Walking tracks policy

National parks can be explored through many types of walking tracks. Some walking tracks are used more heavily than others.

Grand Canyon walking track in Blue Mountains National ParkAustralian Standard (AS) 2156 sets out 6 classes of walking track. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) aims to provide a variety of tracks in these 6 classes to meet the needs of park users.


1. Walking tracks must be planned in accordance with:

  • the park’s plan of management (PoM) or statement of interim management intent (SIMI)
  • the Park Visitor Facilities Policy (internal document available to staff)
  • the Park Facilities Manual (internal document available to staff), which includes technical descriptions of the 6 classes of walking track outlined in AS 2156.

2. Tracks must be appropriately located, designed to minimise environmental impacts, and appropriate to the setting, as noted in the Sustainability Assessment Criteria (internal document available to staff). The planning, development and management of walking tracks should also take into account:

  • public safety issues
  • how the track fits within other walking opportunities, such as off-park tracks
  • opportunities to provide access for people with disabilities
  • resources needed to keep the track maintained.

3. Generally only pedestrians are allowed on walking tracks unless a track has been designated as suitable for other users through a park’s PoM and the installation of signs. (People using motorised wheelchairs and other disability aids are ‘pedestrians’ for the purpose of this paragraph.)

4. The park authority may close part of or all of a walking track, either permanently or temporarily, for management or visitor-safety reasons. Decisions to close a walking track will be guided by the principles for closing park roads and trails that are outlined in the vehicle access policy.

5. The Australian Walking Track Grading System (AWTGS) is a means of informing the public about the features of a walking track so that visitors can confidently determine which tracks are appropriate for them. The AWTGS includes standard symbols and text for communicating walking-track experiences.

6. Information and signs to communicate walking-track experiences are to be provided in accordance with the Signage Manual (internal document available to staff).

7. In some places it’s appropriate to use interpretative signs to help visitors learn about parks. Such signs are most often used for tracks that correspond to Grades 1 and 2 of the AWTGS. They should explain natural and cultural features and their inter-relationships, rather than simply naming features.


8. Walking-track classes are used to guide the:

  • regular maintenance of existing tracks, using the Asset Maintenance System
  • design and construction of new tracks.

9. Tracks must be constructed and maintained to meet:

  • requirements in the Park Visitor Facilities Manual (internal document available to staff)
  • standard environmental planning and assessment guidelines (see Review of Environmental Factors guidelines (internal document available to staff))
  • standard construction assessment and approvals process
  • standard approvals under the Heritage Act 1977 where the track, or an element of the track, is an item on the State Heritage Register.

10. Walking tracks may be designated as multi-use if the track has suitable visibility, width, surface condition and gradient for multiple users (refer to the cycling policy. Multi-use tracks used primarily for walking must still be designed and classified in accordance with AS 2156.

11. The Australian Walking Track Grading System (AWTGS) is used to inform the public of the characteristics of a walking track. It also guides the quantity and content of information and directional signs on tracks. The AWTGS is applied in a two-step process:

  1. The grade of difficulty of a walk is determined using descriptors taken from the AS 2156. The table shows how grades would ideally correspond to AS 2156 classes, but use the AWTGS calculator to work out the standard text and symbol required. Note that a grade 5 walk is an amalgam of AS 2156 classes 5 and 6.

  2. AS 2156 class AWTGS grade
    1 1
    2 2
    3 3
    4 4
    5 5
    6 5*

  3. The technical grading of the walking track is translated into ‘plain English’ to communicate track features to the public (see paragraphs 12 and 15).

12. There may be funding available for creating signs or other material (brochures or web content) to communicate information about a track. If so, the information must at least include a track’s:

  • grade (difficulty) – for example, grade 1
  • length – for example, 10 kilometres
  • identifying symbol – for example, a sign indicating the track is wheelchair accessible. 

13. Identifying symbols for the 5 walking-track grades can be found in the catalogue of symbols and logos in the Signage Manual (internal document available to staff). These should be used on signs which communicate that a range of walking-track experiences are available in a particular park or precinct, such as:

  • minor entry signs
  • standalone entry signs
  • primary directional symbol bars.

14. Signage is generally not appropriate in very remote settings, so signs that communicate the features of a grade 5 walking track should be located only at trail heads. The Park Signage Manual offers further guidance on the kinds of signs appropriate for different settings.

15. To help visitors plan their park visit, the full suite of information about a walking track should (if possible) be provided in brochures, on websites and information boards, or through other means. This information should include the minimum details listed in paragraph 12, plus:

  • gradient
  • quality of path
  • quality of markings
  • experience required
  • time required
  • steps (if relevant).

Policy adopted 24 May 2017


This policy is intended to help NPWS staff:

  • meet government and industry standards in the design and classification of walking tracks
  • provide a range of walking experiences in parks that is suitable to the location and setting
  • provide a quality walking experience for park visitors that fosters public appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of natural and cultural heritage in parks
  • effectively communicate the different types of walking-track experiences that are available in parks.

Scope and application

This policy applies to lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (‘parks’). This policy does not apply to lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy. However, the policy still provides guidance for staff in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Definitions and abbreviations

Australian Standard (AS) 2156 provides a classification system for walking tracks, and guidance for the design, fabrication and use of track markers and information signs for walking tracks.

Park is a reserve gazetted under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, including a national park, nature reserve, historic site, Aboriginal area, State conservation area, karst conservation reserve, regional park or any land acquired by the Minister under Part 11 of the Act.

PoM means a plan of management for land reserved under the NPW Act, prepared under section 72 of the Act. Where the relevant park does not have a POM, the statement of interim management intent (SIMI) applies.

Walking track means a track or other access way that is not open to motorised vehicles (other than motorised wheelchairs and other mobility devices).

Management trail is a vehicle trail maintained to facilitate management activities and which is generally not open to public vehicular access.

Walking track class is the classification of the track based on the technical descriptors prescribed by Australian Standard 2156.

Walking track grade is the term used to inform the public about the difficulty of a walking track.


Accountabilities under this policy are in accordance with the delegation of Ministerial and Director-General functions under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009.