Coastal sand dunes are considered among the most susceptible habitats to recreational use. The aim of this study was to monitor the impact of visitor use on soil and annual plants on long-established trails in the stabilised coastal dunes of the Sharon Park, Israel. The results indicate that: 1. The vegetation cover, height and species richness and diversity, as well as soil organic matter content were lower on trails subjected to high visitor use than that on trails under low use. However, soil compaction and moisture on high-use trails were higher than that on low use. 2. The rate of change in each of the vegetation properties moving outwards from the centre of the trail towards the undamaged area on its margins and beyond, was higher on trails under high visitor use than on low-use trails. 3. The impact of high visitor use is localised and limited to the trail boundaries and their immediate surroundings (6 m axis perpendicular to the trails), while the effect on low-use trails is dispersed over a larger area, apparently because the trail borders are less visually defined to the visitor. The conclusion derived from this study is that the spatial damage caused to the park by the numerous low-use trails is higher than that caused by the trails under high visitor use. Thus, there is an immediate need to reduce the number of this type of trails and to rehabilitate them. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.