The National Trails System Act was passed by Congress in 1968. They declared nationwide systems of trails – some scenic, some historic, and others recreational. The first 3 trails to be granted this designation have become known as the Triple Crown of Hiking: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
The National Scenic Trails are all at least 100 miles in length. They not only provide a great source of outdoor recreation, the designation helps to protect these beautiful places for coming generations.
The trails are co-administered and managed by many organizations – the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers – along with thousands of volunteers across the country.
National Scenic Trail designations were made by Congress in 1968, 1978, 1980, 1983 and 2009.
1. Appalachian Trail
This trail is 2,184 miles long, and was started in 1921 and completed in 1937, and was one of the first designated national trails in 1968. It begins in central Maine and goes to northern Georgia, crossing through the states of Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virgina and North Carolina. There are about 260 shelters located along the way, each spaced apart by approximately a days hike.
2. Arizona Trail
This trail covers over 800 miles across Arizona north to south, from Mexico to Utah, linking deserts, mountains and canyons. It begins at the Coronado National Memorial near the border with Mexico and ends in the Kaibab Plateau region. The trial was just finished in 2011, although it was declared a National Scenic Trail in 2009.
3. Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is 3,100 miles long, and runs from the Mexican border to Canada. It follows the continental divide along the Rocky Mountains, crossing through the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It is still not a totally complete system, and requires some walking on roads in some areas. It became part of the National Scenic Trail system in 1978.
4. Florida National Scenic Trail
When you think of hiking, does Florida come to mind? Well, it may not be dotted with mountains, but it does wind through the incredibly biodiverse landscape of Florida! Over 1300 miles of trails allow continuous hiking through the Big Cypress National Preserve all the way the the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Fort Pickens, although like the continental divide trail there are still areas that are incomplete. It was entered into the National Scenic Trail system in 1983.
5. Ice Age Trail
A 1200-mile walk along a former glacier’s edge is what you will get on Wisconsin’s National Scenic Trail, established in 1980. The trail goes east-west from the Lake Michigan shoreline in the east to Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River to the west, bordering Minnesota.
6. Natchez Trace
This trail has only a limited number of segments available for hiking at this time, but it follows an ancient path first used by Native Americans through what was then the southwest. It became a national scenic trail in 1983, going through portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
7. New England Trail
Getting National Scenic Trail status in 2009, it goes from the Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. It includes the majority of 3 single trails and is often called the Triple-M trail (Metacomet-Monadnock-Mattabesett trail system). The trail is 215 miles long.
8. North Country National Scenic Trail
Going from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to North Dakota, this trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail once completed – 4,600 miles of trails. Authorized by Congress in 1980 to become one of the National Scenic Trails, close to half of its length has become certified.
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is 2,663 miles long and goes from sea level to 13,153 feet in the Sierra Nevada. It goes through 7 national parks and 25 national forests, and was one of the original National Scenic Trails in 1968. Like many of these trails, it was not complete when it gained national status, but continued to be worked on until 1993 when it was finally finished.
10. Pacific Northwest Trail
This trail spans 1200 miles from the Continental Divide in Montana thru northern Idaho to the Pacific coast in Washington. It is one of the newer national trails, gaining designation in 2009. The trail is a high one, going across the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades and Olympic Mountains.
11. Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
830 miles of trails go through the Potomac River corridor, Ohio River watershed, and part of the Rappahannock River watershed. It is studded with side trails, some on both sides of the river. This trail is not a continuous one, and many sections are connected by roads. It became a scenic trail in 1083
Top image of the Continental Divide trail was taken by Shannonfreix and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
The Potomac Heritage Trail, A Hiker s Guide describes over 50 hikes from Tidewater Potomac to the Forks of the Ohio. These hikes can be enjoyed separately or combined for longer trips.