Our world’s forests are filled with temporary and permanent roadways for commercial and public use.

Loggers drive semi-trucks and other heavy machinery through forest floors for harvesting season. Other clients may construct and maintain national park roads for citizens to enjoy years down the line.

No matter what kind of forest road you’re building, it’s crucial to have the right design and foundation. You must build a structure with plenty of load support for whatever kind of vehicle traffic without negatively impacting the environment.

Three Types of Forest Roads

Between environmental conditions, weather, weight loads, and use patterns, every forest road is different.


Temporary forest roads are the most common and least expensive type of roadway. Requiring the least amount of engineering, they are only safe to drive when the ground is frozen or firm.

Timber harvests, for example, and other one-time projects are situations where temporary forest roads come into play.

Permanent Seasonal

Despite being attached to main roadway systems, drivers can only use them when the surface is hard or frozen. Most permanent seasonal roads are narrower and designed to lower engineering standards.

These are commonly used for hunting or fishing or similar activities.

Permanent All-Season

The most involved type of forest road, permanent all-season roads, are usable year-round with minimal restrictions.

Your company will pay the most to construct and maintain these types of forest roads. These usually have gravel or some other similar surface.

Permanent all-season roads make the most sense for things like fire control and wildlife habitat improvement.

Temporary Frozen or FirmInexpensive Timber Harvest 
Permanent SeasonalFrozen or FirmMedium Hunting or Fishing 
Permanent All-SeasonAnytimeExpensive Fire Control or Wild-Life Habitat Improvement 

How Do I Decide Which Type of Road I Need?

A crucial part of your project’s planning phase is deciding which road type you need. It carries drastic impacts on cost, project timeline, the amount of planning needed, and design considerations.

While you may not always consider weight-bearing capabilities, permanent roads are often stronger and more durable than temporary roads. You can construct temporary roads with higher weight limits, but those changes increase the costs.

The following factors determine whether you install a permanent forest road or temporary one:

  • Frequency, volume, and weight of expected vehicle traffic
  • Existing environmental conditions, including slope grades, soil composition, and surrounding deterrents
  • Project budget and timeline
  • Potential future uses

Why Having a Well-Designed Road Matters

When working on forest roads, it may be tempting to cut corners, slash as many costs as possible, and reduce the planning phase. Most only see limited or seasonal use and don’t span past a client’s brief project.

Your failure to design and build a solid, eco-friendly road can have devastating effects on the environment and the firm’s reputation.

Clients won’t want to hire you as an engineer if the last forest road you built resulted in severe erosion and groundwater pollution problems.

Below are some important considerations for forest road maintenance and design.

Decreases Maintenance Costs

The more strategic you are and the more funds you have to spend, the less money you’ll need for the road’s ongoing maintenance. This is true with most development and construction projects.

With less damage and vehicle wear and tear, well-designed forest roads have less maintenance and repair costs.

Ensures Proper Drainage and Protects Water Quality

Allowing roadway drainage is a primary objective when constructing forest roads, especially when protecting the surrounding environment.

Proper erosion control on roadways and shoulders protects water quality, particularly when dealing with steep slopes.

Steps like installing the correct drainage designs, surfacing the road, and stabilizing the area immediately after construction will help ensure proper drainage.

Allows Heavier Loads and Increased Profits

While it costs more to build upfront, well-designed forest roads allow for heavier weight leads, helping companies increase profit. Engineers who design roadways for leisure and government services can expect more functionality.

Reduces Negative Environmental Impacts

Water flow naturally drains over the road, but you should construct forest roads that protect insecure areas against high velocities.

You’ll notice sedimentation and soils pick up from the steep or unstable ground, polluting lakes and streams. Proper road construction plays a key role in preserving a region’s overall water quality.

Forest Road Material Options

Engineers can utilize various forest road materials for different projects and road types. In some cases, companies can get by placing sod or crushed rock for temporary roads.

Permanent roads, on the other hand, require more involved solutions when used for larger projects and higher weight loads.

Below are a few of the most common forest road materials:

  • Compacted Gravel
  • Mulch
  • Geocell
  • Sod
  • Crushed rock

Forest Road Design, Construction, and Maintenance Best Practices

Keep Grades Below 10% Where Possible

As much as possible, construct your new road on level surfaces. Most forest roads dictate following the slope, but reliable construction doesn’t have grades higher than 10%.

If you choose to construct forest roads with sustained slope grades higher than 10%, they almost always require paved surfaces.

Minimize Mileage, Length, and Width

By planning a roadway’s design and construction, you can reduce its mileage without compromising safety. Efficient resource management is your job when building a safe, long-lasting forest road.

It’s really quite simple: the less road surface you have to construct, the lower your final costs will be.

Know the Local Regulations

Understanding local building and statewide agency regulations is crucial for all forest road construction projects. We recommend consulting with experts, so you don’t disregard any rules. One roadway misstep costs thousands to repair.

Utilize the Right Water Diversion Techniques

Drainage design and flows are some of the most important components of building forest roads.

To accomplish proper drainage and ensure that water flows to the right places, you need water diversion devices. Choosing the correct type(s) is the difference between your project failing after a small storm or holding up under severe weather.

Whether you end up utilizing wing ditches, a cross-drain culvert, water bars, or some combination, it’s important that your drainage system matches specific road conditions.

All forest roads should have a 1% to 2% grade to prevent pooling.

Consider Future Uses

Don’t just build your forest road with your current project in mind. Planning for potential future uses ensures you don’t waste resources and quickly pivot into any new projects.

For instance, you’ll need to consider the surrounding landscape and resources when developing a forest road for a one-time timber harvest. It may make more sense to invest more into a permanent, seasonal roadway after deliberation.

Stabilize and Fix Disturbed Areas Quickly

While poorly-designed roads cause erosion down the line, most soil erosion occurs immediately after construction. The best way to mitigate erosion risk is to stabilize and fix disturbed roadway areas.

The longer the area remains disturbed and unstable, the more likely it is that soil erosion will occur.

Geocell for Forest Roads

Whether working on a temporary road for a short-term project or a permanent, all-season forest road, you know how costly mistakes can be.

To avoid negative environmental impacts and potential road failures, we recommend using geocell panels.

Geocell is perfect for temporary, permanent seasonal, and permanent all-season forest roads. Regardless of the infill or surface material, it creates reliable roads that reduce company costs and environmental impact.

Schedule a project evaluation with our BaseCore experts to learn more about how geocell can help your project. Give us a call at (888)-511-1553 today.