nature trails

Nature Trails – 3 Reasons Why You Should Build Them

As a wild homesteader, you are creating amazing areas of abundance filled with food for you and your family that also support wildlife. You may think it’s best to minimize trails or paths, but sometimes these features are exactly what a wild homestead needs. Creating a series of nature trails is a great way to let you and your family connect with this natural abundance that you have helped create. Keep reading to learn why nature trails are a great addition to a wild homestead.

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A wild homestead is not just a place for wildlife; it’s also a place for family and friends to connect with nature. If we want to heal the human-nature divide and build a natural life, we need to integrate nature into our lives as much as possible.

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

When you create nature trails on your wild homestead, you’re not just making it easier for maintenance and harvest—you’re also making it easy for you and your family to explore and connect with nature.

I’m creating a whole series of nature trails on my wild homestead. 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 wild homestead, 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 Wild Homestead

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 a wild homestead, you need to have some areas that are off limits to people, to give all the soil life and critters in the mulch some space. But don’t worry—you can still step in for maintenance and to harvest your produce.

A wild homestead is an amazing place to explore and to live. 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 low-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 wild homestead.

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 wild homestead. All of this will provide great habitat for wildlife, which will add to the richness and diversity of your wild homestead 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 his wild homestead! 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 a natural life!

Making your wild homestead welcoming for family and friends will make it much easier to build a natural life. 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 a wild homestead, and a beautiful way to build a natural life. I want people to be able to explore and connect with nature on my wild homestead without worrying about every step they take.

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 homestead.

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! But before you go, 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.

And be sure to leave a comment sharing about any nature trails you’ve set up on your wild homestead!

nature trails

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Eric says:

    Simply put, you need to walk somewhere and what is the point of wilderness if you cannot enjoy it. I keep a series of trails on my property, constructed so that you cannot see the end of the trail from the beginning of the trail. This makes the trail look longer than it really is.

    • Daron says:

      I fully agree that having trails is a necessary part of a wild homestead and making them so you can’t see the end is fantastic. It really does improve the trail experience and can make even short trails feel much wilder. But I also like to leave some areas without trails for wildlife to get away from us busy humans. Thanks for the comment here and on permies!

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