Welcome to our guide to gravel driveway designs including popular types of gravel, sizes, cost and common installation and maintenance tips. A gravel driveway can be an inexpensive and low maintenance home addition that works well with many styles of homes. It’s used for driveways and roadways in many rural areas and can give a home a charming rustic feel, or modern look depending on the design.
Types of Driveway Gravel
There are many different types of driveway gravel. Many of these listed are budget friendly and easy to install and maintain. Visit this page for additional types of driveways.
Pea Gravel Driveway
The stones that make up pea gravel are small — no larger than a pea, in fact. Some homeowners feel that the stones are too smooth and their feet or wheels sink into pea gravel more than they’d like.
With a properly compacted base and middle layer, this shouldn’t be a problem and is mostly a matter of personal preference. To avoid being disappointed, make sure to try out a pea gravel surface before committing to installing it in your own driveway.
If you want a color other than gray, pea gravel can be a great choice since it comes in various shades of brown, tan, and rust.
The most expensive material for the top layer of a gravel driveway is marble chips. Made from real white marble, crushed into small, squarish stones, expect to pay at least $2 per square foot.
The finished driveway will be stylish and practical, and may even raise the value of your home.
Though it sounds like a verb, quarry process is actually a noun — it’s the name of an inexpensive type of gravel that is commonly used in driveways.
Quarry process is an ideal material for the middle layer of your gravel driveway because it usually has stone dust mixed in.
Stone dust helps fill in the spaces between the stones, making them less likely to shift, while still allowing for appropriate drainage.
Quarry process is never used for the top layer of driveways — it’s too dusty. If you have low lying areas of your driveway or excessively soft ground, quarry process can be used to fill them in before starting the installation process.
Jersey Shore Gravel
Jersey Shore Gravel is a specialty product that is only available in northeast America. It is very popular for driveways. This yellow-colored gravel is available in two sizes: ¾” and ⅜” diameter.
Jersey Shore gravel is one of the least expensive forms of gravel if you are lucky enough to live within the delivery area of a gravel mine. If you live outside of the northeast, delivery costs will likely outweigh any cost savings.
Crushed Gravel Driveway
Gravel is gravel, right? Not when it’s crushed stone! But wait, isn’t all gravel just crushed rocks? That’s right — the distinction comes from how the crushing was achieved.
Gravel technically refers only to rocks that were naturally broken down by weather and/or erosion. ‘Crushed stone’ is the name given to rocks that are artificially broken down using heavy machinery. ‘Real’ gravel tends to be a bit smoother than crushed stone.
This type of gravel is well known among driveway installers for its excellent drainage. Besides stones, the gravel also has sand, clay, and stone dust mixed in, making it more stable than stones alone. It makes a perfect middle layer for a gravel driveway since the stones are 1½“-2” in diameter.
Base Gravel #3 (Base Layer)
One of the most popular materials for a base layer is aptly named; Base Gravel #3. This is the quintessential gravel used to form the foundation of your new driveway.
The stones are large and irregularly shaped, which helps them lock into place and minimizes shifting after installation.
The signature quality of river rock gravel is the smooth surface of the stones. Whether gathered from a riverbed or artificially created, river rock gravel is a beautiful material.
However, it is not recommended for use in driveways. The rounded, smooth stones are slippery when dry and downright hazardous when wet, and vehicles can struggle to get sufficient traction.
If you’re in love with this type of gravel, don’t despair! River rocks provide excellent drainage and make a great edging material.
Best Gravel for Driveway
Your gravel driveway will certainly be attractive, but will it be functional as well? Yes, as long as you choose the right kind of gravel.
Small, angular stones with rough edges make the best material for the top layer of your gravel driveway because they form a steady and stable surface. Rounded or smooth stones are a recipe for slippage and potential injury.
The two best types of gravel for a top layer are pea gravel or Jersey Shore gravel.
The middle and base layers won’t be seen once the project is complete, so the best gravel to use for these lower layers is whatever is most cost-effective in your area.
Contact several suppliers for quotes, and make sure delivery is included in the quote. This is also a great time to ask if the truck will spread the gravel or just drop it off.
Driveway Gravel Sizes
The top layer of a driveway should be composed of stones smaller than one inch in diameter. Larger than this and the stones will shift under uneven weight, making for an unstable driving and walking surface.
The middle layer of a gravel driveway needs to link the smaller stones of the top layer with the larger stones of the base layer, and allow for drainage.
The stones in the middle layer of a gravel driveway should be between one and three inches in diameter. The base layer should be composed of large, very rough rocks — at least two to three inches in diameter.
Best Size Gravel for Driveway
The best size for the top layer gravel is smaller than 1 inch.
Gravel Driveway Cost
One of the reasons gravel driveways are so popular is their inexpensive price tag. An asphalt driveway costs, on average, between two and four dollars per square foot.
A cement driveway is even more expensive, costing between four and six dollars per square foot. Should you decide to add finishes, details, or stains to the cement, the cost can rise to $15/square foot.
Gravel driveways, on the other hand, are seldom more expensive than $1.80/square foot, and can sometimes be installed for as little as $1.25 per square foot.
A small, one-car gravel driveway of 10 feet x 20 feet should cost between $250 and $400. An average driveway, 16 x 40 feet, will cost between $800 and $1,200.
A larger two-car driveway measuring 20 feet by 60 feet should be priced at $1,500 to $2,200. If you want premium materials, such as marble chips, expect to pay a premium on top of these cost estimates.
How Much Gravel for Driveway
To calculate how much gravel you will need for your driveway, you need to know its dimensions. Carefully measure the length and width of the driveway.
If your driveway is curved, not straight, you may need to measure it in segments and add them together to get the total length. Multiply your width by your length to get the surface area. Online calculators
Gravel Driveway Installation
Step #1: The first step in a gravel driveway installation is excavation. If you have an existing driveway of asphalt or cement, you’ll need to jackhammer it and haul away the debris.
If you are building on a new plot or creating a driveway where there wasn’t one before, use wooden stakes and string to delineate the dimensions of the driveway.
The entire surface area of the driveway must be excavated to a depth of at least 12 inches. This can be done manually if you have the patience and the strength. If not, pay someone with a bulldozer to do it for you.
Step #2: Second, to get a level gravel driveway, you will need a hard and level surface. A backhoe will make short work of this step, as it is capable both of leveling the ground and compacting it.
Without a backhoe, you’ll need a tamper or a plate compactor. A tamper is a handheld tool with a long handle and a heavy plate. The plate is manually lifted and placed on soft soil, helping to compact and level it. They are inexpensive and widely available.
A plate compactor is a gas-powered machine that does the hard work of leveling and compacting for you. They can usually be rented at home improvement stores.
Compacting the soil drives the air out of it, making your gravel driveway less susceptible to ground level changes during the freeze/thaw cycle.
Step #3: The third step is optional — treating for weeds. A barrier of landscape fabric can be pinned down over the entire surface of the future driveway. Properly installed, landscape fabric largely inhibits (but does not completely eliminate) plant growth.
Step #4: You are finally ready for the actual gravel to arrive. You’ll need to schedule three deliveries, one for each type of gravel used to create a driveway.
The base layer should arrive first. Schedule the middle layer to arrive a few days later, and the top layer to arrive a few days after that. This will give each layer time to settle and give you some wiggle room should anything unexpected come up.
Some gravel suppliers will just drop off a load of gravel in a big pile, while others have trucks that are capable of spreading the gravel. Inquire before ordering to find out what’s possible.
If you’re spreading the gravel yourself, you’ll need a metal rake, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. After each layer, you’ll want to compress the gravel with a backhoe or by driving a heavy vehicle back and forth over the surface.
Once the final layer of gravel has been spread, it’s time for the final step of gravel driveway installation: crowning the driveway.
A metal rake is used to shape the top layer of gravel so that it’s higher in the middle, gently sloping to either side. This process should be repeated every few months to facilitate drainage.
Whenever you crown the driveway, spend some time neatening up the edges of the driveway, as smaller stones will migrate over time.
Gravel Driveway Layers
A gravel driveway has three layers. The first layer is called the ‘base layer’, and consists of large stones — about the size of baseballs.
After being properly compacted, the base layer will provide a sturdy foundation for the next two layers of gravel. The base layer should be a minimum of four inches thick.
The next layer to go down is the middle layer. These stones will be roughly golfball size. Three or four inches of mid-size gravel should be sufficient to provide a transition from the larger stones of the base layer to the finer gravel of the top layer.
Stone dust, sand, or clay dust is often added to the middle layer to help prevent the stones from shifting.
The top layer of a gravel driveway is the only layer that will be visible once the project is complete. Jersey Shore gravel, pea gravel, and marble chips are all popular choices for the top layer of a gravel driveway.
DIY Gravel Driveway
Unlike asphalt or cement, almost all phases of installing a gravel driveway are DIY-able. Determination and perseverance are necessary qualities, as most phases of installing a gravel driveway are monotonous and physically challenging.
Having help from a few friends or family members will make the work go much faster. Unlike many DIY projects, very few specialty tools are needed.
At minimum you should have; a strong shovel, a metal rake, a sturdy wheelbarrow (with an inflated tire), gloves, and a tamper.
How Deep Should a Gravel Driveway Be
Gravel driveways should be a minimum of 11 or 12 inches deep. The base layer and top layer must each be at least four inches deep. The middle layer can be three or four inches deep.
Excavating to a depth of 12 inches ensures that the top layer of gravel is flush with your lawn.
Gravel Driveway Drainage
Unlike asphalt or cement, gravel driveways are permeable. A properly installed and maintained gravel driveway should have minimal issues with drainage.
Crowning the driveway, or raking the gravel so that it is higher at the center, facilitates proper draining and should be done every few months.
Gravel Driveway Grid
To minimize the shifting of gravel and reduce the need for regular maintenance of your gravel driveway, some professionals recommend a gravel grid.
Made of heavy-duty plastic, the grid is laid down before the gravel, and then the stones are poured into it, helping them stay in place.
Gravel Driveway Borders
If you want to bring the level of maintenance needed down to almost nothing, consider adding a border to your gravel driveway.
The border can be made of any material, as long as it’s solid enough to keep the gravel from escaping. Pavers, cobblestones, and wood are all popular borders for gravel driveways.
Gravel Driveway Hardener
Some people recommend adding a little cement to the top layer of your gravel driveway, to harden it up and minimize dust.
It’s very easy to use too much cement and end up with a lumpy mess, so proceed with caution. If you want a hard surface with the look of gravel, consider resin-bound or resin-bonded gravel.
Gravel Driveway Maintenance
Gravel driveways don’t need much maintenance. Cleaning up the edges by hand and raking the top layer into a rounded crown every few months should be sufficient, especially if you’ve laid down landscape fabric to inhibit plant growth.
The most important thing is to keep an eye on the driveway and solve any problems quickly. You should periodically top up the level of gravel in the driveway as it settles.
Depending on how often your gravel is used you will need to add more gravel periodically. Adding fresh gravel is typically done every 1 to 5 years.
Gravel Driveway Q and A
How long do gravel driveways last?
A: With routine maintenance a few times a year, you can expect your gravel driveway to last up to 100 years. However, they will require maintenance every 1 to 2 years by adding fresh gravel depending on its use.
Do I really have to level and compact the driveway?
A: Yes, unless you want a headache in a few years. Skipping this step will result in a gravel driveway that seems fine at first, but will eventually develop potholes, puddles, and ruts.
What are the drawbacks of gravel driveways?
A: Gravel driveways are not accessible to wheelchair users, and may be difficult to navigate for those who use mobility aids. They can be difficult to plow since the gravel sticks to the snow.
Best Type of Gravel for Muddy Driveway
A muddy driveway will benefit from gravels without sand, clay, or stone dust. The stones in the gravel should be at least 1½“ in diameter, and each stone should touch another stone. This turns mud and muck into a firm surface suitable for a driveway.
How to Keep Gravel in Place on Driveway
To keep gravel in place on your driveway, consider adding a border or edging. A few inches of heavy gravel on either side of the driveway will help pen in the small stones of the top layer and keep them from washing away.
Crushed Asphalt vs Gravel Driveway
The main benefit of crushed asphalt vs gravel is less dust. Crushed asphalt is a recycled material, so it may be popular with eco-conscious consumers.
How to Fix a Gravel Driveway Overgrown with Grass
If you’ve inherited a gravel driveway that hasn’t been properly maintained, your lawn may have tried to creep in. Try a natural plant killer first, like white vinegar mixed with liquid dish soap. If that doesn’t work, you can move on to a chemical weed killer.
How to Fix Potholes in Gravel Driveway
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — avoid potholes by regularly crowing the driveway (raking it so it is slightly mounded in the center.)
If you catch potholes early, and only the top layer of gravel is involved, they can be easily fixed by raking the surrounding gravel back into place.
Add more gravel if necessary. If you wait, the potholes will get worse, eventually affecting the middle and even bottom layers.
Once this has happened, you will need to add hardcore gravel (finely crushed limestone) and compact it, then respread the top layer on top.
For more related designs visit our gallery of gravel patio ideas.