Parks for seniors

Two seniors enjoy bird watching in a field of tall grass.

Parks are special places where people of all ages can connect with nature, meet friends, and get some exercise. However, not all parks are as welcoming for senior citizens as they could be, and while seniors make up 18% of the population, they account for only 4% of park users. This not only hurts seniors, but it hurts all park users, since seniors play important roles in park communities.

Seniors make the best park champions!

Welcoming seniors to your park has benefits for users of all ages. Across the country, seniors have proved to be some of the most successful park champions, working to keep their parks safe and beautiful for the benefit of all. Seniors have tons of experience and they know how to get things done!

Are you a senior looking to give back to your local park? Are you ready to use your knowledge and experience to improve your community?

A group of smiling seniors pose around a net on a tennis court.

Here are a few ways to get engaged:

Promote safety. One of the best ways to make parks safer and more inviting for everyone is the presence of other park users. Positive park uses can even drive out negative ones, since people doing something illegal usually prefer not to have lots of other people around. Because seniors frequently have unique schedules, they can help keep parks feeling safe and inviting at times the parks might feel dangerous. Do you want to do more to make your park safer? Consider starting a civilian observation patrol.

Activate your park. Start an activity group. Walking clubs are great ways for neighbors to meet, spend time together, and get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors. Garden clubs, board games, or playing chess can all be fun activities that will help to make a park feel active and safe.

Stewardship and organizing. Seniors are often the most effective parks advocates and organizers. You have a lifetime of knowledge, skill, and experience to bring to your local park. Are you good at organizing people? Consider starting a friends group. Do you love working with your hands or have a green thumb? Call up your parks department and ask about volunteer opportunities.

Identify improvements. Your city’s parks departments might not know how to make parks better for people of all ages. Residents like you can play an important role in helping them to figure it out. Performing a walk audit, a public space audit, and a public space field study can be great ways to identify needed improvements within and around the park.

Senior-friendly park design

Ready to get started making changes in your local park? Whether you are a senior looking for ways to improve your community, or just a neighbor trying to ensure quality parks for all, you have an important role to play in advocating for senior-friendly design. These design features benefit many users, as accessibility and ease of use are equally valuable to a young child, people with mobility challenges, and others with unique needs. Whether you are requesting upgrades through your local government, participating in the design process of new parks during community engagement events, helping to fund raise together with your local friends group, or even taking on park improvements yourself as a steward, there is a lot that you can do.

Here are some ways to improve specific elements of your local park to make it friendlier for seniors.

A group of seniors walk down a path on a sunny day.

Paths and trails
  • Choose materials with traction and avoid anything slippery.
  • Adding curbs to paths makes them safer for people in walkers or wheelchairs. Handrails are also helpful, particularly on stairs.
  • Provide good lighting for parks that remain open at night.
  • Incorporate distance markers every quarter mile so that walkers can track their progress.
  • Make the walking experience interesting by incorporating a variety of visual experiences, for example, colorful plants, artwork, or interesting materials.
  • Gently curving trails create changes in views and are more interesting than straight trails.
  • Trails should be a variety of lengths and difficulty levels to promote physical activity for all.
  • Avoid creating trails with dead ends.

An image of a park demonstrates design and layout with pathways and plantings.

Park design and layout
  • The park’s layout should be simple and easy to understand, even from the entrance.
  • In large parks, a tall, visible feature (like a clock tower or a tall tree) could help with orientation.
  • Try to locate new parks in quiet areas, away from major highways.
  • Use pleasant, natural sounds (e.g., a fountain or the wind rustling through leaves) to cover up outside noises like traffic or construction.
  • Create options by providing busy areas that allow users to be part of the crowd, and more private spaces that provide peace and tranquility.
  • Mature trees create shade, making the park more comfortable.
  • Make the park visually stimulating by providing a variety of views, including colorful planting and public art. Are there certain plants or trees that might be culturally significant to the local community?
  • Make sure getting to the park is easy and safe, with safe intersection crossings that are clearly visible and audible, and allow plenty of time for seniors to cross.

Two women use exercise equipment in an outdoor space with grass and trees.

  • Offer opportunities for both passive recreation (e.g., places to sit, read, people-watch, play cards or other board games, and socialize with friends) and active recreation (e.g., walking paths, exercise activities, gardening).
  • Fitness equipment should allow for different levels of intensity and ability. For example, ellipticals and stationary bikes can be lower impact than weightlifting equipment.
  • Place fitness equipment primarily in the shade, away from heavy-traffic areas, and, if possible, in locations with interesting views.
  • Some park amenities can bring people together. Things like BBQ pits, picnic areas, and tables for chess or board games can help to make social interactions possible.
  • Providing community garden plots for flowers or vegetables can have a ton of benefits. They promote contact with nature, privacy, and physical activity.
  • Consider adding a wandering garden, a safe place for elders with dementia to walk.

A smiling woman sits on a park bench near some shady trees.

  • Place some seating in the shade (e.g., near large trees or a gazebo) and some seating in the sun.
  • Consider seating arrangements that allow people to comfortably socialize (e.g., benches facing each other, at right angles, or in a circle).
  • Some seating should feel private and allow people to spend time alone.
  • Movable chairs and tables can be great ways to add choice to your park. Just make sure they are not too heavy. They should be easy to move.
  • Place seating at frequent intervals along paths to provide rest stops. Every 25 feet is ideal.
  • Where possible, the seating should face interesting views, both inside (e.g., some artwork or plantings) and outside the park (e.g., a skyline, lake, or mountain range).
  • Use comfortable seating with good back support and arm rests.
  • The area around the seating should be flat and level to avoid trips.

A park sign describes a local bird species with images and text.

Signs and maps
  • Include signs with the park’s name and a map at the park’s entrance as well as throughout the park.
  • Be sure to include signs with educational information (e.g., plant labels or historic information), plus important instructions (e.g., how to use fitness equipment).
  • Use visual graphics in addition to text.
  • Include signs in braille.