11 Scenic Trails that Showcase the Best of America
Long trails recognized by the government for historic, natural and cultural quality
Spring is only a week away and it can’t come soon enough.
A seemingly endless series of storms has turned much of the U.S. into a nation of shut-ins, so it comes as more than just a breath of fresh air that the mercury is beginning to rise above freezing: it’s an invitation to dig those hiking boots out of the closet and hit the trails.
For hundreds of people this time of year, that trail begins in Springer Mountain, Georgia and ends some 2,180 miles later on the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s the Appalachian Trail we’re talking about and it’s arguably the most famous long-distance trail in the world, holding a place on nearly every serious hiker’s bucket list.
Because of its iconic status and proximity to major population centers on the East Coast, the A.T. draws millions of day-hikers annually. But as popular as it is, it’s not alone.
The Appalachian Trail is one of eleven national scenic trails formally recognized by the federal government. Ranging from the 4,600-mile North Country Trail down to the relatively short New England Trail (around 200 miles), these trails provide mostly unbroken access to the best of the American landscape, whether that might be the high peaks of Colorado, the swamps of Florida, the Grand Canyon or countless other sights.
The first two of these trails, the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, were created by the National Trails System Act of 1968, which established a nationwide network of recreational, historic and scenic trails.
Amendments added nine more national scenic trails to the list, the latest being in 2009 when President Obama signed a land management act establishing the New England, Arizona and Pacific Northwest trails.
The routes vary widely in terms of difficulty. The Continental Divide Trail, remote segments of which are unmarked, is among the most challenging long-distance trails in the world. Meanwhile, the Natchez Trace Trail, defined mostly by a road, is hardly a trail at all.
Most are incomplete—some have hundreds of miles of roadside connector routes—but they all have a few elements in common: they are at least 100 miles long, they are for non-motorized use and they were established by act of Congress.
And as the law states, they “provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which such trails may pass.”
We certainly think these fit the bill.