Mulch and gravel paths can be meandering, wood chip–covered trails or carefully planned designs, and they range from casual to formal depending on the design and edging material. You can choose from a wide variety of loose materials including coarse bark, decorative mulch, washed stones and crushed gravel or shells.
You'll find bags of mulch at home centers, but for the best selection of organic materials for a path, check your local nursery or landscape supplier. Depending on how big your path is, it may be cheaper to have bulk material delivered than to buy bags. Plan on a 3-in.-deep layer of mulch about 3 ft. wide as an alternative to grass. Call the public works department at your city hall or check with local tree trimming services. They often have piles of wood chips or mulch that are free for the hauling.
Gravel for paths is sold by type and size. Smaller stones, averaging under 1/2 in., are best for paths because they offer more comfort underfoot and pack together better. Visit your local nursery or landscape supply specialist to see what's available in your area. Gravel is usually sold by the ton. Measure the length and width of the path. Take these measurements to the supplier and ask for help to figure out the quantity of gravel you need. Unless your path is very short, it usually makes sense to have the material delivered. Gravel for a path 3 in. deep and 3 ft. wide will cost about the same as mulch.
Gravel paths do have a few limitations, though. The stones can get tracked into the house, so don't use them near entries. And gravel paths are a bad choice in areas where you have to shovel snow off them. The gravel can end up in your lawn or flower beds.