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Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds

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Chapter 8--Designing Roads and Parking Areas

Proper road and parking area design is critical in recreation sites, especially for vehicles towing trailers. Traffic circulation should be simple, functional, and avoid dead ends.

Road System Design

Designing roads is a complex process that is beyond the scope of this guidebook. Road geometry and components, including turning radii, sight distances, horizontal and vertical alignments, and intersections, must conform to AASHTO requirements and any other applicable standards. Consult with a qualified transportation engineer. Designers need to know not only engineering essentials, but also basic equestrian needs when designing recreation site roads.

Recreation Site Entrances

The access to most recreation sites is from a State or county highway. Any work performed within the rights-of-way of Federal, State, or county roads requires applicable permits. The road agencies also may require acceleration, deceleration, or turning lanes. During design, carefully analyze the location of intersections. Use only one site entrance to minimize conflicts with highway traffic. One entrance also simplifies incoming traffic flow and makes site management easier. Safe exits avoid steep grades and have adequate clear sight distance for approaches and departures. Vehicles towing heavy horse trailers need a lot of time to merge with highway traffic, so make sure merge lanes are long enough.

Avoid locating intersections on sharp curves or at areas with awkward grade combinations. Carry the grade of the main road through the intersection and adjust the grade of the access road to it. The grade of the access road should be 6 percent or less where it approaches the main road. A maximum grade of 5 percent at intersections allows vehicles pulling horse trailers to accelerate more quickly so they can merge safely into highway traffic. The preferred grade is 1 to 2 percent.

For roads where snow and ice may create poor driving conditions, AASHTO (2001a) lists the preferred grade on the approach leg as 0.5 percent to no more than 2 percent, as practical. Avoid intersections that are slightly offset from each other on opposite sides of the main road. More than two roads intersecting at one location may cause traffic management problems.

Design Vehicles

Road design is based on vehicle dimensions and operating characteristics. Transportation engineers must know which design vehicle is used at the site. In an equestrian recreation site, this is a passenger vehicle--a pickup truck--pulling a horse trailer. The standard design length for passenger vehicles is 19 feet (5.8 meters). Newer model pickup trucks range from about 15 feet (4.6 meters) long for a standard pickup to about 22.5 feet (6.8 meters) long for a pickup with an extended cab and long bed. Common horse trailers vary from 16 feet (4.9 meters) long for a two-horse, bumper-pull trailer, to about 49 feet (15 meters) long for a six-horse, gooseneck trailer with living quarters. Roads also may need to accommodate 32- to 46.5-foot (9.7- to 14.2-meter) motorhomes towing horse trailers. If a commercial waste management company services a facility, garbage trucks may be traveling through the site. Visit with the land management agency to determine the size of the expected vehicles and whether the site needs to accommodate maintenance equipment. The Parking Area Layout section in this chapter has more information on lengths of common vehicles and slant-load trailers.

Some turning radii guidelines are summarized in table 8-1. Tight curves may have to be widened more than indicated--consult current AASHTO requirements for exact figures.

Table 8-1-Turning radii of some common design vehicles, rounded to the nearest 6 inches.
Vehicle type Minimum inside turning radius (feet) Minimum outside turning radius (feet)
Passenger vehicle with trailer
19-foot vehicle plus 30 feet total trailer length (including tongue--49 feet combined length
17.5 34.5
Motorhome with trailer
30-foot vehicle plus 23 feet total trailer length (including tongue)--53 feet combined length
35 51.5
Garbage truck**
Gross vehicle weight (GVW) 20,000 pounds with 25-foot 5-inch wheelbase
21 33.5
* A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (AASHTO 2001)

** Architectural Graphic Standards (American Institute of Architects 2000).

Road Alignment

Minimize landscape alterations by allowing recreation site roads to complement the site's natural landforms. Visitors prefer curves to long straight stretches when they are driving through a recreation site. However, roads with curves must provide adequate stopping sight distance. Where feasible, roads should follow the contour, avoiding areas of steep terrain. Try not to disturb appealing vegetation or significant natural features. In some places, new road alignments can take advantage of abandoned roads.

Single-lane, one-way loop roads are best for single-party campgrounds or group sites with individual camp units. Loop roads make it easy for visitors to get oriented. Managers like loops because they can be closed as needed. Fit the loops between landforms, dense stands of vegetation, streams, or drainages. These barriers will screen noise and provide privacy. Reduce road and trail duplication by aligning loop roads so they lead to site attractions, such as trail access points or a lake (figure 8-2). Field experience shows that to provide an adequate buffer for camp units, the loop road should enclose an area that is at least 300 feet (91.4 meters) across. If vegetation is sparse, allow more distance between the roads.

In areas with restricted space, consider incorporating a double-lane road with a loop turnaround--a cul-de-sac-- at the end (figure 8-3). Make sure the cul-de-sac's turning radius accommodates the expected sizes of vehicles. Unless the cul-de-sac is large enough, avoid locating parking pads on the turnaround, because it is difficult to maneuver vehicles with trailers in and out of such areas. An oval-shaped cul-de-sac accommodates parking pads well. Consult Chapter 9--Designing Camp and Picnic Units for more information on parking pads. Another concept suitable for tight spaces is shown in figure 8-4.

Drawing of how a campground loop is set up around vegetation and drainages. In the drawing the text reads, Shower building, Campground loop roads lead to site attractions, Trail, No Scale, Lake, and Trails to site attractions.
Figure 8-2--Loop roads lead to the lake. The campground loop roads fit
between existing vegetation and drainages.

Drawing of a cul-de-sac. In the drawing the text reads, Cul-de-sac, Pullthrough parking pad, Interior recreation site road, No Scale, Back-in parking pad, and Toilet building.
Figure 8-3--This cul-de-sac is large enough to accommodate parking pads.

Drawing of a campground loop in an area with a high level of development. In the drawing the text reads, Pullthrough parking pad, Single-party camp unit, Interior recreation site road, Toilet building, and Several-party camp unit.
Figure 8-4--A campground loop road in a restricted space
with a high level of development.

Road Grade

Design recreation site roads with minimal grades. Wayne Iverson (1985) suggests that the maximum road grade be 10 percent. A grade up to 12 percent may be allowed for no more than 100 feet (30.5 meters). When the route is considered a pedestrian access route, accessibility requirements apply. The Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines (FSORAG) define an outdoor recreation access route (ORAR) as a continuous, unobstructed path intended for pedestrian use that connects constructed features within a picnic area, campground, or trailhead. The running slope on ORARs should be 5 percent or less. On steeper terrain, running slopes up to 8.3 percent are permitted for as long as 50 feet (15.2 meters). Running slopes up to 10 percent are permitted for as long as 30 feet (9.1 meters). Additional accessibility requirements apply and are detailed in the FSORAG. The suggested road grades are summarized in table 8-2.

Table 8-2-Suggested road grades for equestrian recreation site roads.
Road element Minimum grade (percent) Maximum grade (percent) Preferred grade (percent)
Interior recreation site roads 0 10 2 to 5
Site entrance or exit 0 5 1 to 2
Road cross slope (to allow adequate drainage) 1 2 1 to 2

Road Profile

Maintain landscape character by fitting recreation site roads to the natural terrain. The objectives are to keep cuts and fills to a minimum, ease pedestrian flow to facilities, and reduce construction costs. Keep cuts and fills less than 3 feet (0.9 meter). Wayne Iverson (1985) indicates it is usually possible to raise the finished grade about 6 to 12 inches (152 to 305 millimeters) above the natural grade to provide drainage in areas with gentle terrain.

Road Drainage

Avoid site damage by incorporating unobtrusive drainage structures to carry surface water off recreation site roads. Use culverts, drop inlets, dips, dikes, curbs, paved or unpaved ditches, and similar structures where needed. Low-profile culverts and drainage structures reduce fill requirements. After evaluating potential adverse environmental impacts, consider using a ford as a low-water crossing.

Parking Area Design

Design parking areas to provide smoothly flowing traffic circulation for vehicles pulling trailers. Avoid dead ends and allow the site's terrain and vegetation to guide the shape of parking areas. Consult Chapter 6--Choosing Horse-Friendly Surface Materials for information regarding surface options. The difference between equestrian parking areas and standard parking is the size of the parking spaces.

Because riders share most trailheads with many users, prevent conflicts by separating equestrian parking areas from other parking areas. Consult Chapter 7--Planning Recreation Sites for more information regarding separation. If the trailhead accommodates hikers, mountain bikers, or picnickers, provide passenger-vehicle parking spaces. According to Wayne Iverson (1985), the minimum size for passenger-vehicle parking spaces in recreation sites is 10 feet (3 meters) wide by 20 feet (6.1 meters) long. Make some parking spaces longer to accommodate longer pickup trucks. Provide accessible parking spaces. Forest Service parking areas must comply with the FSORAG. Figure 8-5 shows parking area dimensions for standard passenger vehicles. If nonequestrians in motorhomes frequent the area, provide spaces for them. While motorhomes fit into equestrian parking spaces, it is better to separate the conflicting uses.

Drawings of parking dimensions and parking set up for vehicles. The first drawing is for 45-Degree Parking and the text reads, 22 ft, 20 ft (typical), 18 ft, Aisle, 22 ft, 10 ft (typical), and 45 degree (typical). The second drawing is for 60-Degree Parking and the text reads, 62 ft, 18 ft, 22 ft (typical), 20 ft (typical), Aisle, 10 ft (typical), and 60 degree (typical). The last drawing for 90-Degree Parking has text that reads, 65 ft, 25 ft, 20 ft (typical), 10 ft (typical), and Aisle.
Figure 8-5--Parking dimensions and patterns for standard passenger vehicles.
Increase the length of parking spaces if they will be used by pickup
trucks with extended cabs and long beds. Forest Service
parking areas must comply with the FSORAG.

Most drivers prefer pullthrough parking spaces that are angled 45 or 60 degrees, because the angled space is easier to navigate. Experience shows that this is true for both equestrian and nonequestrian drivers. Consider parking spaces angled at 90-degrees only for nonequestrian parking.

If space is limited, consider incorporating back-in parking spaces angled at 45 or 60 degrees. If angled back-in spaces are used on single-lane roads, locate the spaces on the driver's side of the road. As drivers back into the spaces, they can see obstacles on the inside of the turn more easily. The parking configuration is more obvious when back-in parking spaces contain wheel stops. Install the wheelstops in the parking space, 2 feet (0.6 meter) from the end. Parallel parking spaces, while less desirable than pullthrough spaces, also may be incorporated. Figure 8-6 shows an equestrian parking area where space restrictions dictated the use of back-in and parallel parking spaces. A separate entrance and exit make the most efficient use of space. Landscape islands and exit and entrance signs guide parking.

Drawing of different types of parking spaces. In the drawing the text reads, Trail access point, Parallel parking space, 55 ft, 16 ft, 18 ft, Landscape island, 17 ft, 20 ft, Pullthrough parking space, Entrance, No Scale, Back-in parking space, 30 ft, and Exit.
Figure 8-6--Equestrian parking in restricted spaces.

Parking Area Grade

For the safety and comfort of riders and their stock, equestrian parking areas need to be somewhat level. This makes it easier to unload stock and gear, to saddle an animal, or to spend time in mobile living quarters. Horses or mules tied to trailers are much happier standing for an extended period in a level area. The recommended grade for a parking area is 1 to 2 percent, a comfortable range that allows proper drainage of rainwater and animal urine. Accessibility requirements also stipulate grades within this range.

Parking Area Layout

The appropriate parking configuration depends on drivers' parking preferences, the number of parking spaces desired, and the size of the site. In a group camp, some riders are satisfied with an open area where they can park as they wish. Others prefer to have individual camp units, each with its own parking pad. Because preferences vary, visit with local horse organizations to discover their members' preferred configuration for group parking.

Staging Areas

Popular equestrian sites need staging areas where it is easy and safe to unload, groom, and saddle stock. This means providing extra length and width in parking spaces. Extra length allows riders to unload stock and tie them at the rear of the trailer. Extra width allows stock to be tied at the trailer's side. Figure 8-7 shows a rider saddling a horse in an area with inadequate space. The horse must stand close to the trailer, making it difficult to saddle the animal properly and safely. Figure 8-8 shows horses tied to a trailer with adequate staging area.

Photo of two trailers close to each other. One trailer has a horse tied up to it with very little space to manuvre around it. In the photo the text reads, Parallel stalls and Slant-load stalls.
Figure 8-7--Saddling a horse or mule requires access to all sides
of the animal, and tight quarters make the job difficult. Note
the difference in the horse trailers. The trailer on the left has
parallel horse stalls, and the trailer on the right has slant-load--or
angled--stalls with a storage area behind the partially closed door.

Photo of two horses tied up to a horse trailer.
Figure 8-8--Adequate space in parking areas makes it easier
and safer to saddle and care for horses and mules. They are more
comfortable and are more apt to wait quietly.

To determine the optimum width for parking spaces, consider the trailer width, stock requirements, and space needed for walking behind the stock. Generally, trailers are 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide. Stock tied to the side of the trailer need about 12 feet (3.6 meters) at the side of the trailer, if they stand perpendicular to the trailer. Another 4 feet (1.2 meters) is needed for a person to safely walk or lead an animal behind tied stock. Where space allows, add an extra 4 feet for open doors on neighboring vehicles, for a parking space that is 28 feet (8.5 meters) wide. Figure 8-9 illustrates parking and staging dimensions for several vehicle and horse trailer combinations.

Determining the length of a parking space with staging area is similar to figuring its width. The minimum length required for safely unloading a horse or mule from the rear of a horse trailer with an open door or ramp is 15 feet (4.6 meters). Table 8-3 gives lengths of common vehicles and slant-load trailers, as provided by several horse trailer manufacturers. A slant-load trailer allows stock to stand diagonal to the sidewall instead of parallel (see figure 8-7). A gooseneck trailer is similar to a fifth-wheel trailer. An extension (the gooseneck) extends over the pickup bed and is attached to a ball hitch in the truck bed. Vehicle lengths range from a standard pickup truck pulling a two-horse trailer to a 44-foot (13.4-meter) motorhome towing a six-horse trailer with living quarters and tack room. Because many campgrounds use a garbage service, the length of a standard garbage truck is provided.

Parking and staging dimensions for a truck pulling a horse trailer. In the drawing the text reads, 55 or 78 ft, 28 ft, 4 ft, 8 ft, 12 ft, 4 ft, 2-horse trailer, 4-horse trailer, 6-horse trailer, Horse, and 15 ft min. unloading space.
Figure 8-9--Optimum parking and staging dimensions
for vehicles towing horse trailers.

Table 8-3-Lengths of vehicles, trailers, and a standard garbage truck. All trailers are slant loading.
Vehicle Length (feet)
2-horse bumper-pull trailer 16*
3-horse bumper-pull trailer 19*
4-horse bumper-pull trailer 23*
6-horse bumper-pull trailer 32*
2-horse gooseneck trailer 26 to 33**
3-horse gooseneck trailer 28 to 35**
4-horse gooseneck trailer 32 to 39**
6-horse gooseneck trailer 42 to 49**
Pickup truck 15 to 22.5
Motorhome 32 to 46.5
Garbage truck 28
* Measurements for bumper-pull trailers include the length of the hitch.

** Measurements for gooseneck trailers do not include the overhang above the truck bed.

A 19-foot (5.8-meter) pickup truck towing a bumperpull, two-horse trailer would need a total length of 55 feet (16.8 meters) to park and unload safely. This includes a 15-foot (4.6-meter) unloading area plus walking space at both ends of the vehicle. A fourhorse gooseneck trailer drawn by a 19-foot pickup truck would need 78 feet (23.8 meters) for parking and loading. A 78-foot-long parking space covers most parking and loading needs. Forty-two-foot (12.8-meter) motorhomes pulling six-horse trailers with interior living quarters may need a space 110 feet (33.5 meters) long (figures 8-10 and 8-11). If these long trailers are common or expected in the facility, provide several longer spaces for them. If local riders commonly use two-horse trailers, provide some 55-foot- (16.8-meter-) long spaces for them.

Photo of two horses tied to a gooseneck trailer.
Figure 8-10--Horse trailers come in many different sizes and
configurations. Common slant-load gooseneck trailers range from
about 26 to 49 feet long.

Photo of two gooseneck trailers next to each other.
Figure 8-11--Some vehicles carry up to eight horses, contain
living quarters, and include storage space.

Open Parking Areas

Some riders prefer a parking area that does not have defined parking spaces. This allows drivers to arrange vehicles in a manner that best suits their needs. When space is plentiful and riders want flexibility, an open parking area is appropriate for a group camp or trailhead. Where possible, locate open parking areas in a large, sparsely vegetated area with a slope no steeper than 4 percent.

Riders want to park facing the exit as they arrive, orienting their vehicles for an easy departure. The parking area should be large enough for undefined parking spaces 28 feet by 78 feet (8.5 meters by 23.8 meters) and aisles that are 15 feet (4.6 meters) wide per lane. The generously sized parking area will allow many parking configurations. Designers may plan one parking configuration and riders may park in a very different way. Figure 8-12 illustrates the planned configuration for a group camp and how horse groups, such as 4-H clubs, often park in the allotted space. The impromptu arrangement opens the center area for the club's activities.

A variation of the open parking area concept incorporates several small parking areas (figures 8-13 and 8-14). The small areas help break up the expanse of a large parking area and may be more attractive. In a group camp, having more than one parking area provides flexibility. A few different groups could use the site simultaneously or one large group could occupy all the parking areas.

Two drawings, the first drawing is of trucks and trailers parked parallel to each other, how the parking was planned. The second drawing is of trucks and trailers parked behind each other, how some users park, but not planned.
Figure 8-12--Designed parking compared
to actual parking patterns.

Drawing of a recreation area meant for a couple of small groups or one large group. In the drawing the text reads, Group gathering area, Group camp parking, Interior recreation road, Toilet building, and Activity area.
Figure 8-13--A recreation site for three small groups or one large group.
An activity area is located in the center.

Drawing of a camp parking area for either two small groups or one large group. In the drawing the text reads, Group gathering area, Gate, Landscape island, Gate, No Scale, Landscape island, Group camp parking, and Toilet building.
Figure 8-14--A group camp parking area that can be
used by two small groups or one large group.

Small Parking Areas

Figure 8-15 shows a parking concept appropriate for small trailheads. The circulation pattern includes a loop turnaround to prevent vehicles from becoming trapped when all parking spaces are full. Because the parking area is not paved, arrows cannot mark the direction of traffic flow. In the United States, designers can use a counter-clockwise traffic flow that takes advantage of the familiar right-hand driving pattern. Landscape islands guide vehicle traffic and determine parking orientation. Directional signs may be a helpful addition, along with wheel stops.

Drawing of a loop parking area. In the drawing the text reads, Trail access point, 50 ft radius, Interior recreation site road, 25 ft radius, Exterior recreation site road, 70 ft radius, Equestrian pullthrough parking space, 30 ft radius, Wheel stops, and Nonequestrian parking.
Figure 8-15--Loop parking at a trailhead.

Parking Delineation

Because paved equestrian parking areas are not recommended, delineating the parking spaces becomes a challenge. Many agencies don't delineate parking spaces. Where delineation is necessary, striping is just one of several alternatives.

Photo of concrete parking markers used on an unpaved parking area.
Figure 8-16--Concrete markers are used to delineate unpaved
parking spaces in some areas of the country.

Existing Vegetation

If there is natural vegetation in a planned parking area, consider preserving it and turning the surrounding area into a landscape island (see figures 8-14 and 8-15). The vegetation visually breaks up the parking area, and the landscape island can guide motorized traffic and provide a spot for drainage basins. Where vegetation is sparse, preserve or plant trees and shrubs along parking area perimeters and in islands. The plantings relieve visual monotony, and the shade is invaluable in hot weather.

Drawing of a concrete parking marker and how one is placed in the ground. In the drawing the text reads, 8 in dia., Concrete marker, painted with white traffic paint, Parking surface material, Compacted aggregate subbase, Compacted subgrade, Footing, 1 ft, and 4 in.
Figure 8-17--A concrete parking marker.

Road and Parking Area Surfaces

Equestrians frequently ride or stand on interior recreation site roads, in parking areas, and on parking pads. Many times these areas are paved with asphalt, chip seal, or concrete--surfaces that are not recommended for equestrian use. Pavement and stock don't mix well because the hard surface provides poor traction for metal horseshoes. Aggregate is the recommended surface for equestrian recreation areas, because it is slip-resistant, doesn't allow water to pool, and is comfortable to stand or walk on.

Pavement can be used for exterior recreation site roads, which often receive more traffic than interior roads (figure 8-18). Major benefits to paving exterior roads include minimizing dust and reducing maintenance requirements. Because horses usually don't use exterior recreation site roads, pavement there generally doesn't pose a hazard. If paved exterior roads lead to trail access points, construct an adjacent, unpaved trail for horses and mules.

At a trailhead intended for shared use, apply aggregate only in the section where riders unload and saddle stock before a ride. Pave the remaining nonequestrian sections of the parking area (figure 8-19). Consult Chapter 6--Choosing Horse-Friendly Surface Materials for more information regarding surfaces.

Drawing of the different road surfaces at a recreation site. In the drawing the text reads, Equestrian group camp parking area with aggregate surface, Single-party equestrian campground loop road with aggregate surface, Pullthrough parking pad, Highway, Site host unit, and Exterior recreation site road with paved surface.
Figure 8-18--Pavement should not be used in equestrian areas.
Paving the exterior recreation site road is an exception to this rule
because stock seldom travel there.

Drawing of different surfaces for equestrian and nonequestrian users. In the drawing the text reads, Parallel parking space, Fence, Hitch rail, Lanscape islands, Equestiran parking area with aggregate surface, Mounting and loading ramp, Toilet building, Back-in parking space, Trail access point, Passenger vehicle parking space, No Scale, Nonequestrian parking area with paved surface, and Pullthrough parking space.
Figure 8-19--When user groups are separated, surface materials can match
the needs of different groups. In this illustration, the equestrian parking
area is surfaced with aggregate and the nonequestrian parking area is paved.

Traffic Control

Avoid placing barriers that restrict vehicles along the perimeters of site roads and parking areas that are traveled by stock. Barriers in these areas can be dangerous for stock and riders. Some stock may become nervous around barriers, such as wood bollards. This is especially true if the passageway between the bollards is constricted. Attempts to ride or lead a nervous animal through the barrier may produce a rodeo. While there are no completely horse-safe barriers, a wood or steel railing is suitable (figure 8-20). Make sure barriers have no sharp edges or other potential hazards. Large boulders appear more natural to a horse or mule and may be an alternative to bollards.

Detail drawing of a steel barrier. In the drawing the text reads, Steel end cap, 2 ft, 8 ft (typical), 4 1/2 in outside dia. steel well casing (typical), 2 ft- 3 in, Finished grade, and Concrete footing (typical).
Figure 8-20--A horse-friendly steel barrier.

Photo of a gravel parking lot with hitching posts in a mountain setting.

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