Summer Dirt Road Maintenance Tips

According to some estimates, over one-third of America's roads are unpaved. If you happen to rely on a dirt road to access your property, it's critical to maintain your roads to make sure that they're safe and clear year-round.

Here are a few tips to help you maintain your dirt roads during the sweltering summer months:

Drainage & Crowning

A dirt road's biggest foe is water. When water is allowed to pool, stand, or even flow incorrectly, your dirt road can quickly become an impassable mess. To help your road drain, you'll need to make sure that it's properly "crowned".

Crowning: a road's "crown" is its highest point. Ideally, your dirt road will crown at its center point. Positioning your crown in the middle ensures that water drains evenly on both sides. 

Ideally, your dirt road should be serviced to maintain ½ to ¾ inch of slope for every foot of road width. Thus, a 10-foot wide dirt road should be 5 - 7 1/2 feet higher at its center point than at its edges.

  • First, you'll need to measure your dirt road's crown. One of the most reliable and low-tech ways to measure your crown is with a straight, stout, length of lumber. Place one end of the wood at your dirt road's crown. You can have someone stand on the end of the lumber or you can hold it in place with a rock or brick. Next, you'll need to measure the distance from the other end of the wood to the surface of your road. Lastly, you will need to divide this number by the width of the road. If the number you calculate (the slope) is less than ½ - ¾ of an inch, you will need to re-crown your road.
  • Second, to re-crown your road you will need to put down a layer of topsoil, gravel, or sand. Next, you will need to water and smooth this top layer. If possible, letting the soil sit and repeating the watering/leveling process over several days is suggested. Once your new top layer is smooth and evenly distributed, you will need to use a road grater to crown your road. Most road graters have a manual setting, which grates the road to create a specified slope.

Drainage: after your road is canted, you can then focus on what's directly beside your road. Dredging and maintaining a shallow drainage canal along your road will ensure that once water flows off your road it will have somewhere to go.

  • First (if you need to dredge), although there is no established depth or width for a drainage canal, the wider and the deeper, the more effectively your dirt road will be able to handle heavy snow melt and/or rain. For the most part, if you take your area's average yearly precipitation, you should have a better idea of how much water your road will likely have to deal with. One of the most efficient ways to dredge your drainage canal is with a trenching tool (often used for digging sprinkler lines). When you're trenching your canals, dig them slightly wider when they are near culverts, creeks, and/or other natural drainage features.
  • Second, make sure that your trenches are clear of obstructions and/or debris. This often means removing large rocks, roots, and branches. It also means mowing (or burning) excess vegetation like weeds and grasses (particularly during the summer).

Dust & Dirt

Summer temperatures can turn your dirt road into a dusty mess. For road dust control, you should consider periodically laying down a thin layer of clay or sand. The density and composition of sand and clay essentially seals your road, making it less dusty and chalky during the summer.