage requirements will apply.

Trail signage helps people better understand the characteristics of the recreational trail before using it. Providing information about the trail surface, average trail width, average and maximum slopes, etc., will help users to decide if the challenge of the trail is appropriate for their needs.

Trails may incorporate boardwalks and ramps in their designs. Refer to Section 2.2.2 Boardwalks on Recreational Trails and Section 2.2.3 Ramps in Recreational Trails for the technical requirements of such elements.

Requirements for the Design of Recreational Trails

Entry points
Trail entrances must have a clear width of 850 mm - 1,000 mm through any gate, bollard or other entry element. This range allows access for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids while excluding vehicles such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles or small cars, which are not desirable on a pedestrian trail.
Clear width
Minimum 1,000 mm.
Clear height
Minimum 2,100 mm head room clearance above trail surfaces.
Trail surfaces must be firm and stable.
Surface openings
Openings must not allow the passage of an object more than 20 mm in diameter. Position elongated openings approximately perpendicular to the direction of travel.
Edge protection
Provide edge protection where trails:
  • do not have protective barriers;
  • run adjacent to water; or
  • are adjacent to a drop-off in grade.
  • The edge protection must:
    • consist of an elevated barrier that runs along the edge of the recreational trail.
    • be at least a minimum 50 mm above the trail surface; and
    • not impede the drainage of the trail surface.
  • Location: Provide at each trail head.
  • Text: Use a sans serif font with high tonal contrast to its background.
  • Information to be included:
    • Trail length
    • Surface type/construction material
    • Average and minimum trail width
    • Average and maximum running slope
    • Average and maximum cross slope
    • Location of any amenities.
  • If other media is being used to communicate information about the trail (beyond advertising, notice, or promotion), such as a park website or brochure, these sources must provide the same information included on the trail signage.

Refer also to Sections 2.2.2 Boardwalks on Recreational Trails, 2.2.3 Ramps in Recreational Trails and 2.3 Beach Access Routes.

Better Practice Considerations

Entry points
Entrances to trails should be maintained so they remain clear of obstructions such as trees or rocks that could reduce the width.
Clear height
Consider providing a minimum of 2,300 mm head room clearance above trail surfaces where tree growth could reduce head room.
Clear width
Consider a minimum width of 1,800 mm to allow wheelchairs and scooter to comfortably pass. If trail is less than 1,800 mm wide, consider providing 1800 mm x 1800 mm passing/turn-around spaces, spaced no more than 30 metres apart to minimize the distance someone in a mobility aid needs to back up if they encounter someone else in a mobility aid.
Running slope
Gentle running slopes are recommended, to minimize the amount of strength and stamina required to use the trail.
Cross slope
Gentle cross slopes are recommended to provide an even surface. This maximizes the usability of the trail for people who use strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility aids, as well as for those with poor balance.
Changes in level
Minimize level changes as much as possible — continuous surfaces are more accessible and safer for everyone to use.
Surface openings
Consider openings that do not allow the passage of an object more than 12 mm in diameter, to further reduce the possibility of small wheels, cane tips and shoe heels getting caught in openings, grilles and gratings.
Where possible, consider providing landings along sloped walkways longer than 30 metres, to allow users to stop and recover their stamina.
Select surface materials that will provide a firm and stable surface. Sand and some types of gravel are exceptionally difficult to negotiate with wheelchairs and other mobility aids, and require exceptional strength and stamina to negotiate. Harder surfaces such as asphalt or compacted fine gravel screenings are appropriate. Consider using colour, tone and textural contrast within ground surfaces to define primary trail routes and assist with wayfinding. For slip resistance values, refer to Appendix G.
Horizontal openings:
Consider a maximum of 12 mm, preferably perpendicular to the direction of travel, as wheels, heels, walking sticks, etc., are less likely to get caught in the openings.
Consider including plantings that could enhance the experience of people with disabilities. These may include plants with strong contrasts in colour, tone, texture or fragrance, which will add variety and interest for all users and will add to the recreational experience for people who may not have the ability to use all of their senses when enjoying the outdoors. Avoid plants that drop fruit or large seed pods as they can become a slip-hazard for everyone, and are particularly problematic for people with reduced balance abilities.

A recent US study concluded that 3/4” inch minus limestone aggregate, polymer-stabilized soil, and soil with a polyurethane binder maintain a more consistently firm and stable surface than other trail surface materials. Refer to the National Trail Surfaces Study, National Centre on Accessibility.


Illustrated Technical Guide to the Design of Public Spaces