Nature Trails - 3 Reasons you should Build them in your Own Backyard

Nature Trails – 3 Reasons to Build Them in your Own Backyard

When you work with nature to make the living world around you come alive, you're creating amazing areas of abundance filled with food for your family that also support wildlife. You may think it’s best to minimize trails or paths, but sometimes these features are exactly what your property needs. Creating a series of nature trails is a great way to let you and your family connect with the living world around you, and enjoy the vibrant abundance you've helped create. Keep reading to learn why nature trails are a great addition to your property.


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A property alive with abundance is not just a place for plants and wildlife. It’s also a place for family and friends to connect with the living world around us. Humans are a part of nature. And we can help heal the human-nature divide integrating nature into our lives.

This means bringing more of our day-to-day lives outdoors.

When you create nature trails on your property, you make it easier to keep up on maintenance and harvests. But you’re also creating space for your family and community to explore and connect with nature.

I’m creating a whole series of nature trails on my property. My family just loves taking walks through these trails and hanging out in the little resting areas that I made (sometimes called “sit spots”).

Nature trails make your land feel inviting but still wild.

Still not convinced? Keep reading for more reasons why you should build your own nature trail, plus tips on how to do it! But before you do, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print “Nature Trail Tips” cheat-sheet for some bonus tips to help you build an incredible nature trail.

Building a Nature Trail

Add nature trails to food forests

My new food forest out front has a whole network of nature trails! Even though this food forest is just getting started, my family and I already love walking around these trails and picking berries. (Soon it will have stone fruits too!) The birds love this area too, and it’s fun to sit on some of the resting areas and watch the birds.

Building a nature trail can be very simple or very complex, depending on your site conditions and the length and size of the trail.

On the simple side, a nature trail can essentially be just like a regular garden path.

Wild Tip:

Your nature trails will feel more “wild” if you add gentle curves to them instead of making them straight, like you would in a garden. This breaks up your line of sight, making the trail feel longer and wilder.

But if you need to build your trail on a slope, or if your soils are poorly drained, you will need to be more careful so that you don’t have erosion issues.

There are a lot of great techniques for dealing with these conditions. Here are 2 great resources that will walk you through the steps to making a nature trail in unfavorable conditions.

  1. Washington Trails Association – Trail Work Guide
  2. University of Arkansas – Nature Trail Development on Small Acreages

On my own property, I’ve lined my trails with logs and rockpiles to better define the nature trails. In doing so, I’ve also created micro-climates and established habitat for wildlife. But as noted in the guides above, these can also hold water on the trail.

I have mulched the trails heavily and there is little to no slope, so water is not a major issue. But be careful, and follow the recommendations of the guides if you have difficult conditions.

Minimize Human Impact to Your Property

nature trails limit human impact

My hedgerow is bordered by logs. These make it easy to define where to walk and where not to walk. While it’s great to explore your property, you need to have some areas that are off limits to people, to give the soil life and critters some space. But don’t worry—you can still step in for maintenance and harvesting.

A property that's alive with abundance for people, plants and wildlife is an amazing place to live and explore. But you also need to give nature some space away from your daily impacts.

Let’s face it. As a small critter, it would be hard to feel at ease if some giant came walking on top of your home all the time!

Building nature trails creates some areas of high human impact and other areas of little-to-no human impact. This gives areas for birds and other wildlife to hide as you walk by.

Having defined areas for people to walk also helps to reduce soil compaction. Even with a thick layer of wood chips, you can still get soil compaction.

Wild Tip:

You can add stepping stones leading off from the main trails to make it easier to harvest fruits, berries, and other crops that are not right along the main trails.

Plus, regular foot traffic in the wet time of the year can create muddy areas that you likely want to avoid. Having defined nature trails will prevent soil compaction and create space for all the wildlife you have attracted to your property.

Use Woody Debris or Rocks to Create Habitat and Micro-Climates

add habitat features to nature trails

Rocks and woody debris can be used to define the trail, create wildlife habitat, and micro-climates. Just be careful that you don’t trap water on your trail, making it a mucky mess!

Woody debris is great for wildlife, but sometimes it can be hard to find spaces for it. If you live in a neighborhood, your neighbors might not appreciate a large pile of logs in your front yard.

But if you take those same logs and use them to define a winding nature trail through your front yard—a nature trail filled with native wild vegetables, perennial vegetables, and a few fruit trees and berry bushes—you will instead be creating a space most neighbors will love.

A simple way to do this is to line the edges of a nature trail with 3 logs stacked to form a very long pyramid. Then add mulch to help disguise it, and plant a bunch of native wild flowers, perennial vegetables, or other plants along it.

The result will be great habitat for wildlife that is also beautiful and edible.

Even if you have the space for more traditional wildlife piles, this can still be a great way to add even more to your property. All of this will provide great habitat for wildlife, which will add to the richness and diversity of your property and help keep pests in check.

The logs and/or rocks you use to define your nature trails can also create micro-climates to help your plants.

Logs and rocks will create cool, moist areas underneath them that will help your plants get through the summer heat. Plus, rocks can also create warm micro-climates by giving off heat to the surrounding plants.

Just remember that edging your nature trails with rocks and logs can also hold water on your trails. With a good mulch layer and soil that drains well enough, this won’t be an issue. But keep in mind that low points and trails built in areas with poorly-draining soil could become mucky.

Nature Trails Create Space for People

People love nature trails

My toddler just loves exploring the nature trails on our property! Here, my son is sitting in one of my small side trails enjoying all the life around him. Nearby, I made a child-sized “sit spot” underneath a dwarf mulberry tree that looks out towards our bird feeder. It’s a great spot for snacking on mulberries and watching the birds.

If you have kids, or if you have people visiting with kids, well-defined nature trails make it much easier for everyone to know where they can run and explore. You can then add little nooks and other hidden areas to make it even more of an adventure.

If you add a bunch of flowers, berries, and fruits along the trails, plus some big logs kids can use as balance beams, you will likely end up with some very happy kids with berry stains all over their faces.

That’s what I call abundance for people, plants and wildlife!

Making your property welcoming for family, friends, and community will make it much easier to share your abundance with others. Without trails, it could be stressful having visitors who don’t know their plants.

I know for myself, I’m much less worried about a visitor stepping on some newly-planted vegetation when I have well-defined nature trails. Plus, I would rather be able to tell people they can go and explore than worry about them stepping in the wrong area.

Nature trails are a great addition to any property, and a beautiful way to help people enjoy the living world around you. 

Getting Started with Nature Trails

Start building nature trails

This food forest has a bit more regular, straight nature trails that are more focused on harvests than exploration. But I still added some little nooks and sitting areas to make this spot a fun place to hang out and explore.

So are you ready to build some nature trails? A great way to get started is to pick an area that you have been wanting to plant up and then define some trails.

Make the trails curved rather than straight, and make sure to add some nooks, side trails, and sitting areas.

This will make your growing beds much more interesting and fun to explore. Plus, your family, visitors (and you!) will easily be able to enjoy and explore your new growing area without worrying where to step.

Your new nature trails will also be providing habitat for wildlife and creating some great micro-climates to help your new plants grow.

Plus, you will be avoiding soil compaction in your growing areas.

Another great use of nature trails is to make it easier for you to explore any forested or wild areas you have on your property.

You can add some small winding trails through these areas, which will make it easier for you to explore and connect with nature. Add some sit spots, and you will be ready to start observing and learning from the wild areas around you.

Just make sure to leave some wild areas free from human use to give wildlife areas to hide.

So let’s go build some nature trails! And be sure to leave a comment sharing about any nature trails you’ve set up on your property!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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