Trails & Shared Use Path Assessments

ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas

This rulemaking covers access to trails, beaches, and picnic and camping areas and will supplement ADAAG by adding a new chapter on outdoor developed areas.

For information, go to the Access Board website at

Designing Sidewalks & Trails for Access:

Part 1 - Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices

Part 2 - Best Practices Design Guide

Sidewalks and trails serve as critical links in the transportation network by providing pedestrian access to commercial districts, schools, businesses, government offices, and recreation areas. Because sidewalks and trails provide such fundamental services to the public, they should be designed to meet the needs of the widest possible range of users.

In an effort to determine when ADAAG provisions apply to sidewalks and trails, and to bridge the remaining gaps, the Federal Highway Administration sponsored a project to research existing conditions on sidewalks and trails for people with disabilities.

As part of Phase I of this project, an extensive literature review was conducted, site visits were made, and existing guidelines and recommendations for developing sidewalks and trails were compiled and analyzed.

Phase II of this project is a manual recommending accessible designs for sidewalk and trail facilities.

Part 1 - Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices

This report presents the findings of Phase 1 of a two-phased project focused on designing sidewalks and trails for access. It is a compilation of data and designs gathered during a comprehensive literature search and site visits conducted throughout the United States.

To view or order the report and for more information, go to the Federal Highway Administration website at

Part 2 - Best Practices Design Guide

This guidebook is the 2nd part of a two-phased project focused on designing sidewalks and trails for access. It was created to provide planners, designers, and transportation engineers with a better understanding of how sidewalks and trails should be developed to promote pedestrian access for all users, including people with disabilities.

To order the Design Guide, and for additional information, go to the Federal Highway Administration website at

UTAP Products

Click here for a printable version of the UTAP Order Form in Portable Document Format (.pdf) . You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file. You can download the free Acrobat Reader here.

 UTAP Toolkit

Training Workshops

For information regarding upcoming Universal Trail Assessment Process workshops, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 HETAP Trail Training

Trail Assessments

To inquire about our Trail Assessment Services, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Trail Assessment

Data Processing

To inquire about our Data Processing services, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Data Entry


To learn about our mapping/signage services go to our Trail Signs page or write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 TAI Strips

TrailWare Data Processing Software

If you would like to receive e-mail updates regarding TrailWare, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and ask to be added to the TrailWare mailing list.

 TrailWare Flyer


TrailWare is a software tool for storing and analyzing data collected through the Universal Trail Assessment Process. The TrailWare program calculates trail characteristics such as grade, cross slope, surface and width and creates reports on the basis of trail inventories. TrailWare captures and stores information in a consistent way to allow data exchange within and between agencies and with the Trail Explorer Website.

Obtain the Latest Evaluation Version of TrailWare


Project Goal

This project will develop stand-alone software that will enable trail managers to quickly and easily process their own data from the Universal Trail Assessment Process, create simple Trail Access Information signage, and identify areas requiring improvement for accessibility.

Universal Trail Assessment Process

Click here for the UTAP Order Form

The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) was developed through the cooperation of federal and state land agencies and organizations focused on accessibility for people with disabilities. The UTAP is a tool for trail managers to inventory their trails for maintenance and accessibility conditions. The data collected allows trail managers to determine the percentage of any given trail within a specific range of grade, cross slope, or width. The information enables trail designers to determine if the trail meets intended specifications.

In addition, data can be processed and summarized to obtain typical and maximum grades and cross slopes, minimum widths, surface types, and magnitude and location of obstacles. This processed data is called Trail Access Information (TAI). TAI can assist individuals in making informed choices about the trails they plan to use, and obtain any necessary assistance or equipment needed to negotiate the trail safely and successfully. 

 TrailWare Demo

Phase I Prototype Software

During Phase I, prototype software (TrailWare 1.0) was developed to enable trail managers to easily enter and process trail data to generate Trail Access Information, grade profiles, and trail feature reports that can be used to create trail signage and maps, and to assist with prioritizing maintenance. A user manual was developed, in-house testing was conducted, and the prototype was evaluated by federal and state land management agencies.

Phase II TrailWare 2.0

In Phase II, software functionality will be enhanced and revisions made based on feedback from trail and land management agencies. Focus groups will be conducted, and new modules implemented to increase software capabilities and effectiveness. The possible need for additional modules will also be addressed at this time. The new modules and other developments will be extensively evaluated and revisions will be made to TrailWare based on those evaluations.


This project is funded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health through Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant # 1 R43 HD36538-01 and Phase II Grant # 2 R44 HD36538-02.

Trail Explorer Website

Trail Explorer is a trails website with Universal Access Information, available at 

 Trail Explorer Homepage

Project Goal

The goal of this research project is to develop a website that provides universal access information for trails throughout the United States. Users will be able to obtain detailed information about trails at a particular site, including Trail Access Information on grade, cross slope, tread width, and surfaces.

Phase I Prototype Website

Phase I ended in March of 1998 with the completion of these objectives:

  • Development of a prototype website with information about parks and forests including trail access data for hiking trails and a searchable database that allowed users to search for trails based on criteria entered;
  • Collected and entered data from 70 trails
  • Demonstrated the effectiveness of the prototype through evaluator responses of land management agencies, trail user groups, and individuals with disabilities.

Phase II Trail Explorer Website

The objectives of Phase II include:

  • Collaborate with several federal and state land management agencies to establish a standardized set of information and data to disclose to trail users;
  • Build a stand-alone, robust Web server providing information about public lands including trail access data for individual trails and a search engine that enables browsers to search a large database for trails based upon input characteristics. The Website will also provide product information, service advertisements, and links to other related web sites;
  • Collect and enter trail data on a minimum of 500 trails;
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of the Website and obtain feedback from representatives of land management agencies, trail user groups, individuals with mobility impairments, and other organizations to refine the features.

This information will benefit all hikers, regardless of their abilities, and will be especially useful for individuals with disabilities, older adults, parents with young children, and novice hikers. Other anticipated benefits include increased recreational experiences by individuals with mobility impairments, and an increase in positive recreational experiences by all individuals. All users will be capable of obtaining information in advance to plan a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.


This work is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services through Small Business Innovation Research Contracts RW97076011 and ED-98-CO-0046.

Interactive Trail Guides

Need for Trail Information

Sites that offer outdoor recreational experiences rarely provide information about the accessibility of hiking trails. As a result, it can be very difficult for people with disabilities, families with small children, and others to select trails with an appropriate level of difficulty.

Project Goal

Beneficial Designs began the Interactive Computer Information Trail Guides for Universal Access project in 1994 to provide individuals with hiking trail accessibility information. A computerized interactive trail guide was developed to meet this goal.

Phase I Trail Information Guide

The Interactive Trail Guide is a computer program that can quickly search a database for trails that match the characteristics desired by the user. These access requirements include grade percentage, trail width, cross slope percentage, and surface type. The guide then displays access data, maps, text, and scenic images for each trail found. The access data for each trail includes total trail length, elevation, average and maximum grade and cross slope, minimum trail width, surface type, and the magnitude of obstacles. With this information, users will be better able to search for and select trails appropriate for their needs from available options.

Phase II Trail Information Kiosk for Yosemite National Park

Revisions of the Interactive Trail Information Guide program based on feedback received from an earlier prototype were completed in October 1995. A stand-alone information kiosk containing the program was designed and developed for Yosemite National Park in California. Park visitors evaluated the kiosk in October 1996; the program is being refined based on their feedback. A CD-ROM of the Interactive Trail Guide for Yosemite will be created and distributed to reviewers in the summer of 1997. The Interactive Trail Guide program will be incorporated into the Yosemite Area Transportation Information (YATI) network by Fall 1997. YATI provides recreation, road condition, accommodation, and other visitor information from a system of kiosks located within a 300-mile radius of the park.

Long Term Goal

The long term goal of the project is to produce a trail information guide capable of storing extensive trail data for any park or forest area and providing access information that is useful to all trail users. The concept of a computerized trails access information database that can be searched for trail characteristics will soon be applied to a Trails Web page. A search engine incorporated into the site will help users locate access and visitor information for trails across the United States. The objective Trail Access Information provided by the Interactive Trail Guide program will help more people access outdoor recreation environments.


This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education through Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant #RA94129011 and Phase II Grant #RW95170006.

For further information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

UTAP Overview

UTAP Tools

The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) objectively documents the actual conditions in outdoor, natural environments. The UTAP is a tool that land managers, agencies and individuals can utilize to learn about, monitor, improve and use any outdoor path of travel.


Project Goal

Beneficial Designs received funding in June of 1993 to create a universal mapping system to communicate detailed and pertinent information about individual trails. The information was designed to be useful to anyone who might want to hike a trail, regardless of their hiking ability.

Trail Access Information

Existing trail rating systems using subjective descriptions such as "difficult" do not give users the information they may need to safely attempt a hike. In a 1991 pilot study, Beneficial Designs identified trail characteristics that would allow hikers of all abilities to decide whether to undertake a particular trail and make necessary safety or equipment preparations beforehand. These characteristics include trail grade, cross slope, width, surface firmness, and the presence of obstacles. The dimensions and locations of obstacles such as tree roots, boulders or large rocks, water crossings, ruts, vertical obstructions, steps, dangerous plants, and drop-offs were noted.

Phase I Performing Trail Assessments

In July and August of 1993, Beneficial Designs performed trail assessments in the Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park with professionals from the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and volunteers from several states. The data collection process resulted in many improvements to the data forms and measuring process. Several design reviews provided valuable input on map layout and information content.

Phase II Training Trail Assessment Coordinators

Beneficial Designs received funding in September 1994 to train and certify trail assessment coordinators to conduct their own trail assessments. Beneficial Designs processed the trail data collected during these assessments into trail access information, including a grade profile and summary of average and extreme grades, cross slopes, and trail widths. The trail assessment process expanded to collect trail maintenance data useful to trail managers.

Trail Access Information

Beneficial Designs has developed many formats to present trail access information to the public. The pocket maps, trailhead signage, audio description tapes, and computerized trail guides are designed to help people with a variety of abilities obtain hiking information. The visual formats use a combination of universal symbols, detailed and general written information, grade illustrations, and overhead route schematics to convey trail access information to visitors. Two-minute audio descriptions, especially useful for people who are visually impaired, can be formatted as audiocassettes or to play at trailhead stations.


This project was funded by the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health through Small Business Innovation Research Phase I Grant # 1 R43 HD29992-01 and Phase II Grant #2 R44 HD29992-02.

 UTAP Orlando

Summary of the UTAP Process

The Five Access Characteristics

During a 1991 pilot study conducted in Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest, Beneficial Designs identified five characteristics of a trail that greatly affect access. A system to collect and provide to the public information about grade, cross slope, surface type, obstacles, and trail width was developed into the Universal Assessment Process to help make trail systems more accessible to users.


The average grade between two designated stations along the trail is measured with a clinometer. These measurements are then used to compute the average grade for the entire trail. Short, steep sections are measured with an inclinometer and recorded as maximum grade sections. The inclinometer is 24 inches in length and thus measures the grade as it would be experienced over the course of a single stride, or by a stroller or wheelchair.

Information about the maximum grade sections found on a trail is used to add detailed information to maps. The average and maximum grades are displayed with the grade symbol to convey this pertinent information on TAI Strips and trailhead signage.

Objective information about the average and maximum grade is very useful to all user groups, especially mountain bike riders and persons with mobility limitations, including older persons and those that use canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs.

Cross Slope

Cross slope is measured at designated stations along the trail with a 24-inch inclinometer. These measurements are then used to compute the average cross slope for the entire trail. Similar to maximum grade, steep cross slope sections are measured with an inclinometer and recorded as maximum cross slope sections.

This information is used to add detailed information to maps. The average and maximum cross slopes are displayed with the cross slope symbol to convey this pertinent information on TAI Strips and trailhead signage.

Cross slope information is most useful to wheelchair users. Wheelchairs are very difficult to drive or maneuver on steep cross slopes.


A tape measure is used to measure the width of the trail. The minimum tread width, or \"beaten path,\" is measured at each station and is used to calculate the average tread width. The minimum amount of usable passage space between stations, or minimum clearance width, is also measured.

Objective information about the width of the trail and the locations of the narrowest sections is critical for people who use mobility devices such as strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs. The average manual wheelchair has a wheelbase width of less than 28 inches. If a trail narrows to 26 inches, persons in a 28-inch wheelchair will know that they will not be able to venture past this point unless they are capable of transferring out of their chair and maneuvering their chair through this narrow location. If the width of the trail is disclosed, mobility device users will be able to determine before embarking on a trail exactly how far they will be able to hike and whether they will be able to reach their destination.


The type of surface found in between stations is recorded, as well as a description of its characteristics. Trail surface type is a major influence on the degree of access for all user groups.

Trail Length

The distance from the trailhead is continuously recorded to indicate the total length as well as the position of each measurement site relative to the start of the trail.

Benefits of UTAP

The UTAP can be used to:

  • provide Trail Access Information to users
  • document and monitor trail conditions and the environmental impact of the trail
  • identify and prioritize maintenance, access and construction needs
  • create detailed logs of signs, bridges and other facilities
  • increase user safety and enjoyment by enabling informed trail choices
  • gather interpretive information about the trail environment
  • enhance trail access and use for a wide variety of users, including older adults, inexperienced users, families and people with disabilities
  • track changes in trail conditions over time
  • determine trail compliance with design standards
  • create trail maps, signs and other information products
  • accurately budget for trail maintenance activities
  • provide detailed reference information for search-and-rescue plans and activities

Find out about our UTAP Tools and Materials  and our UTAP Train the Trainer Program