A Tour of America's National Scenic Trails

A tour of national scenic trails, including: Appalachian, Continental Divide, Nachez Trace, Potomac Heritage, North Country, Pacific Crest and Ice Age trails.
August/September 1997
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Map: The Continental Divide national scenic trail.

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Learn about the grandeur of our national scenic trails. (See the scenic trail maps in the image gallery.)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Route: 2,159 miles (km 3,482)

The Appalachian Trail was first envisioned in 1921 by Benton Mackaye as a greenway from Maine to Georgia. The trail hugs the crests of the Appalachian Mountains and is open only to hikers. Shelters are spaced for convenient overnight stays. The Appalachian Trail Conference, established in 1925, developed the trail and maintains it today through affiliated volunteer trail clubs. Only 65 miles still need protection through public ownership. More than 200 people each year hike the entire trail, while millions find inspiration and adventure on shorter trips along the "A.T."

Contact: Appalachian Trail Conference, Harpers Ferry, WV.

National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Project Office, c/o Harpers Ferry Center, Harpers Ferry VVV.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: Forest Service
Established: 1978
Route: 3,200 miles (5,150 km)

The Continental Divide Trail provides spectacular backcountry travel the length of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. It is the most rugged of the long-distance trails. The only section officially designated runs for 795 miles from Canada through Montana and Idaho to Yellowstone National Park It is open to hikers, pack and saddle animals, and in some places, off road motorized vehicles. Some segments are open for use in other states.

Contact: Continental Divide Trail Society, Baltimore, MD.

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Established: 1983
Route 700 miles (1,130 km)

The Potomac Heritage Trail recognizes and commemorates the unique mix of history and recreation along the Potomac River. Much is already in place: the 184—mile towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the District of Columbia and Maryland, the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia, and the 75-mile Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania. In western Maryland, members of the Potomac Heritage Trail Association have recommended a 55-mile hiking path from Cumberland, Maryland, north to Pennsylvania's Mount Davis and on to the Laurel Highlands.

Contact: National Park Service, National Capital Region, Land Use Coordination, Washington, D.C.

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Established: 1983
Route: 110 miles (180 km)

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail lies within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway, extending for 450 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The Parkway commemorates the historic Natchez Trace, an ancient path that began as a series of animal tracks and Native American trails. It was later used by early explorers, "Kaintuck" boatmen, post riders, and military men, including General Andrew Jackson after his victory at the Battle of New Orleans. In the trail's 1987 comprehensive plan, four segments near Nashville, Jackson, and Natchez totaling 110 miles were selected for development as hiking and horseback trails.

Contact: Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, Tupelo, MS.

North Country National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Established: 1980
Route: Originally estimated at 3,200 miles (5,150 km), now estimated as long as 4,400 miles!

Conceived in the mid-1960s, the North Country Trail links New York's Adirondack Mountains with the Missouri River in North Dakota. The trail journeys through a variety of environments: the grandeur of the Adirondacks, Pennsylvania's hardwood forests, the farmland and canals of Ohio, the Great Lakes shorelines of Michigan, the glacier-carved forests, lakes, and streams of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the vast plains of North Dakota. Today more than half this trail is open for public use. Some of the longer segments cross nine national forests and two national park areas along the route.

Contact: National Park Service, North Country National Scenic Trail, Madison, WI.

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: Forest Service
Established: 1968
Route: 2,638 miles (4,247 km)

Lying along the spectacular shoulders of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges from Canada to Mexico, the Pacific Crest is the West Coast counterpart of the Appalachian Trail. Inspired in the 1930s by the idea of a long-distance mountain trail, citizen activists worked with the Forest Service to establish the trail. It passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. The trail was completed in Oregon and Washington in 1987. Today only 30 miles in California are not protected.

Contact: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Regional Office, Portland, OR.

Florida National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: Forest Service
Established: 1983
Route: 1,300 miles (2,090 km)

The Florida Trail was conceived and initiated by James A. Kern, who formed the Florida Trail Association in 1964. The trail will eventually extend from Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida through Florida's three national forests to Gulf Islands National Seashore in the western panhandle. It is especially delightful for winter hiking and camping, passing through America's only subtropical landscape. Side loop trails connect to nearby historic sites and other points of interest. When completed the trail will run for about 1,300 miles. Some 700 miles are officially open to public use.

Contact: Florida Trail Association, Gainesville, FL.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Established: 1980
Route: 1,000 miles (1,610 km)

At the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, glaciers retreated from North America and left behind a chain of moraine hills that defined their southern edge. In Wisconsin, this band of hills zigzags across the state for 1,000 miles from Lake Michigan to the Saint Croix River. A trail along these hills was conceived by Ray Zillmer in the 1950s and publicized by Rep. Henry Reuss in his book, On the Trail of the Ice Age . Today, with help from the state of Wisconsin and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, almost half of the trail is open to public use. Certain sections are popular for marathons, ski races, and ultra-running.

Contact: National Park Service, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Madison, WI.

Maps and some trail information excerpted from Trails Across America by Arthur P. Miller and Marjorie L. Miller (Fulcrum Publishing, 1996). All other trail information courtesy of Great Outdoor Recreation Pages online. 

Trail Ethics

Treat the land the Trail crosses and its neighbors with respect and care. Keep to the Trail's defined footway: shortcuts cause erosion, damage endangered plants, confuse other hikers, and may violate property rights. Use log walkways, steps, rock treadway, and other protective trail construction. Do not walk or camp on balds or fragile tundra vegetation in areas above treeline. Ask for information and water from homes along the Trail only when they are really needed. Respect the privacy of Trail neighbors—some get more hiker-visitors than they enjoy. Travel in groups of 10 or fewer if backpacking; 25 or fewer on day trips. Dispose of human waste at least 50 feet from the Trail and 200 feet from water. Dig a shallow hole and cover it afterwards. Do not wash in lakes or streams. Use a camping stove instead of building fires. Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. By leaving little or no trace of your presence, you help preserve the Trail for future enjoyment. And remember: millions of hours have been donated by volunteers to build and maintain the Trails, most at their own expense.

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2/4/2008 12:37:47 PM
Please note that the Continental Divide Trail Alliance is the leading non-governmental partner with the land management agencies working to complete the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Our website is www.cdtrail.org. Thank you form amking this correction to the recent article you posted about the National Scenic Trails.

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