Playful Trails

Explore Playful Trails

In the last 40 years, the number of children and adolescents in the United States walking or bicycling to or from school has dropped from approximately half to fewer than 15%. Innovative pathway designs infused with play is a paradigm change that could increase children's walking and biking habits by offering a network of intriguing linear play environments connecting children's homes to playgrounds and other meaningful, daily life destinations. Today, although trails exist everywhere, it appears that only a small minority of children and families are actually using them. Pathways for Play is changing that.

Research: Scholars and experts identify best practices

The Natural Learning Initiative collaborates with landscape architects, designers, planners, educators, play leaders, environmental educators, politicians, industry, and all professionals working for and with children to help communities create stimulating places for play, learning, and environmental education—environments that recognize human dependence on the natural world. The two primary advocacy and technical assistance organizations promoting pathways and trail developments are American Trails and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Representatives from these organizations, along with a respected team of experts from a variety of trail disciplines served as an advisory committee  as we developed the best practices highlighted in Pathways for Play. Subsequent research has proven that incorporating these principles into pathway networks help to increase family time outdoors, increase usage of trails and pathways, and encourage repeat visits to these spaces. This advisory committee also helped develop a targeted line playful trail amenities, called Play Trails, designed to create an air of excitement, engagement, and learning as families traverse their local trail or pathway.

Program: Pathway networks infused with play

Pathways-for-Play_Cover.jpg#asset:6175Together with the Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, we have created Pathways for Play™, a guidebook designed to help communities identify best locations for, and integrate play - critical for children's health - into walkable, bikeable, shared use community pathway networks infused with "play pockets" providing opportunities for playing along the way. The term pathway covers all forms of network infrastructure, including greenways, trails and sidewalks that are used by pedestrians and cyclists to move around urban/suburban neighborhoods and mixed use developments. Play Pockets include all forms of spaces and facilities identifiable by children and caregivers as play environments integral to playful pathways to encourage children and families to "discover what's around the next corner." Play pockets vary in size and may contain a mix of natural, living, and manufactured elements located on and linked by playful pathways.

“The value of shared use pathway networks is becoming recognized as a health promotion investment but they have a tendency to emphasize athletic adults rather than children and families. Pathways for Play can help shift this paradigm.”

- Robin Moore, Dipl Arch., MCP, ASLA
Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University


Outdoor Musical Instruments
Site Furnishings
Bike Repair Stations


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Pathways for Play Executive Summary


Learn more about building a National Demonstration Site for Playful Pathways

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Play Trail Activity Guides


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Learn about Playful Trail focused CEU education for professional organizations

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