A Tour of America’s National Scenic Trails

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Map: The Continental Divide national scenic trail.
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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.
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Map: Ice Age national scenic trail.
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Map: Florida national scenic trail.

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
Established:1968
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.