Create A Trail

Creating a sustainable trail begins with good planning. A properly planned trail has a much greater chance of receiving grant funding and support from local stakeholders. Once you have a well-planned trail that is funded, then you can begin design and construction of the trail. The end result should be a properly designed trail for the identified user groups that will be low-maintenance and perform well for years to come.


Thoughtful trail planning is the initial step into creating a trail, greenway or blueway that builds connectivity between the built and natural environments. Trail design takes into consideration:

  1. An organization's community resources: funds, volunteers, donors, land
  2. Objectives for the trail: connectivity, non-motorized transporation routes, open space, natural resources
  3. Different trail users: hikers, bikers, equestrians, paddlers, off-road vehicle usrs
  4. Tailored experiences: challenge, education, vistas, distance

A single trail can be designed to accommodate multiple user groups and provide a variety of experiences.

Example of a planning topography map

Design and building

During the planning phase, design aspects of a trail are typically generated. However, laying out a trail and building a trail is where those design aspects are physically implemented. Trail corridor will be determined, trail tread will be marked, and trail builders (professional contractors, volunteers, or a combination) will “dig” the trail.

How to build a trail steps 1 to 2
How to build a trail steps 3 to 5

Sustainable trails

Sustainable trails are designed to minimize environmental degradation and maintenance requirements, while providing users an enjoyable experience that will stand the test of time. Sustainable design considers topography, site selection and alignment, trail structures, soils, natural resources and other factors.

Use these links to find resources on building sustainable trails.

State Trails Design and Construction Toolbox

Each state trail is a unit of the state parks system and must be authorized by the General Assembly. When any new state trail is added to the system, the Division of Parks and Recreation engages in a planning process, including a feasibility study for the new trail. Effective planning is essential to determine a corridor for the new trail and identify potential partners. Planning includes extensive data collection, outreach to potential partners, public input, and mapping of the trail corridor.

State trails are composed of multiple, connected sections and, as a whole, epitomizes partnerships. Each section of the trail is sponsored by a federal, state or local government agency, nonprofit organization, or private landowners.

Section sponsors build, maintain and manage their section of trail — deciding on location, design, surface, permitted uses, and amenities. The North Carolina Trails Program is responsible for the overall corridor planning and coordination. These documents provide guidance and assistance to section sponsors.

Constructed trail within the identified corridor is not part of the state trail until it is designated by the Secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. All designation applications are evaluated by the North Carolina Trails Committee.