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By choosing the right location, trails can create opportunities for community connectivity, promote healthy behavior for people of all ages and abilities, and offer a unique way for families to play and recreate together.

arrow Request the Pathways for Play Guidebook from PlayCore and the Natural Learning Initiative

arrow Learn more on the GameTime Play Trails page

arrow Download the Pathways for Play Flyer (pdf 3.3 mb)


Locating playful paths for maximum impact

Across the United States, playful trails and pathways are being added to both urban and suburban neighborhoods. Trail owners are increasing community capital, encouraging active lifestyles, and utilizing infrastructure that is often already in place by creating more interactive paths that add playful stops along the way.

photo of kids running on book cover


Many children today don’t have the same opportunities to interact with nature as their adult counterparts did when they were children. Urban density, crowded schedules, and lack of amenities within walking distance all contribute to the sedentary lifestyles and the disconnect with nature we recognize in many of today’s children.

Observations of playful pathway networks have yielded positive findings, but the location chosen plays a powerful role in its overall success.

A well-located playful path can add:

Increased usage. Areas we’ve observed were not well utilized before the addition of the playful exhibits, and attracting people to the trail was a key objective. After installation of the playful exhibits along the trail, traffic grew considerably, and continues to grow as word of mouth spreads.

Diversification of participant ages. Rather than just the occasional jogger or adult walker, we observed the trails being used by young families, bringing a real energy to the space.

Places to play, and to rest. Because the overall walk was broken into small, manageable segments, the overall adventure was more enjoyable by younger members of the family. The play pockets located along the trail gave children a place to rest, play, refocus, observe, and interact.

Magnetism. The interactive playful exhibits along the way worked as magnets to encourage children to continue. Rather than paths that lack focal points or fun activities, the play trails had children abuzz wondering what they would find next. Children who had already been to the trail made new friends with new arrivals-by sharing their experiences and explaining the fun adventures that awaited ahead.

photo of trail and play equipment


Increased family interaction. Rather than parents finding a bench and sitting while their children play, the families on the path interacted along with their children, interpreting signs, sharing the experience, playing games, and communicating.

Communities looking to increase pathway usage in their own communities are encouraged to examine locations closely for the following criteria when establishing a potential location for a playful path, to help encourage usage and success.

Form - Is the pathway curving and sinuous, or a straight line. Curving paths make a more exciting route, as they create an air of mystery as walkers wonder what is coming up next. Looping paths are even more appropriate, as the play can be experienced in a variety of ways, and users do not need to return to start by retracing steps.
Location - Climate, geology, topology, etc can all offer education potential, while paths in more densely populated areas may enjoy a greater usage than more rural pathways.
Access - How long is the path, will it be considered too long or short to be useable? Dos the path connect meaningful destinations like schools, friends’ homes, entertainment venues?
Usability - Has the tread slope, surface, and width of the path been considered to offer usability to the widest group of people?

Safety - Is the site separated from traffic, well maintained, and enjoy good visibility to make users feel more comfortable?

Jurisdiction – Is the pathways affected by differing regulations, for instance county, city, or floodway regulations?


About Pathways for Play: PlayCore, together with the Natural Learning Institute, College of Design, NC State University and American Trails to develop a best practice program guide to promote children and families being active on pathways systems. To learn more about the program, becoming a National Demonstration Site; or to request a copy of the guidebook, go to

About Play Trails: GameTime has partnered with American Trails to offer an affinity program to assist trail owners in adding playful interactive exhibits along their trail. To learn about the program, visit

Join the Movement!

PlayCore continues to seek National Demonstration Sites to lead the way in designing innovative play environments that integrate play along pathway networks. For more information about Pathways for Play, becoming a National Demonstration Site, or receiving a copy of the Pathways for Play best practice guidebook, contact PlayCore at or visit

arrow For more resources and programs on Kids and Trails, visit

arrow Learn more on the GameTime Play Trails page

arrow Request the Pathways for Play Guidebook

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