No matter how many times you walk down a trail, there is always something new to be found. As we get ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System next year and National Trails Day on June 3, now is the perfect time to explore the nearly 60,000 miles of trails that honor our country's diverse landscape and history.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trails System Act and officially designated the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails. Today, there are 11 national scenic trails, 19 national historic trails, and over 1,200 national recreation trails throughout the country that link historic sites, wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. These trails provide the public with vital access to the outdoors. Whether you like to walk, hike, ride horseback, or bicycle, there is a trail for you.
So lace up the shoes, invite some friends, and #FindYourWay on these and other great trails:
Appalachian National Scenic Trail: One of the first in the National Trails System, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,180 mile long footpath that stretches from central Maine to northern Georgia. Known as the Appalachian Trail or A.T., the trail traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s great for a short day hike or thru-hiking the entire length -- either way you’ll enjoy some spectacular scenery.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail covers nine states and thousands of miles of land and water routes. From 1838-1839, more than 16,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were forcibly removed from their homes in the southern Appalachian Mountains to stockades and internment camps, after which they walked hundreds of miles to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The harsh conditions led to a high rate of illness, widespread desertion, and hundreds of deaths. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was designated to preserve the story, the routes, and support the associated sites that commemorate the Cherokees' forced migration.
Arizona National Scenic Trail: The Arizona National Scenic Trail is an 820-mile trail that winds its way from from the U.S. border with Mexico to Utah, crossing Arizona’s rugged mountains and the Grand Canyon. While primitive, the trail offers something for everyone -- from remote and challenging wilderness to easily accessible passages near local communities. This trail is a premier recreation destination for hikers, equestrians, mountain bicyclists, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, joggers and people using pack animals.
California National Historic Trail: The California National Historic Trail follows a mid-19th century highway across 10 states including Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and California. Travelers took numerous routes to create the best course to the lures of gold and farmland in California. This trail commemorates the pathway that brought the country closer together and today offers auto touring and educational programs to present-day gold seekers and explorers. Be sure to stop by one of the many visitor centers along the way!
Pony Express National Historic Trail: The Pony Express National Historic Trail is the route where young men on horseback once carried the nation’s mail across the country from 1860-1861. The horse-and-rider system became the United States’ most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph, delivering mail in the unprecedented time of 10 days. Today, you can auto-tour the route visiting interpretive sites and museums, or hit the trail by foot, bike, or horseback.
Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a series of water routes extending approximately 3,000 miles along the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary. These historic routes trace the 1607–1609 voyages of Captain John Smith as he charted the land and waterways of the Chesapeake. It meanders along the shoreline of Douglas Point, Maryland, where the Bureau of Land Management manages the historic 18th century Chiles home site in partnership with the National Park Service.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail: The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail crosses Arizona and California, and commemorates Spanish Commander Anza’s expedition to bring colonists to the San Francisco Bay area in 1775-1776. In exploring the trail today, hikers can experience diverse deserts, mountains, and coastal areas, and learn the historical roles of Native American and Spanish cultures in the settlement of Arizona and California.
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail: The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the “King of Trails,” is more difficult than its sister long-distance trails, the Appalachian and Pacific Crest. It navigates dramatically diverse ecosystems through mountain meadows, granite peaks, and high-desert surroundings. The trail crosses the peaks and high-deserts of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico for 3,100 miles.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail: The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail recognizes the primary route from the 16th and 19th centuries between of the colonial Spanish capital of Mexico City and the Spanish provincial capitals in what are now New Mexico and Texas. Today, the cultural corridor created along the Camino Real reflects the heritage and riches of Native America, the Old World, and the modern societies of the United States and Mexico.
Iditarod National Historic Trail: The Iditarod National Historic Trail is the only winter trail in the National Trails System. The trail offers a rich diversity of climate, terrain, scenery, wildlife, recreation and resources in an environment largely unchanged since the days of the stampeders. Nowhere in the National Trails System is there such an extensive landscape, so demanding of durability and skill during its winter season of travel. On the Iditarod, today’s adventurer can duplicate the experience and challenge of yesteryear.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail: The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail once shaped the nation’s identity. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their journey along what is now the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Thanks to extensive help from Native American tribes along the route, the expedition was able to map and explore the western lands the United States acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase. Today, thousands of visitors follow this 3,700-mile, 11-state route that extends from Camp Wood, Illinois, to the Oregon coast.
Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail: The 450-mile trail that became the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail was the lifeline through the Old Southwest. Today there are five separate trails totaling over 60 miles of Mississippi. On foot or on horseback, you can experience wetlands, swamps, Spanish moss, hardwood forests, and more as you follow in the steps of those who walked hundreds, and even thousands of years before you.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail: The 54 miles between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, helped to change American history. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail commemorates the events, people, and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Alabama. Following the February 1965 death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a voting rights activist in Marion, Alabama, a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery brought the conflicts of the voting rights movement into homes across the country and focused the nation’s attention on the ways segregated policies continued to divide society. Visit the trail and walk in the footsteps of those who changed America and pledge yourself to supporting freedom and justice for all.
Oregon National Historic Trail: Marked by wagon ruts and the remains of campsites, the Oregon National Historic Trail runs more than 2,000 miles through six states. The trail relates the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of the half a million pioneers who migrated along the trail between 1840 and 1869, making a new America. Today, the Oregon Trail still beckons the adventurous and modern highways overlay much of the route, connecting trail traces, structures, graves, and markers left on the landscape to remind us that the trail still lives on. Thankfully, the risk of you dying of dysentery is not very likely.
North Country National Scenic Trail: From New York to North Dakota, you're never far from an adventure on the North Country National Scenic Trail. Established in 1980, the trail links scenic and cultural areas across seven states, allowing visitors to experience a variety of northern landscapes. Once completed, the North Country Trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States.
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail: The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is a treasured pathway through some of the most outstanding scenic terrain in the United States. Beginning in southern California at the Mexican border, the trail (commonly called the PCT) travels a total distance of 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington until reaching the Canadian border. Thousands of hikers and equestrians enjoy this national treasure each year. Will you be one of them?
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail: Walk in George Washington’s footsteps on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. This network of locally managed trails and routes explores the diverse ecosystems and communities between the mouth of the Potomac River and the Allegheny Highlands. The trail crosses four states, tracing the evolution of the Nation.
Be sure to share your adventures on national trails with us using #FindYourWay and #FindYourTrail!