An often overlooked aspect of the landscape plan is the walkway design. Our attention is often focused on the main attraction – be it a pond, a swimming pool, a garden, a patio, or anything else of interest in the yard. We might take the walkway for granted because we think we just need a simple path or sometimes no path at all to get from point A to point B. The correct way to design a walkway would be to lay out all of the hard surfaces prior to designing the landscape so that the softscapes can accent the hardscapes, not the other way around. You need to get the main skeleton in place before you start dressing it up.
By neglecting the walkway design, we may unknowingly risk the following:
- The garden may become disjointed or may lack cohesion with the house.
- Access to the house or the yard may be inconvenient or even cumbersome.
- A simple path may become unsafe.
- The trail may become muddy and uninviting.
- You may end up needing to remove some landscape elements to install a new walk.
If the path is well thought out, there will be benefits to be enjoyed:
- Well-defined walking areas.
- A clear path of travel through the yard.
- A cohesive and comfortable garden and landscape.
- An inviting and easily accessible path to key areas of the yard.
- Advanced planning and doing things in the correct order will always save time and money in the long run.
To help you develop a good walkway plan, we’ve listed some essential guidelines. On this page, we will be covering the following topics that contribute to the creation of a good walkway design:
- Width Guidelines
- Budget and Cost
- Helpful Tips
- Design Ideas
Table of Contents
Here are some of the most important points to consider when planning your walkway.
Function – What is the purpose of the walkway?
When planning a walkway, the first question is; what is the purpose? A walkway to welcome guests from the road to your home will be much more grand in both design and size than a simple path back to the herb garden.
The walkway going to the house’s front door will likely have much more foot traffic than the path into the backyard. Also, this front walk will be used by delivery people, movers, friends, and family, so it needs to be designed to suit all types of visitors. A primary walkway’s design needs to be sturdy, solid, wide, and smooth to accommodate a wheelchair, persons carrying or rolling heavy objects, and to prevent people from tripping.
It is often wider to allow at least two people to pass simultaneously or wide enough to be carrying grocery items or other stuff going to the house. The choice of material will be driven by its purpose as well as its aesthetic value. You will typically be choosing a very hard, solid surface such as concrete or stone.
For the path that leads to the garden, the foot traffic and its usage will be considerably less. This is called a secondary walkway or an auxiliary walkway. This pathway may branch out from the primary walk, or it may be entirely separate. Its purpose is often a route for a casual stroll through the yard or garden, but it could also be used for utilitarian reasons such as yard work and maintenance. Its width and material requirements are usually much more flexible than the front walk. It can be a simple gravel path, a wooden walkway, or even a casual stepping stone trail through the garden. While this path is typically more narrow, keep in mind that it may need to be wide enough for garden carts or wheelbarrows.
Aesthetics – How do you want the walkway to look?
When planning a walkway, consider choosing a design and material that will complement and blend visually with the style and architecture of the house. This will help create cohesiveness in the overall theme of the property. For example, if you have a modern-looking home, you don’t want a traditional or historic-looking brick-layered pathway to go with it as it will look off-sync. But matching it with a geometrically shaped walkway design may be more appropriate as it complements the house design better.
When planning a walkway, consider whether you would like to create a formal or informal feeling. A straight line type of walkway evokes a formal mood or works well if you want to get to a particular destination quickly or conveniently. This works well with the primary walkway, where you prefer a quick walk from the driveway to the house’s front door. An informal or casual walkway uses curves and makes for a more relaxing walk. Bends in a curved path allow for opportunities to place interesting plants or statues along the way. An informal walkway works best in a secondary path where the goal is not only to get to your destination (perhaps a pond, a fountain, a patio, or even a garden plot) but to enjoy the journey getting there. The opportunity to stop now and then to enjoy an interesting plant or feature along the way is often a good excuse for a widening of the path to accommodate a small bench or chair.
Safety – Make this a priority.
Consider also the safety aspect of the walkway. Make sure a smooth walkway has proper drainage and does not collect water. For example, in a primary walkway, because of the amount of traffic and frequency of use, a smooth and non-slip surface would be recommended. It is less of a concern for a secondary pathway, but you should still make sure there are no protruding roots or uneven tripping obstacles. Also, consider the placement of lawn sprinklers so that they don’t overspray the walks and create slippery or stained spots.
Another thing to consider would be the placement of walkway lights in the design. Make sure the path is well lit and does not have dark spots on the path. This will make for a very pleasant stroll through the garden regardless of the time of day.
Budget – How much do you intend to spend?
Knowing the budget for your walkway project means you will be able to accomplish what you envisioned without going overboard. Having a clear and concise budget will help you decide on materials as well as the overall scale of the project. It will also help you determine whether you will be able to hire a contractor or if this will need to be a do-it-yourself project.
Having considered the critical points in a walkway design, we can now consider material choices. By knowing the pros and cons of each type of material, we will better understand which option to choose.
While turf is never a good choice for the main front walkway, it is often a reasonable choice for some backyard paths. Walking on a turfgrass surface is like strolling on a golf course; it’s comfortable, looks neat, and blends well with flowering plants. It seamlessly unites your garden areas into one single garden rather than separate areas of the yard. It’s also easy to install using seed or sod and can be formed to almost any size and shape. Just make sure the path is wide enough to be able to use the mower.
A turfgrass path is relatively high maintenance when compared to many other surfaces, but the installation costs are very low. Turfgrass needs sufficient sun and nutrients to grow, so it will be a challenge in some of the yard’s more shaded and poor soil areas. Lastly, it’s not suitable for high-traffic areas as the soil tends to compact, and the turf will tend to thin with extensive wear.
Mulch is one of the simplest and easiest ways to create a path. It makes use of natural waste products such as wood chips, cocoa beans, and bark which can often be obtained at very low or no cost. Contact your local tree trimming service, a lumberyard, or a woodwork shop to find out if they have excess wood products to dispose of.
Mulch is light and very easy to spread. A layer of 3 or 4 inches may be enough to create your path and to block most weeds and turf, but be aware that this mulch will decay rather quickly, resulting in the need to replenish it every couple of years.
The upside of this, when used for a garden path, is that it replenishes nutrients in the soil as it decomposes.
Mulch is easily moved by high winds and water flow, as well as just being kicked around by foot traffic.
Mulch paths should never be used for front door walkways or too close to formal yard areas and are better suited for woodland paths where they blend in seamlessly.
Nothing compares to the feeling of walking on wood nor to its flexibility of design options that blend well with the outdoor landscape. A wooden walkway never fails to evoke a certain charm. Wooden walkways or boardwalks consistently rank high on the wish lists of homeowners. Depending on the design, they are attractive, fairly durable, and can be formal or casual. Another positive aspect of a wooden walkway would be that many people may feel more comfortable working with wood rather than stone or concrete products. They can be designed to work in almost any situation, bridge wet areas, include steps and handrails for sloped areas, and have a host of other design options.
Keep in mind that we are once again talking about wood, so it will be nowhere near as durable or long-lasting as stone or concrete walkways. We would typically not use a wooden walkway for a front entrance, but it is often used in backyard settings and goes well with wooden decks. A wooden walkway is susceptible to moisture, sunlight, and termites, so it needs to be treated well and often. Lastly, it can be slippery after rain, and cleaning the mud from its grooves can be challenging.
Gravel and Crushed Stone
Gravel or crushed stone is a popular choice of material because of its functionality, practicality, durability, and cost. Stone products for walkways are often ordered in bulk by the ton and can typically be delivered right to your home and dumped in the driveway for you to apply at your leisure. The good thing about stone is that it is very durable, easy to install, and will practically last forever. The downside is that it is stone, so it is heavy to move and place. Gravel and stone paths offer good drainage, have low-maintenance requirements, and can withstand heavy traffic. While the path material will last a very long time, it will still need some maintenance.
On the downside, because the gravel pieces are loose, they can spill out into garden areas and get tracked into the house, so don’t use them near entryways. Also, it can pose a problem when placed in areas where you need to shovel snow. You should plan to order a bit of extra stone every few years to replenish low spots and to rake it smooth.
I would always recommend installing landscape fabric below any loose stone path to prevent the gravel and dirt from mixing and prevent weeds from popping through the walk. You should also plan to skim off a bit of topsoil if your walk is to be installed through soft fertile ground.
Flagstone or Stepping-stones
Flagstones or stepping stones are typically made of stone that naturally breaks out of the quarry in layers, such as limestone, bluestone, and some sandstones. It is typically 1-2 inches thick and durable, yet relatively easy to cut or fracture to shape.
It can be purchased in specific patterns or shapes to be laid in a more formal pattern, or it can be purchased in randomly broken pieces that can be used individually as a stepping stone path or can be pieced together like a puzzle in a detailed walkway.
There is little need for any prep or excavation when used as a random stepping stone path through a garden. Simply flatten out the area beneath each stone and lay them down. Any number of different materials or plants can fill in the gaps in a walkway like this. Common materials are turfgrass, mulch, gravel, sedum, mosses, etc.
When installed in pattern, it is advisable to first excavate to hardpan, prep a crushed stone base and lay the stone on that. The stones are durable enough to handle heavy foot traffic, but depending on the installation, they may move and create tripping hazards, especially in areas prone to freezing ground.
Flagstone has long been used for both formal, grand front walkways as well as meandering random garden paths. The difference is typically installation method more than stone variations.
If you are looking for a walkway material that’s relatively affordable and very durable, concrete might be the answer. Concrete is a very durable and low-maintenance pathway solution but possibly not the most aesthetically pleasing choice. It is no longer limited to a solid gray, monotonous color but can be shaped, stained, colored, etched, or engraved with a bit of imagination. This makes it versatile and popular for DIY projects.
Like any walkway material, concrete does have some issues. Some cheaper colored concrete products may chip or fade over time, making for a more dull or less desirable surface. Sealants can help prolong the color, but this can be an added maintenance procedure.
Concrete requires curing time upon completion, so it cannot be used immediately, and once it is cured, it may require a jackhammer to remove it, so you had better be sure that you have all of your design decisions figured out prior to pour day. It is one of the most durable products you can choose, and when poured thick enough, it can be almost timeless. It will crack over time in frost-prone areas and when not installed correctly. It is hard to repair if it does crack or chip, and the repaired area will never look the same as the original. When pouring and finishing concrete for outdoor paths, be sure to leave a brushed surface for traction rather than a smooth polished surface like what might be used indoor.
Brick is a relatively durable material with great design flexibility and options. It is well suited to grand front walkways as well as quaint garden paths. It is made from clay, so it looks very natural and can be laid in countless patterns. It will hold up well to heavy traffic and ages nicely when installed correctly.
Like most hard surface materials, base preparation is the key factor in the long-term quality of the walkway. Brick is typically laid in one of two ways.
Dry laid – this requires excavating to hardpan and preparing a compacted base of crushed stone on which to set the brick. The walkway would be typically edged with mortar, plastic or metal, to keep the brick in place. This can last many lifetimes if done properly, but it will move a bit with the freeze and thaw in areas prone to this.
Wet Laid over slab – in this method, the brick is mortared down to a poured concrete base, making it very durable and long-lasting but prone to cracking like a poured concrete slab would be.
Brick can be more expensive and tedious to install than concrete pavers or other materials due to its small size and the need for proper prep and alignment. Some brick can be prone to cracking in wet areas that are prone to freezing, as moisture can seep into the clay brick and force a crack when it freezes.
The term pavers typically refers to any shape of man-made concrete products manufactured to look like clay brick or stone. They can be almost any size or shape and come in a vast range of colors and patterns. It has become a favorite walkway choice because of its diversity, durability, and economical cost.
Because they are made out of concrete, they are very durable and long-lasting. They can be purchased in interlocking shapes that are great for heavy-use areas.
Once again, these pavers can be installed in the same fashion as listed above with clay bricks. The casual onlooker may not know the difference between some brick pavers versus clay bricks or natural stone.
You can combine different materials and techniques to create pathways to meet almost any aesthetic desire or taste. Many have combined stone, gravel, brick, and concrete to create one-of-a-kind walkways that are both unique to their property and very durable and timeless.
Walkway Width Guidelines
How wide should a walkway be? The width of a walkway will usually depend on its purpose, where it is located, and what it leads to and from. A primary front walkway needs to accommodate passing foot traffic as well as package carts, furniture dollies and all sorts of different transportation devices. The rule of thumb for a primary walkway is to be four feet wide, which will allow two people to walk comfortably side-by-side, but you will often see three-foot-wide primary paths that do the trick.
A secondary pathway is narrower and usually wide enough for a single person. These secondary walks can be almost any width but are generally more narrow than the primary walkway and sometimes as sparse as a slight path of stepping stones. A comfortable walking path through the backyard is often two feet wide.
Walkway Budget and Cost
When installing a new walkway, the cost depends on several factors, such as the size of the path, the material you will use, and the complexity of the design. The price will also vary depending on your state and the contractor you will use if you choose to do so.
Budget numbers are always tricky, and they often come down to the contractor. If you are lucky enough to find a seasoned crew that takes its time with installation and prides itself on quality, you may pay more than any of the costs listed below.
If you find yourself someone new to the business, you may find it cheaper than what is listed below, but you probably don’t want that contractor installing your walk. Corners will need to be cut, and those corners are usually cut in the base prep, which will result in a good-looking walk for the first few months that will deteriorate soon after.
To know the approximate cost of your walkway, you can use the following figures for your budget computation.
Material Price Per Square Foot:
- Wood: $3 – 22
- Gravel: $1 – 5
- Flagstone: $15 – 30
- Poured Concrete: $5 – 16
- Stamped Concrete: $8 – 20
- Clay Brick: $10 – 30
- Pavers: $8 – 30
With a budget on hand, you can ask at least three contractors for an estimate. Compare the three professional estimates to get a fair price for your walkway project. Please keep in mind that the most challenging part of the installation is the base, so the cheaper bids will undoubtedly have less base work figured into the price. Less base will result in less long-term quality. With the professional estimates on hand, you will see if the cost is within your budget, or you may need to revise your plan to fit your budget.
You can save on the cost if you make it into a DIY project, but this will depend on your skillset and willingness to work and learn. DIY doesn’t need to mean low quality. The right DIY project can be much cheaper and often better quality than the cheap contractor options simply due to the homeowner’s commitment and willingness to do the work when it gets hard.
Now that you have an idea of what is needed to design a proper walkway, there are some things to keep in mind.
Don’t hesitate to seek advice from pros early in the planning stage. Contractors and landscape architects will gladly answer questions specific to your site as they stand to gain, should they be awarded the project. You need to have clear specifications and designs if you expect to get comparable bids.
When interviewing and choosing contractors, it is often better to go with the person who seems more trustworthy and knowledgeable.
When making your walkway design, sketch out a layout plan on a piece of paper and mark it on the ground using twine, hoses, flags, or paint. This way, you will be able to visualize the walk and figure square footage accurately.
A curving path is more interesting than a straight path but always more challenging to install and thus more expensive.
Most paths would require a crushed stone base to stay level for years to come. This base is anywhere from 4 inches to a foot or more, depending on the ground below. Laying any sort of base on top of soft friable topsoil will result in a walkway that moves over time.
For walkways to have proper drainage, they must be pitched. The pitch should not exceed more than 2% for primary walkways, or it will become a safety hazard when covered with water or ice. Secondary walkways can pitch with the ground or be stopped, but both types should be designed and installed to shed rather than collect rainwater and runoff.
When adding steps to offset the slope difference or to bridge height differences in the garden, keep all the steps’ height consistent; the suggested height is 6 to 7 inches. Anything less than 4 inches or above 7 inches can be a trip hazard, especially for older adults. If you break up the steps with landings, the landings should be around 4 to 5 feet to allow for a rhythm of movement.
Sprinklers near a sidewalk or walkway should be installed in an alternating pattern. This will provide complete coverage without overspray that may cause slippery walkways or unnecessarily wetting cars or pedestrians.
Before embarking on a project that will affect the frontage of your property, check with your local planning department or homeowners association for zoning laws.
Take your time with all aspects of your walkway project. From the initial concept and design to the setting of the final stone, there is no need to rush. A walkway will be part of your property for generations to come, making it worth the effort.