The National Trails System in America

While doing the research for my last entry here on the Appalachian Trail, I discovered there are two others, which form the “Triple Crown” of hiking. They are the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican border to Washington State, and the Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles of trails from Mexico to Canada. But while I began to dig for information on them, I came across the National Trails System, which is celebrating a 50-year anniversary this year, and is truly deserving of its own entry.1497039117059

President Lyndon Johnson got the ball rolling on this project in 1966. He commissioned a study be done by the Department of the Interior to encourage a national system of trails to augment the trails already in existence in our national forests and parks. Out of this study came the legislation to form a cohesive national trails system. Their report, Trails For America, was published in 1966, and was the impetus behind the National Trails System Act of 1968, which celebrates fifty years of existence this year.

The report cited three different types of trails: National Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and Connecting and Side Trails. President Jimmy Carter was responsible for adding another category, and a personal favorite, in 1978, the National Historic Trails. The Scenic Trails are land-based trails of more than 100 miles in length. The National Recreation Trails are centered around outdoor recreation in urban areas and have no minimum length requirement.

The National Historic Trails are longer trails, although not necessarily 100 miles or longer as is the requirement for the Scenic Trails. These historic routes follow the migratory paths of our ancestors. There are nineteen Historic Trails now designated as such by acts of Congress and they extend from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.

You can follow in the footsteps of Captain John Smith and explore nearly 3,000 miles of the Atlantic coastline that were initially explored by Europeans during the 17thcentury.


Photo Credit, Evans, NPS

The California National Historic Trail takes the same path as the men and women during the gold rush days of the mid-1800s.


Minor Park, MO Photo Credit, NPS-Matt Poyner










The Iditarod National Historic Trail covers 2,300 miles of rugged Alaska territory.


Photo Credit: Tony Beeman

The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail traces the path of the Corps of Discovery during their cross-country trip from 1804 to 1806.DfQTCWaUEAAc_gI

The Pony Express Trail runs from Missouri to California.


Photo Credit: Becky Lower

Recent historical events have given us the Selma to Montgomery Trail, echoing the route of Dr. Martin Luther King and his march for freedom.


Photo Credit: NPS


Many books on the various trails in America are available in every National Parks Service bookstore, as well as Amazon and other outlets.


These are just a sampling of the National Trails available to everyone. The website below lists all the trails available and there’s at least one close to every American. As the days grow longer, take the time to enjoy them in your part of the country.


Becky Lower has traveled parts of the Appalachian Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Pony Express Trail, the Atlantic Coastline Trail and the Lewis & Clark Trail. Now she has a whole lot more to explore and needs to polish up her hiking boots.