How to Grade and Upkeep Long Gravel Drives and Accesses

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If you're wealthy, living on a large estate with a long paved driveway then this article's not for you. Just leave the maintenance to your groundskeepers while you bask on the beach in the south of France. For the rest of us commoners that have to maintain our own long sloping, gravel, rocky or even muddy driveways, maybe this brief discussion will offer a little assistance. I really hope so. After moving to the sticks nearly forty years ago and setting up housekeeping over one quarter mile from the county road, I discovered that I was going to be required to do periodic maintenance on our long, sloping gravel drive, that is if I wanted it to be passable. The times when I put off the work only added to my labor when I finally got started. Driveways, access trails to fields, ponds or other geographic features all must be maintained or they will eventually become impassable. A few tips with personal photos follow.

Things You'll Need

  • A tractor with a three point hitch and grading blade and/or front end loader. Consider borrowing, renting or leasing a tractor if you don't want to invest in one.
  • To install culverts a tractor with backhoe attachment is needed or the work must be contracted out to an excavator.
  • Driveways need to be crowned. That is, they need to be higher along the centerline than they are on the edges so that falling rain will head for the ditch and not begin running along in the drive itself. If this happens then it won't be long until you form a rut that will just get bigger and bigger. A flat surfaced, uncrowned drive will soon form pot holes and ruts from water run off.

  • Turnouts are important, especially on sloping drives, trails or other thoroughfares. Water moving downhill is continually gaining speed, momentum and volume. Have you ever seen concrete lined ditches alongside a sloped section of highway, the ones that have concrete bricks embedded in them? Those bricks are to slow the speed and force of rushing water. By placing turnouts, such as the one shown in the photo, you divert - get rid of - part of the runoff and most of it's damage causing potential. Usually these turnouts are placed at each side of the drive and a "humped up" portion of earth makes sure that the water leaves the drive at that point and does not head down the drive itself.

  • This turnout on a rocky hillside trail diverts water from a sloping agricultural access off into the drainage at the bottom of a hollow. This turnout to the right has a hump just below on the trail. Note that since there is an earth bank on the left side only a turnout to the right could be made. These turnouts are spaced at about fifty feet apart on this curvy descent to a river bottom field.

  • Where drainage crosses a trail or drive, a culvert, such as the plastic one shown in the photo, can be installed to stop deepening of the rut that was being made. This drainage crossing the trail was making a rut deep enough to cause problems getting over it.

  • This bridge was constructed at the owner's shop and is made of pressure treated wood. It was then transported by tractor to the site and set in place. This was much easier than constructing a bridge onsite. It was built strong enough to withstand large, heavy vehicles such as LP gas trucks, tractors and ready mix concrete trucks. Consider what traffic will pass over culverts and bridges that are to be constructed on your drives and accesses.

  • When buying a tractor you don't have to spend a fortune. Shop around awhile and look for what you want/need before making a decision. A three point hitch, front end loader, detachable backhoe, four wheel drive and extra hydraulics are all things to consider when shopping for your diesel workhorse.

  • This section of gravel driveway required gravel fill to keep soft material from washing out and forming pot holes. From time to time you may have to add crushed gravel or washed stone to parts of your access drive. Crushed stone will hold together far better than washed river stone/gravel.

  • A tractor with a front end loader, detachable backhoe and three point hydraulic hitch can be used to build and maintain drives and trails, install culverts, haul earth and gravel and all of the other tasks associated with gravel/dirt accesses.

Tips & Warnings

  • If a new drive is to be constructed consider hiring a professional excavator to do the work. After it is finished then you can maintain it. If you have the time, skill and equipment then do it yourself.
  • For soft or muddy places haul in or purchase crushed stone. Because of it's geometric shapes crushed stone will lock together and not move as much as washed stone/river gravel.
  • Go out and walk your drive during a heavy rain to determine how the drainage and runoff is working. Often you can head off problems by watching the water runoff patterns during a rain storm.

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  • Photo Credit Frank Jennings
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