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Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

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The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,174-mile footpath along the ridgecrests and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia. The trail crosses through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, ^North Carolina, and Georgia.The Appalachian Trail was the vision of forester Benton MacKaye and was developed by volunteers. It was opened as a continuous trail in 1937.It was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act, of 1968. The trail is kept up by more than 4,000 volunteers and more than 185,000 hours of time are logged annually to maintain the trail.The Trail crosses six National Parks, eight National Forests, touches 14 states, and is the nation's longest marked footpath. Hikers can enjoy a wide variety of hiking levels, and with the different areas the trail covers, you can be sure to find all types of animals and plant species.There are five distinct areas encompassing the Appalachian Trail, the first of which is Northern New England, between central Maine and western New Hampshire. The path is often steep, rough, and parts are above tree line, where weather is especially severe.Moving down to Southern New England, between eastern Vermont and the New York-Connecticut border, most of this section runs along glacier-scraped mountain ridges such as the Green Mountains and the Berkshires, and rocky New England river valleys. It lies within easy driving distance of major cities such as Boston and New York City.The Mid-Atlantic region is between eastern New York and central Maryland, this section of the trail runs between the glacial hills of the Hudson Highlands, and the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It follows long, rocky ridges only a few thousand feet above sea level — ridges that often seem like islands of wild country above bustling valleys.The region between the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and the Tennessee boarder is called the Virginias. It includes portions of Harper's Ferry National Historical Park, Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hiking is moderate to strenuous, and the southern part of the trail has long, solitary stretches.The last region of the Appalachian Trail is the Southern Appalachians; the trail runs between northeastern Tennessee and the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, in Georgia. It runs through several of the vast national forests of the South, and crosses the trail's highest mountain, Clingman's Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This section of the trail is mostly well-graded, and is remote, with long, strenuous climbs.The Appalachian Trail is used by day, weekend and other short-term hikers, section-hikers, and thru-hikers. Thru-hikers hike the entire length of the trail in one season.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

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Appalachian National Scenic Trail, also called Appalachian Trail, mountain footpath in the eastern United States extending from northeast to southwest for about 2,190 miles (3,524.5 km) along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The trail runs from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia, passing through 14 states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia), 8 national forests, and 6 units of the national park system. The exact length of the trail can vary year to year as the trail is modified or rerouted.

National Parks Traveler

The Appalachian Trail is a fixture of outdoor life in 21st century America and is, as author Philip D’Anieri describes it, “a very narrow national park, from Maine to Georgia.” Introducing the book, he makes clear he does not intend it to be a history but rather a biography, “an attempt to render something essential about the life of this place by looking at how it developed over time.”

He succeeds brilliantly by describing the contributions of 12 people -- ten men and two women -- who were key players in the creation of the Appalachian Trails (A.T.) that we know and love and take for granted today. D’Anieri’s goal is to “describe the world of ideas that built the A.T. over the 20th . . .” This was, he can’t help but noting, a “very monochromatic world.”

D’Anieri’s approach is chronological, beginning in the 19th century with the geologist, Arnold Guyot, who contributed as much as anyone to definition of the mountains that became the site of the A.T. Guyot set out to tell the story of the “internal shape and structure of the mountain range on its own terms,” and spent decades hiking the range, measuring and describing its dimensions.

D’Anieri describes Guyot as “small and wiry, renowned for his stamina and endurance well into old age,” qualities essential to carry out the grueling fieldwork required to achieve his understanding of the range. In 1861 he published an article “On the Appalachian Mountain System” which “revealed the mountains in three complementary ways: a written description, a table of 346 elevation measurements, and a richly detailed map.” Guyot had, in effect, created the conceptual landscape for the A.T.

D’Anieri turns next to Horace Kephart, a complex character and leading contributor to the back-to-nature movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He ultimately made popularization of the outdoor life his life’s work, writing Camping and Woodcraft,” a book that was “an encyclopedic treatment of back woods technique” which “portrayed outdoor life as a kind of spiritual practice.” D’Anieri traces Kephart’s tumultuous life, his career as a librarian, his mental breakdowns, and his resurrection in the outdoor life, writing about it, and ultimately acting to protect some of it.

One of Kephart's causes was protecting what became Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a park that would eventually host a significant part of the A.T. Another of his causes late in life was the A.T., which he did not live to see completed but which his tireless advocacy of outdoor recreation helped create.

The Appalachian Trail: A Biography

James P. Taylor entered the story in 1908 when he moved to Vermont, where he proposed and oversaw creation of the state’s Long Trail.

“The trail,” writes D’Anieri, was “a hiking path linking the Green Mountains together for the first time, opening them up to public appreciation and enjoyment.” The Long Trail would “provide a model for – and a lengthy section of – the Appalachian Trail that would follow about a decade later.”

Taylor was a passionate promoter and organizer and engaged in a “battle between inspiring idea and everyday inertia,” convincing volunteers and even a reluctant Vermont government to build parts of the trail. He organized a Green Mountain Club that would be a model for organizing local clubs along trail routes to contribute labor and other support. With the Appalachian Mountain Club, he established the New England Trail Conference. Taylor’s contribution to the A.T. was organizational, helping establish the model that would be important in creating the A.T.

Benton MacKaye, considered by many the creator the A.T., is portrayed by D’Anieri as principally its intellectual midwife. MacKaye was a visionary, a regional planner, a fount of big ideas. As America was expanding industrially, he thought about how it could do so in a planned and productive way, in a manner that would allow a balance of urban and outdoor life. He was influenced by the work of Kephart and Taylor. D’Anieri writes of MacKaye’s thinking on this:

Of course, productive and recreational uses couldn’t occupy the exact same spaces, but nature had provided the obvious solution. Lower elevations, with their natural access to the outside world, served as the sensible location for productive activity, while the higher ground, on either side of the ridgeline connecting one peak to the next, was ideally suited to recreation. With this simple framework in mind, a vast, interconnected network of recreational land revealed itself to MacKaye.

“The mountain land . . . is the main recreation ground of the Nation,” he wrote. “And the people will require, for a healthful and properly balanced life, all the mountain land that is possible to place at their disposal.” He approvingly took note of the early work of the “young and ambitious Green Mountain Club, to create a ridgeline trail the length of Vermont, and referenced the work of the Appalachian Mountain Club to link up trails with one another. If the AMC and GMC networks could be connected, “a good beginning would be made toward linking up and connecting the mountain camping grounds of New England,” he wrote. And there would be no reason to stop there.

MacKaye went on to coin the name “Appalachian Trail,” to argue for it as a wilderness zone countering the sprawling industrial world, and to widely promote the idea of the trail. He did not do much to physically build it, leaving that to others. When parts of the trail route were established, and the National Park Service thought the idea of a ridgeline route for the masses so good that it proposed to build the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, MacKaye thought the A.T. community should unequivocally oppose the idea because the highway would parallel and encroach upon a trail intended to get away from just such modern development. But when the community did not respond as he thought it should, he gave up the cause in disgust.

Why did the A.T. community not vigorously oppose the NPS idea?

The leadership of Myron Avery was part of the reason. Avery and others had organized a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in 1927 and he became obsessed with getting the trail established and built. By the mid-1930s he had become “the singular and unquestioned leader of the Appalachian Trail project, in part owing to his dedication and in part because he had alienated so many of his onetime collaborators.”

Avery was not in favor of scenic roads, especially when they encroached upon the A.T. route, but he thought that since significant portions of the trail went through Shenandoah and Great Smokey Mountains national parks, maintaining good relations with the Park Service was essential.

“A negotiated, case-by-case solution was the best way forward,” D'Anieri argued. “He had no interest in turning over his meticulously built organization to the forces of righteous indignation.” Avery prevailed, and the A.T. route was relocated away from the scenic highways, with the job finally completed in 1951.

Avery may have been hard to work with in his role as chair of the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC), but his advocacy of maintaining good relations with the National Park Service would ultimately pay dividends. After D’Anieri describes pioneering thru-hikers Earl Shaffer and Emma Gatewood, whose exploits helped raise the profile of the A.T. in the national consciousness, and explains how Gaylord Nelson successfully shepherded a National Trail Systems Act through Congress, he turns to the story of how the A.T. became part of the National Park System.

That story, as D’Anieri tells it, principally involved three key players – Dave Richie, Pam Underhill, and Dave Startzell. When Richie came on the scene with the National Park Service, its partners in the ATC were frustrated with the agency’s unwillingness to commit to the public side of what had to be a public-private partnership under the National Trails System Act.

Dave Richie convinced the Park Service to take the idea of a truly public-private partnership effort to create the A.T. seriously. In 1978, thanks in no small part to Richie’s leadership, Congress passed a “new and improved NTSA)" that authorized funds to pay for trail land, tasked the Park Service with acquiring the land, and allowed for a 500-foot corridor on either side of the trail. D’Anieri writes that “It had taken ten years and two tries to pass the necessary legislation, but beginning in 1978 the federal government was a fully invested partner in the Appalachian Trail.”

Pam Underhill worked her way up in Richie’s NPS Appalachian Trail Project office and became the lead in the Park Service land acquisition office for the trail. Her job was a tough one in many ways, and D’Anieri recounts some of the more contentious episodes she endured in the government’s effort to acquire chunks of land essential to carrying out the stipulations of the NTSA. Dave Startzell became the executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conference and worked closely with Richie to build the partnership essential to create the A.T. we know today. D’Anieri writes:

But thanks to the work that Dave Richie did in building a public-private partnership on the trail’s behalf, and the day-in, day-out work of acquiring and managing the trail corridor that Pam Underhill, Dave Startzell, and many others carried forward, the Appalachian Trail became a permanent feature of the American landscape in a way that it never was before. Such permanence certainly comes with costs – to those both inside and outside the trail community who may chafe at how the Park Service and the ATC conduct their business – but it is clear that there would be nothing like today’s AT in existence had that robust partnership not come along.

The story of the A.T. is, as D’Anieri describes it, at least one step back for every step forward, and if the federal government had not finally gotten involved, thanks to the NTSA and inspired leadership in the Park Service, the A.T. would be very different than it is today, if it existed at all.

Bill Bryson, author of the immensely popular A Walk in the Woods, is the final player in D’Anieri’s account of the A.T. story. He writes that “Bryson’s is, by orders of magnitude, the most-read book about the Appalachian Trail. For many people it is almost synonymous with the trail itself, the instant association they make when the A.T. is mentioned.”

Bryson brought the A.T. to the masses, to many who would never set foot on it but who could enjoy, with Bryson, the trail experience, despite his initial and delightfully written apprehension about bears lurking out there. Bryson was not a thru-hiker but a writer with a sense of humor who could explain to the American people, through his experience, why the A.T. is important.

D’Anieri set out to “describe the world of ideas” that built the A.T., and he succeeds wonderfully by describing the people who had those ideas and what they brought to the long effort to create the trail. One idea led to another – from Guyot to Kephart, Taylor, MacKaye, Nelson, and Richie. People of action like Avery, Shaffer and Gatewood, Underhill, Startzell, and Bryson built on the ideas.

The story of the trail is one of fits and starts, and at many junctures along the way it seemed the A.T. might not be achieved. D’Anieri reveals how not only the leadership of those profiled in this book but the thousands of others over the decades, from Maine to Georgia and beyond, overcame the difficulties with creative and determined responses to a myriad of challenges.

D’Anieri offers many reflections for those of us interested in the A.T. and outdoor recreation today to ponder. In his introduction he writes,

As the body of the text makes clear, the invention, construction, and protection of the A.T. was a project firmly grounded in America’s white middle class, responsive to its needs and reflective of its worldview. In this respect, unfortunately, the A.T. is an accurate representation of much of American environmental history, full of the presumption that one privileged slice of society could make its own needs the nation’s, and that its own version of nature was the only authentic one.

That is the history, and he challenges us to think of what a different future for the trail, for outdoor recreation, and conceptions of nature might be? In the final chapter, when he hikes sections of the trail, he poses several other questions. One is “How does history shed light on today’s trail, and how does the contemporary trail help us understand its history?”

As people flock to the trail today, for short and through hikes, he notes the dilemma trail designers of the A.T. or any trail must consider, which is either to make it too accessible “and you take away the whole point of the trail for many of its users.” Or, on the other hand, “Make it too forbidding and you’ve excluded a broad swath of the population from the benefits the trail is meant to provide.”

Too many users damage the trail and constrain the experience many hikers seek. MacKaye once wrote that the purpose of hiking the A.T. was “(1) to walk (2) to see (3) to see what you see.” The walking can be done in a crowd, but can the other two conditions be achieved in that situation?

Thinkers like Kephart and MacKaye envisioned the trail as an antidote in nature to the stresses of industrial society. D’Anieri, putting on his hat as a regional planner, observes that, “Isolating the trail from the change all around it meant carving out a narrow strip of exclusion from the actual landscape, an exercise not just in preservation but illusion.” That does not, in his view, undermine the trail’s value, “But it does put the trail in a somewhat different light, in places as much about inward-facing scenery as the outward-facing experience of the world.”

Firearms Information

As of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms on portions of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

This applies to:

This only applies to lands owned by the U.S. Government and managed by the National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Park Office. This includes 428 miles of trail, 25 % of the trail’s length in 9 of the 14 trail states.

This does not apply to:

This does not apply to the Appalachian Trail located on lands owned and managed by the more than 90 other federal, state and local agencies. This includes 1747 miles of trail, 80 % of the trails length across all 14 states. Rules and regulations on these lands are determined by the individual agencies.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a unit of the national park system, is administered by the National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Park Office. The Appalachian Trail spans 2,179 miles across lands administered by 6 other national parks, 8 National Forests, 1 National Wildlife Refuge, and 75 other federal, state, and local agencies. Each one of these agencies has their own rules and regulations which contributes to the complexity of legally carrying a firearm on the Appalachian Trail.

It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable state, local, and federal firearms laws before visiting the Appalachian Trail.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail - History

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) is a public footpath that follows more than 2,100 miles of Appalachian Mountain ridgelines between Maine and Georgia. Roads that cross it at varying intervals give ready access. The Trail is protected along more than 99 percent of its course by federal or state ownership or rights-of-way. It was designed, constructed, and marked in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs brought together by the volunteer-based, nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Formed in 1925 and based in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., ATC works in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), USDA Forest Service, states, and local communities.

A "super trail" had been talked about in New England hiking circles in the early 1900s. The A.T. evolved from the 1921 proposals of Massachusetts regional planner Benton MacKaye to preserve the Appalachian crests as a wilderness belt—a retreat from urban life. The old clubs that united behind MacKaye, plus new clubs formed specifically to advance the A.T. idea, concentrated on the hiking aspects of his vision under the leadership of Myron Avery, ATC chairman from 1931 to 1952.

The clubs, two federal agencies, states, and Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) combined forces to open a continuous trail by August 1937. Hurricanes, highway construction, and the demands of World War II undid those efforts until 1951, when all sections were finally relocated, opened, and marked for hikers. The 1968 National Trails System Act made the A.T. a linear national park area and authorized funds for the NPS, USDA Forest Service, and states to protect the entire route with public lands. The goal is to preserve the trail and provide for visitors' enjoyment of the varied scenic, historical, natural, and cultural resources of this one-of-a-kind park.

Between Maine's Mount Katahdin (northern terminus) and Georgia's Springer Mountain (southern terminus), this footpath winds through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians—ancient, worn-down, and forested—stretch from Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula in Canada to Alabama's northern mountains. The Appalachian Trail is used for walks and day hikes by all manner of nature enthusiasts, from birders to wildflower photographers. Backpackers make weekend escapes from urbanized areas or take long-distance "thru-hikes" for months at a time.

The Appalachian Trail by States

Maine In its 281 miles across Maine, the A.T, marked throughout with vertical white-paint blazes, passes through an extensive wilderness at a great distance from towns and cities. The Katahdin region at the northern terminus is outstanding. Katahdin comes from the American Indian name Kette-Adene meaning Greatest Mountain. Farther south the rugged Mahoosuc Range stretches into New Hampshire. Opportunities for canoeing and swimming are features of the A.T. in Maine.

New Hampshire The White Mountains region is much frequented and is the main feature of the Trail in New Hampshire. Parts of the A.T. are above treeline, where temperatures may change suddenly. A trip here requires detailed planning, and you should allow ample time. The connecting link between the Green and White mountains passes through broken terrain of the Connecticut River Valley.

Vermont West of the Connecticut River to the Green Mountains the route is through high, rugged country of abandoned and overgrown farmlands and woodlands. From Killington south, the Trail follows the lower 104.7 miles of the famed Long Trail along the crest of the Green Mountains.

Massachusetts Here the A.T. leads through a series of wooded areas and valleys in the Berkshire Hills. Mounts Greylock and Everett are outstanding features in Massachusetts.

Connecticut The route through Connecticut meanders among the worn-down remnants of a much loftier mountain range and presents greatly varied scenery. Main features are the Housatonic Valley and the Taconic Range.

New York and New Jersey From Connecticut to Kittatinny Mountain in New Jersey, the Trail's terrain is less wild. Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park is much-frequented. Along Kittatinny Mountain the A.T. is rugged and more remote than elsewhere in these states.

Pennsylvania As far west as the Susquehanna River, the A.T. in Pennsylvania follows ridges east of the Allegheny Mountains. Beyond the Susquehanna, after some 10 miles, it crosses the Cumberland Valley and follows the northernmost extension of the Blue Ridge.

Maryland The 40 miles of Trail in Maryland are characterized by a 38-mile walk along the ridge crest of South Mountain. This offers a good choice for a three- or four-day trip with good views that is never too far from towns and highways. The A.T. joins the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park towpath at the Potomac River.

West Virginia The Trail crosses the Potomac River into West Virginia at Harpers Ferry on a footbridge built onto a railroad bridge. ATC headquarters is at the corner of Washington Street and Storer College Place, uphill from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The A.T. leaves West Virginia across the Shenandoah River. It follows the West Virginia state line again near Pearisburg, Va., for almost 20 miles.

Virginia One-fourth of the A.T. lies in Virginia. Shenandoah National Park has 107 miles of graded A.T. and many side trails. The Trail crosses Skyline Drive 32 times and offers side trips never too far from a base of supplies. Views are extraordinary. The A.T. continues roughly parallel to, but generally many miles removed from, the Blue Ridge Parkway. It crosses the parkway two times in one 70-mile stretch. This is a section of mature forest and wilderness with high summits, as impressive as any region south of New England. From here the A.T. route crosses west of the Shenandoah Valley. The portion in southwest Virginia affords a splendid wilderness trip. In the George Washington and Jefferson national forests the display of rhododendron and azalea in June and July is beautiful.

Tennessee and North Carolina From Damascus, Va., the Trail follows segments of mountain ranges in Cherokee National Forest to the North Carolina-Tennessee border and over Roan Mountain, noted for its rhododendrons and far-ranging views. From here along the two states' boundary and beyond through Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, the Trail provides a rewarding introduction to the majesty of the southern Appalachians. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with 70 crest-line Trail miles crossed by only one road, is the highest section of the route. Beyond the Great Smokies come the Yellow Creek and Cheoah mountain areas. Next is the Nantahala section, with 4,000-foot gaps and 5,000-foot peaks, but rewarding in its views, culminating in Standing Indian, the Grandstand of the Southern Appalachians. The variety of forest growth, beauty of the flowering shrubs, and views make the Trail from the Virginia border an outstanding area.

Georgia The Trail in Georgia lies entirely within Chattahoochee National Forest. The wildness, elevation, and ruggedness of the area are decidedly unexpected. Because highways cross the Blue Ridge at intervals of a moderate day's journey, the A.T. here is readily accessible and offers many options for splendid trips. Springer Mountain marks the southern terminus of the Trail.

May 8—"Reflection on my A.T. Experience." Way back in May 1978, I began my first-ever A.T. backpacking trip at Delaware Water Gap, heading north in a pouring rain. Five cold wet days later, I limped off the Trail near Greenwood Lake, NY, aching and discouraged. But something about the A.T. kept luring me back, and now—nine long years later—have just completed the entire A.T! The Trail has given me some of the best experiences of my life. I have enjoyed some spectacular views, met many really great people, had a few close animal encounters, and saw so much of the beauty of nature. Even though my long-awaited goal of completing the A. T. is now reached, I will return. The A. T. has brought me riches that no amount of money could ever buy. Many thanks to the ATC, to all the clubs and individuals who maintain the Trail, and to everyone who has been a part of my A.T. experience.

—M.B., A.T. 1978-87

Threats of commercial development and concern for recreational opportunities prompted Congress to pass the National Trails System Act in 1968. The National Trails System now includes eight national scenic trails. The trails system includes 16 national historic trails and more than 900 national recreation trails.

National Scenic Trails and approximate mileages: (1) Appalachian Trail, 2,170 (2) Pacific Crest Trail, 2,600 (3) Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 (4) North Country Trail, 3,200 (5) Ice Age Trail, 1,000 (6) Potomac Heritage Trail, 700 (7) Natchez Trace Trail, 700 and (8) Florida Trail, 1,300. For more information about the National Trails System and a list of all national and historic trails visit: www.nps.gov/nts.

The nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) manages the Trail's day-to-day operations under a special agreement with the National Park Service and works in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. For more information visit: www.appalachiantrail.org and www.fs.fed.us.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in partnership with Leave No Trace, asks you to help take care of the Appalachian Trail and the wild country it passes through. Please do your part by following the Leave No Trace principles of low-impact use while in the backcountry:

1. Plan ahead and prepare.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
4. Leave what you find.
5. Minimize campfire impacts.
6. Respect wildlife.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Please travel in groups of 10 or fewer if backpacking 25 or fewer on day trips. By practicing Leave No Trace you help preserve the Trail for future enjoyment. Remember: millions of hours have been donated by volunteers to build and maintain the Trail. To learn more about Leave No Trace visit: www.lnt.org.

Praising the role of volunteers former ATC Chairman Avery wrote "[they ] . have asked for no return nor recognition nor reward. They have contributed to the project simply by reason of the pleasure found in trail-making and in the realization that they were, perhaps, creating something which would be a distinct contribution to the American recreational system and the training of the American people." Today volunteers monitor and maintain the Trail and its shelters and help with operations at headquarters. Become an Appalachian Trail volunteer! Opportunities range from one-day work trips to week-long trail crews. Contact: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Thru-Hiker's Lament
Some days I get lost in thinking while my legs walk steadily on. Other times I soar with my spirit and my feet quietly tag along. But today all I am is a body hauling this big heavy pack. And although I keep trying there just ain't no denying that 40 pounds sit on my back!


Hiker Security Guidelines

&bull Don't hike alone. A partner reduces the potential for harassment. If you hike alone say that you are with a larger group. Even with a partner heed your instincts about strangers. &bull Leave your trip itinerary with family or friends. Don't reveal your itinerary to strangers or leave it on your vehicle. Do not describe the whereabouts of fellow hikers. &bull Dress conservatively—avoid unwelcome attention. &bull Avoid provocation. &bull Camp away from roads. Harassment is most likely in areas accessible to motor vehicles. &bull Don't carry firearms. &bull Discourage theft. Don't leave your pack or gear unattended. Don't leave cash, cameras, or camping equipment in cars parked at remote trailheads. &bull If you witness or are the victim of harassment report the incident to local law enforcement authorities and to ATC.

A.T. thru-hikers stop at ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to write in the log book and to have pictures taken. Most thru-hikers sought advice from ATC before they took the first of the five million steps between Georgia's Springer Mountain and Maine's Mount Katahdin. They hope to be back in touch soon to report completing the entire Trail—and that they now qualify as 2,000 milers. Excerpts from the log book range from good trail gossip to lucid wildlands philosophy. Headquarters is near the Trail's halfway point. From here, ATC coordinates maintenance of the Trail through 30 affiliated clubs and four ATC field offices. At headquarters you can get Trail and ATC membership information and buy guidebooks, maps, and other publications. Ask about volunteering too!

Appalachian Trail Park Office The office of the National Park Service is also in Harpers Ferry. ATPO is responsible for the Trail's overall administration and oversees its operations and land acquisition program.

Administration of the Trail

The National Park Service has overall responsibility for the Trail through its Appalachian Trail Park Office. Operations affecting Trail use are shared responsibilities. Private citizens have built and maintained the Trail since its beginning, and cooperative management has linked hiking clubs and federal and state governments for 60 years. In 1984 the National Park Service delegated to ATC the day-to-day responsibility for managing the lands through which the Trail is routed. The nonprofit ATC, formed in 1925, includes a private land trust to acquire and protect land adjacent to the publicly purchased Trail corridor. ATC does this from four field offices and its headquarters in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Publications ATC is the clearinghouse for information on the Appalachian Trail. It publishes or distributes guidebooks and maps covering every section of the Trail, manuals to help volunteers with Trail design and maintenance, educational brochures for Trail users, a newsletter for Trail workers, and a magazine for members.

Trail Markers and Blazes The A.T. is marked with two-inch by six-inch vertical white-paint blazes. A double blaze—one above the other—is placed before turns, junctions, or other areas that require hikers to be alert. Blue blazes mark A.T. side trails. These lead to shelters, water supplies, or views.

Motor Vehicles, Horses, and Dogs Motor vehicles are illegal on all sections of the Trail. Horses are prohibited except where expressly permitted. Dogs are prohibited in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Maine's Baxter State Park and must be leashed on all NPS lands. Dogs can get you into trouble with bears and other hikers. If you take a dog keep it on a leash.

Safety Please observe these precautions. &bull Walk with at least one companion, if a mishap occurs, one can go for help. &bull Poisonous snakes live along the Trail do not approach them. &bull Black bears in search of food may bother hikers, particularly in Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks and in New Jersey. &bull Purify all water.

Permits You do not need a permit to walk the A.T, but overnight camping permits are required in Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, Baxter State Park, and parts of White Mountain National Forest. For information on permits and camping regulations, contact: Shenandoah National Park, www.nps.gov/shen Great Smoky Mountains National Park, www.nps.gov/grsm Baxter State Park and White Mountain National Forest.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail — Oct. 2, 1968

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards

The contents of brochures, site bulletins and trading cards (denoted with a colored caption) can be viewed by clicking on the cover. Most modern-day brochures, however, are cover only (denoted by a white caption) due to photograph copyrights. These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only they are not meant as an aid for travel planning. The dates under each brochure do not reflect the complete range of years that a particular brochure was issued.


National scenic trails were established to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and to conserve portions of the natural landscape with significant scenic, natural, cultural, or historic importance. [8] They are all continuous non-motorized long-distance trails that can be backpacked from end-to-end or hiked for short segments. The Trails for America report said, "Each National Scenic Trail should stand out in its own right as a recreation resource of superlative quality and of physical challenge." [9] Most notably, the national scenic trail system provides access to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains in the east via the Appalachian Trail, of the Rocky Mountains in the west on the Continental Divide Trail, and of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges on the Pacific Crest Trail, which make up the Triple Crown of Hiking. Other places of note include the southern wetlands and Gulf Coast on the Florida Trail, the North Woods on the North Country Trail, and the variety of southwestern mountains and ecosystems on the Arizona Trail.

They have a total length of approximately 17,800 mi (28,650 km). Due to the extent of construction of route realignments, segment alternatives, and measurement methods, some sources vary in their distances reported and values may be rounded. [5]

Of the eleven national scenic trails, Appalachian, Natchez Trace, and Potomac Heritage are official units of the NPS though their enabling legislation does not distinguish them, these have more direct management. [10] The NPS administers the other trails more as a coordinator with local partners than as a manager. [11] The NPS manages its scenic trails like its other areas, as long, linear parks. [4]

National Scenic Trails
Name Image States on route Agency Year est. [12] Length [12] Description
Appalachian Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine NPS 1968 2,189 mi (3,520 km) Spanning the Appalachian Mountains from Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, this trail dating to the 1920s sees around a thousand thru-hikers each year, along with millions of short-term visitors. Major parks on the route include Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (pictured), and White Mountain National Forest. [13]
Arizona Arizona USFS 2009 800 mi (1,290 km) Extending the entire length of the state from Coronado National Memorial (pictured) near the Mexican border to Utah, this trail covers the variety of Arizona's deserts, mountains, and canyons. Four scenic regions have distinct landscapes and biotic communities: the sky islands with Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest, the Sonoran uplands of Tonto National Forest, the volcano field crossing the San Francisco Peaks, and the plateaus divided by the Grand Canyon. [14]
Continental Divide Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico USFS 1978 3,200 mi (5,150 km) With a route from Mexico to Canada, the Continental Divide separates the nation's rivers between those that flow into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Mostly following the crest of the Rocky Mountains, its major sites include El Malpais National Monument Gila Wilderness Wind River Range and Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks (pictured). [15]
Florida Florida USFS 1983 1,300 mi (2,090 km) The Florida Trail runs from the swamplands of Big Cypress National Preserve to the beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore, going around Lake Okeechobee and through Ocala, Osceola, and Apalachicola National Forests and many state forests and parks. [16]
Ice Age Wisconsin NPS 1980 1,000 mi (1,610 km) This trail traces Wisconsin's terminal moraine of the glacier covering much of North America in the last ice age. When it receded about 10,000 years ago, it left behind kettles, potholes, eskers, kames, drumlins, and glacial erratics, six sites of which are part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve (Kettle Moraine State Forest pictured). [17]
Natchez Trace Tennessee, Mississippi NPS 1983 64 mi (100 km) The Natchez Trace was used for centuries by Native Americans who followed animal migration paths as trade routes. It became a major road for settlers to the South in the 1800s and 1810s before falling out of use, and it is now preserved as the Natchez Trace Parkway. The full length has not been developed and the trail consists of five disconnected sections through forests and prairies next to the parkway. [18]
New England Massachusetts, Connecticut NPS 2009 215 mi (350 km) This footpath incorporates the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, Metacomet Trail (Ragged Mountain pictured), and Mattabesett Trail from Long Island Sound to the New Hampshire border. It crosses the mountains of the Metacomet Ridge, connecting small towns, farms, and forests with lakes and traprock ridges. [19]
North Country Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota NPS 1980 4,600 mi (7,400 km) With a planned extension into Vermont, this trail connects more than 160 state parks, national forests, and other protected areas from Moosalamoo National Recreation Area to Lake Sakakawea State Park. It includes diverse landscapes of the Adirondack Mountains, prairies, farmland, the coast of Lake Superior (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore pictured), and urbanized areas. [20] [21]
Pacific Crest California, Oregon, Washington USFS 1968 2,650 mi (4,260 km) The PCT follows the passes and crests of the San Bernardino Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and several other ranges from the Mexican to Canadian borders. It passes through 7 national parks, including Yosemite, Crater Lake, and North Cascades, and 25 national forests, for a route crossing deserts, glaciated mountains, pristine forests and lakes, and volcanic peaks. More than half is in federal wilderness areas (Alpine Lakes Wilderness pictured). [22] [23]
Pacific Northwest Montana, Idaho, Washington USFS 2009 1,200 mi (1,930 km) Connecting the Continental Divide at Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Olympic National Park, this trail showcases the Rocky Mountains, Okanogan Highlands, North Cascades, Puget Sound (including a ferry ride), and the Olympic Peninsula (Olympic National Park pictured). [24]
Potomac Heritage Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia NPS 1983 710 mi (1,140 km) The Potomac River is a corridor connecting the country's capital with historic trade and transportation routes to the ocean and inland. This network of trails incorporates the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail and Great Allegheny Passage in the Allegheny Mountains, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath (Great Falls pictured), the Mount Vernon Trail to George Washington's estate, cycling routes to the mouth of the river, and several other trails. [25]

The 19 national historic trails are designated to protect the courses of significant overland or water routes that reflect the history of the nation. [12] They represent the earliest travels in the country in Chesapeake Bay and on Spanish royal roads the nation's struggle for independence on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and Washington–Rochambeau Revolutionary Route epic westward migrations on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, which traverse some of the same route and the development of continental commerce on the Santa Fe Trail, Old Spanish Trail, and Pony Express. They also memorialize the forced displacement and hardships of the Native Americans on the Trail of Tears and Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

Their routes follow the nationally significant, documented historical journeys of notable individuals or groups but are not necessarily meant to be continuously traversed today they are largely networks of partner sites along marked auto routes rather than the exact non-motorized trails as originally used. [5] Interpretative sites are often at other areas of the National Park System along the trails, as well as locally operated museums and sites. [26] The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Wyoming is on the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails and has exhibits on Western emigration. [27] Nine are administered by the NPS National Trails Office in Santa Fe and Salt Lake City. [28]

National historic trails were authorized under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (Pub.L. 95–625), amending the National Trails System Act of 1968. They have a total length of approximately 37,000 mi (59,550 km) many trails include several branches making them much longer than a single end-to-end distance.

National Historic Trails
Name Image States on route Agency Year est. [12] Length [12] Description
Ala Kahakai Hawaii NPS 2000 175 mi (280 km) Trail segments on the west and south shores of Hawaiʻi island protect the ancient ala loa (long trail) used by Native Hawaiians for generations. This natural and cultural landscape crosses lava flows of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and sandy beaches with anchialine pools. Archaeological sites include Kaloko-Honokōhau (wetlands and fishponds) and Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Parks (place of refuge) and Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site (Kamehameha I's temple). [29]
California Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon NPS 1992 5,600 mi (9,010 km) The 1841 Bartleson–Bidwell Party, 1844 Stephens–Townsend–Murphy Party, and 1846 Donner Party (Donner Pass pictured) were among the few early overland emigrants to northern California, but the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 sparked the massive California Gold Rush. Some 140,000 "Forty-Niners" made the trip over the next five years via the overland emigrant trail starting in Missouri, going along the Platte River, around the Great Salt Lake, and over the Sierra Nevada (the same number came by sea). Several branching cutoffs and routes to the mines and supporting cities developed, the most popular being the Carson Trail to Sutter's Fort, Sacramento. While the population explosion led to California's statehood, it also resulted in the genocide of the state's Native Americans. [30]
Captain John Smith Chesapeake Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia NPS 2006 3,000 mi (4,830 km) This is a water trail based on the routes John Smith, a founder of the Jamestown settlement, took to survey Chesapeake Bay in 1607–1609. On Smith's explorations he mapped (pictured) the Bay's tributaries and communities of Native Americans he met. The trail today includes a network of historical and natural partner sites, including maritime museums, wildlife refuges, state and local parks, and interpretive buoys, in addition to water trails for canoeing and kayaking. [31]
El Camino Real de los Tejas Texas, Louisiana NPS 2004 2,600 mi (4,180 km) The Royal Road of the Tejas is the group of roads through Spanish Texas established by its first governors in the 1680s and 1690s. The Spanish initially attempted trade and proselytization at Mission Tejas in Eastern Texas and Los Adaes, Louisiana, before moving the capital to San Antonio and building a series of missions (Mission Espada pictured) in the early 18th century. Mexican and American ranchers settled along the corridor toward the Rio Grande, including the Old San Antonio Road, through Texas independence and annexation in 1845. [32]
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro New Mexico, Texas NPS, BLM 2000 404 mi (650 km) The Royal Road of the Interior was first routed by Juan de Oñate in 1598 to colonize the northern part of New Spain. It was used for hundreds of years for trade and communication between Mexico City and Santa Fe, mostly following the Rio Grande north of El Paso, including the Jornada del Muerto and Bajada Mesa sections. The Spanish developed the region with missions like the Presidio Chapel of San Elizario and Ysleta Mission (pictured), governed from the Palace of the Governors, later used by the Mexican and US administrations. Other historic sites include El Rancho de las Golondrinas, Mesilla Plaza, the Gutiérrez Hubbell House, and Fort Craig and Fort Selden used by the U.S. Army in the 1860s. [33] [34]
Iditarod Alaska BLM 1978 2,350 mi (3,780 km) This route from Seward to Nome was used by some prospectors to reach the Nome Gold Rush in the early 1900s, connecting trails long used by Alaska Natives. In the 1925 serum run, a relay of mushers and their sled dogs brought an antitoxin to Nome to stop a diphtheria outbreak, but the trail fell into disuse as planes replaced sleds for shipping. In commemoration of this history the 1,000 mi (1,600 km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been held annually since 1973. The only winter trail in the system, the designated trail includes the race route and 1,400 mi (2,300 km) of trails connecting nearby communities for snowmobiling, sledding, and skiing. [35]
Juan Bautista de Anza Arizona, California NPS 1990 1,200 mi (1,930 km) Juan Bautista de Anza led a 240-person expedition in 1775–1776 to colonize Las Californias, going from the Tubac Presidio near Tucson to San Francisco Bay, where he sited the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asís. Anza visited Missions San Gabriel Arcángel, San Luis Obispo, San Antonio, and San Carlos Borromeo (pictured), and his route became El Camino Real, which now has 21 missions. A full-length auto trail and several recreation trails connect these Hispanic heritage sites and other places they went through including Casa Grande Ruins and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. [36]
Lewis and Clark Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington. NPS 1978 4,900 mi (7,890 km) Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the 1803–1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition to map and study the Louisiana Purchase for President Thomas Jefferson. On their round-trip up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Columbia River, they formed relationships with many Native American tribes and described dozens of species. Associated sites along the trail, extended in 2019 to include their preparation along the Ohio River, include their starting point Camp Dubois near Gateway Arch National Park, winter camp Fort Clatsop (replica pictured) at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Pompeys Pillar National Monument, and an NPS visitor center in Omaha. [37]
Mormon Pioneer Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah NPS 1978 1,300 mi (2,090 km) Facing persecution at their settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), led by Brigham Young, followed the Emigrant Trail to reach refuge in the Salt Lake Valley. Around 2,000 Mormon pioneers completed the original 1846–1847 trek, including stops at Mount Pisgah, Iowa Winter Quarters, Nebraska and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. In the next two decades, 70,000 more followed on the arduous route, some pulling handcarts. Among the 145 participating sites to visit today are Independence Rock (pictured), Devil's Gate, and This Is the Place Heritage Park. [38]
Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana USFS 1986 1,170 mi (1,880 km) In 1877 the Nez Perce (Nimíipuu) people were forced to relocate to a reservation, but a group of 750 people led by Chief Joseph fled to reach sanctuary. A U.S. Army unit of 2,000 soldiers pursued the band for four months as the Nez Perce warriors held them off at several battles until they were cornered and captured at the Battle of Bear Paw. Their route can be traced on an auto tour, visiting Big Hole National Battlefield (pictured), Camas Meadows Battle Sites, Yellowstone National Park, and other sites of Nez Perce National Historical Park. [39] [40]
Old Spanish New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California NPS, BLM 2002 2,700 mi (4,350 km) Mexican merchant Antonio Armijo led the first trade expedition from Abiquiú, New Mexico, to Los Angeles and back in 1829, crossing areas mapped on the 1776 Domínguez–Escalante expedition and by Jedediah Smith in 1826. Wolfskill and Yount traced an alternate northern route the next year, providing New Mexican trade caravans and emigrants access to California on mules until a wagon route was built by the 1850s. Little evidence of the trails remains, but landmarks include Mojave National Preserve, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. [41] [42]
Oregon Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington NPS 1978 2,170 mi (3,490 km) Marcus Whitman made the first wagon trek to Oregon Country in 1836 to found the Whitman Mission, followed by the Oregon Dragoons and Bartleson–Bidwell Party. Whitman led a wagon train of around 1,000 emigrants in 1843, with tens of thousands of families making the risky journey over the next few decades to reach a new life in the West. The trail's typical endpoints were Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon, via Fort Kearny, Scotts Bluff (pictured), South Pass, Shoshone Falls, the Blue Mountains, and Barlow Road. Emigrants came in mule- or oxen-pulled covered wagons filled with months of supplies, but they also faced disease and attacks by Native Americans upon whose land they intruded. [43]
Overmountain Victory Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina NPS 1980 330 mi (530 km) In September 1780 during the Revolutionary War, the Overmountain Men militia mustered in Abingdon, Virginia (pictured) and Sycamore Shoals, Tennessee, for a two-week march across the Appalachian Mountains via Roan Mountain. Pursuing British Major Patrick Ferguson, they confronted his Loyalist force at the October 7 Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, where the Patriots won a quick, decisive victory that would be a turning point in the war. The linked highways and walking trails visit several preserved encampment sites. [44]
Pony Express Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California NPS 1992 2,000 mi (3,220 km) Lasting just 18 months in 1860–1861, the Pony Express delivered mail via horseback between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Riders relayed communications 1,800 mi (2,900 km) across the country in just ten days until the transcontinental telegraph put the service operated by Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company out of business. While little of the trail itself remains, 50 stations or their ruins of the original 185 can still be visited, including Hollenberg Pony Express Station (pictured), Fort Caspar, Stagecoach Inn, the Pike's Peak Stables and Patee House at the eastern terminus, and B.F. Hastings Building at the western terminus. [45]
Santa Fe Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico NPS 1987 1,203 mi (1,940 km) William Becknell made the first trade trip from Missouri to Santa Fe in 1821, when newly independent Mexico welcomed commerce. It was a major exchange route between the two countries for the next 25 years when the Army of the West used it in the Mexican–American War. After the war ended in 1848, emigration and freight to the new southwest flourished. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached Santa Fe via Raton Pass in 1880, replacing the trade caravans. Significant sites include Fort Larned, Bent's Old Fort, and Fort Union (pictured), where wagon ruts can still be seen. [46]
Selma to Montgomery Alabama NPS 1996 54 mi (90 km) The 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches were nonviolent demonstrations of the civil rights movement pushing for the Voting Rights Act. Led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams, 600 marchers were brutally attacked by state police at Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge (pictured), rousing national support for the bill. Another march a month later saw the protestors complete the four-day walk from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to the Alabama State Capitol, where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke before a crowd of 25,000. The trail has historical markers and three interpretive centers. [47]
Star-Spangled Banner Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia NPS 2008 290 mi (470 km) This water and land trail highlights the history of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay Region. Major sites of this three-year war between the United States and United Kingdom include raided towns Havre de Grace and Saint Michaels grounds of the Battle of Bladensburg and Battle of North Point and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (pictured), where the flying of the American flag in the Battle of Baltimore inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner". [48]
Trail of Tears Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma NPS 1987 5,045 mi (8,120 km) The 1830 Indian Removal Act forced tens of thousands of Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw people to leave their ancestral homelands in the Southeast and relocate to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Around ten thousand Indians died of disease or the elements on their journeys. This trail commemorates the routes taken by the Cherokee after they were evicted and detained in camps by the Army in 1838, making the four-month trek over the winter. Historic sites include the Cherokee capital New Echota in Georgia (pictured), Chief John Ross's log cabin, Red Clay State Park, Rattlesnake Springs, and several museums. [49]
Revolutionary Route
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia, Massachusetts NPS 2009 1,000 mi (1,610 km) Six years into the Revolutionary War, the French Expédition Particulière commanded by the comte de Rochambeau departed Newport, Rhode Island, to meet George Washington's Continental Army at Dobbs Ferry, New York, in June 1781. They marched to Williamsburg, Virginia, over the next few months, stopping at the Old Barracks in Trenton and Mount Vernon. In the three-week siege of Yorktown (now part of Colonial National Historical Park, reenactment pictured) they defeated General Cornwallis's army, soon clinching independence for the 13 colonies. Several campsites and homes on their route are preserved, including the Joseph Webb House where Washington and Rochambeau made plans for the campaign. [50]

The act also established a category of trails known as connecting or side trails. Though there are no guidelines for how these are managed, these have been designated by the Secretary of the Interior to extend trails beyond the original congressionally established route. Seven side trails have been designated: [5]

  • Timms Hill Trail – 14 mi (23 km), connects the Ice Age Trail to Wisconsin's highest point, Timms Hill (1990) [4]
  • Anvik Connector – 86 mi (138 km), joins the Iditarod Trail to the village of Anvik, Alaska (1990) [4]
  • Susquehanna River Component Connecting Trail – 552 mi (888 km), extends the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail up the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and New York (2012) [51]
  • Chester River Component Connecting Trail – 46 mi (74 km), extends the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail up the Chester River in Maryland (2012) [51]
  • Upper Nanticoke River Component Connecting Trail – 23 mi (37 km), extends the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail up the Nanticoke River in Delaware (2012) [51]
  • Upper James River Component Connecting Trail – 220 mi (350 km), extends the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail up the James River in Virginia (2012) [51]
  • Marion to Selma Connecting Trail – 28 mi (45 km), connects the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail to Marion, Alabama, where Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered in 1965 (2015) [52]

National recreation trail (NRT) is a designation given to existing trails that contribute to the recreational and conservation goals of a national network of trails. Over 1,300 trails in every state have been designated as NRTs on federal, state, municipal, tribal and private lands that are available for public use and are less than a mile to more than 500 miles (800 km) in length. [53] They have a combined length of more than 29,000 miles (47,000 km). [54]

Most NRTs are hiking trails, but a significant number are multi-use trails or bike paths, including rail trails and greenways. Some are intended for use with watercraft, horses, cross-country skis, or off-road recreational vehicles. [55] There are a number of water trails that make up the National Water Trails System subprogram. [56] Eligible trails must be complete, well designed and maintained, and open to the public. [55]

The NPS and the USFS jointly administer the National Recreation Trails Program with help from other federal and nonprofit partners, notably American Trails, the lead nonprofit for developing and promoting NRTs. [53] The Secretary of Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture (if on USFS land) designates national recreation trails that are of local and regional significance. Managers of eligible trails can apply for designation with the support of all landowners and their state's trail coordinator (if on non-federal land). [55] Designated trails become part of the National Trails System and receive promotional benefits, use of the NRT logo, technical and networking assistance, and preference for funding through the Department of Transportation's Recreational Trails Program. [57]

American Trails sponsors an annual NRT photo contest [58] and a biennial symposium [59] and maintains the NRT database. [54]

The first national geologic trail was established by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, though it did not amend the National Trails System Act to create an official category. [60]

A Brief History of the Appalachian Trail

The history of the Appalachian Trail is as complex as its construction. The idea for the footpath was birthed by Benton MacKaye. In 1921 MacKaye made his ambitious vision public with his proposal: An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning. However, in his proposal MacKaye envisioned much more than a simple hiking trail. He dreamed of a utopian ideal with small, self-owning community camps set up near the trail supported by food and farm camps where people could come reap the numerous benefits of mountain living. Over the next several years MacKaye spent his time trying to gain support for his ambitious plans. In 1925 MacKaye eventually found enough like-minded individuals to organize the Appalachian Trail Conference (eventually becoming the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, ATC) and begin developing a plan of action for the heart of his proposal: a walking trail from New England to Georgia.

Benton MacKaye (left) Myron Avery (right). Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Through the latter half of the 1920s, the AT saw little progress. The ATC had succeeded in connecting existing trails and breaking new ground in the north but progress in the southern regions was lacking. Arthur Perkins, a retired judge from Connecticut, took control over the ATC from MacKaye near the end of the decade. It was Perkins’s efforts that attracted the attention of a Washington lawyer known as Myron Avery. Avery and a few other local supporters began mapping out a path for the trail through northern Virginia and West Virginia.

Eventually, Avery succeeded Perkins as the head of the ATC and under his leadership the development efforts for the AT surged, albeit at the cost of internal disputes. As progress on the trail continued Avery and MacKaye’s visions for what the AT was and should be clashed. Avery’s more pragmatic idea for the trail as a means for making the mountains more accessible to the masses did not align with MacKaye’s more romantic vision. The feud eventually culminated in 1935, with MacKaye diverting much of his attention away from the AT and toward other projects. Regardless, under Avery’s continued efforts the AT was finally connected as a continuous footpath stretching from Georgia to Maine on Aug. 14, 1937. However, work was far from over.

The following decade the trail was plagued with challenges. A hurricane in 1938 heavily damaged parts of the trail in the north. That same year Congress approved the extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which would ultimately displace nearly 120 miles of trail. Conflicts with the trail running through private lands also began to arise. Then, with the onset of World War II, progress on the trail was more or less halted for much of the decade with many volunteers’ efforts focused on the war.

An early vision of the AT proposed by Benton MacKaye to the Appalachian Trail Conference in Washington March 1925. Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

However, in 1948 new life was breathed into the trail by a man named Earl Shaffer. A recovering WWII veteran, Shaffer set out on the AT and became the first recorded thru-hiker in history–a feat that at the time was believed impossible. After the war trail efforts were able to be refocused. Finally, in 1951, despite never officially being “closed,” Avery once again declared the AT open as a continuous footpath.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s work on the trail continued, refining its path. External developments began to encroach on the AT’s corridor, prompting the ATC to seek legislative help. Spearheaded by ATC’s co-chairmen, Stanley Murray and Murray Stevens (who took the reigns after Avery’s sudden passing), work began to formulate federal legislation that would ensure the protection of the AT corridor. Their efforts paid off in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act into law, making the Appalachian Trail the first national scenic trail under the National Park System (NPS). This act would set in motion the long and arduous process of officially acquiring and placing the AT along federal lands–a process that would not be formally completed until 46 years later in 2014.


Gene Espy completed the Trail in 1951, becoming the second person to thru hike the Trail. He wrote a book called The Trail of My Life, which moved more people to undertake the challenge. By 1969, 59 people had completed thru-hikes. But it was Ed Garvey’s book in 1971 that really sparked a surge in thru-hiking by raising public awareness of the Trail. After completing the Trail in 1970, Garvey inspired thousands by sharing his story in Appalachian Hiker. Here, he related not only the personal thoughts and emotions he experienced during his journey, but also practical information that benefited readers interested in following his footsteps.

Today, around 2–3 million people hike at least some portion of the Trail every year, a dream finally realized almost a century after MacKaye’s treetop revelation.

History of the National Trails System

The National Trails System is the network of scenic, historic, and recreation trails created by the Act in 1968.

Related Document

By Sandra L. Johnson, Technical Informantion SpecialistEnvironment and Natural Resources Policy Division

The National Trails System Act, P.L. 90-543, became law October 2, 1968. The Act and its subsequent amendments authorized a national system of trails and defined four categories of national trails. Since the designation of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails as the first two components, the System has grown to include 20 national trails. Now, 30 years after its inception, issues ret remain regarding funding, quality and quantity of trails, new trail categories, and nationwide promotion to make Americans more aware of the System. This report will be updated as legislative actions occur.

The National Trails System (NTS) was created in 1968 by the National Trails System Act (NT SA). 1 The Act established the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails and authorized a national system of trails to provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities and to promote the preservation of access to the outdoor areas and historic resources of the nation. The National Trails System includes four classes of trails:

National Scenic Trails (NST) provide outdoor recreation and the conservation and enjoyment of significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities

National Historic Trails (NHT) follow travel routes of national historic significance

National Recreation Trails (NRT) are in, or reasonably accessible to, urban areas on federal, state, or private lands and

Connecting or Side Trails provide access to or among the other classes of trails.

During the early history of the United States, trails served as routes for commerce and migration. Since the early 20th Century, trails have been constructed to provide access to scenic terrain. In 1921, the concept of the first interstate recreational trail, now known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, was introduced. In 1945, legislation to establish a "national system of foot trails," an amendment to a highway funding bill, was considered by not reported by committee. 2

As population expanded in the 1950s, an eager nation sought better opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. 3 In 1958, Congress established and directed the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) to make a nationwide study of outdoor national recreation needs. A 1960 survey conducted for the ORRRC indicated that 90% of all Americans participated in some form of outdoor recreation and that walking for pleasure ranked second among all recreation activities. 4 On February 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in his message to Congress on "Natural Beauty," called for the Nation "to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of our country, and make full use of rights-of-way and other public paths." 5 Just 3 years later, Congress heeded the message by enacting the National Trails System Act.

The National Trails System began in 1968 with only two scenic trails. One was the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, stretching 2,160 miles from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. The second was the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, covering 2,665 miles from Canada to Mexico along the mountains of Washington, Oregon, and California. The System was expanded a decade later when the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 designated four historic trails with more than 9,000 miles, and another scenic trail, along the Continental Divide, with 3,100 miles. Today, the federal portion of the System consists of 20 national trails (8 scenic trails, 12 historic trails) covering almost 40,000 miles and listed in table 1. In addition, the Act has authorized 1,000 rails-to-trails conversions, more than 800 national recreation trails, and 2 connecting or side trails.


As defined in the National Trails System Act, NSTs and NHTs are long distance trails and are designated as national trails by Acts of Congress. NRTs and connecting and side trails may be designated by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with the consent of the federal agency, state, or political subdivision over the lands involved. Of the 39 feasibility studies requested since 1968, 5 NSTs and 12 NHTs have been designated.


Appalachian NST

Pacific Crest NST

Continental Divide NST

Mormon Pioneer NHT

Iditarod NHT

Lewis and Clark NHT

North Country NST

Overmountain Victory NHT

Ice Age NST

Florida NST

Potomac Heritage NST

Natchez Trace NST

Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) NHT

Santa Fe NHT

Trail of Tears NHT

Juan Bautistade Anza NHT

California NHT

Pony Express NHT

Selma to Montgomery NHT

California NHT

Ala Kahakai NHT

Old Spanish NHT

El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT

Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT

Star Spangled Banner NHT

Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route NHT
Pacific Northwest NST
Arizona NST
New England NST

The Secretaries are permitted to acquire lands or interest in lands for the National Trails System by written cooperative agreements, through donations, by purchase with donated or appropriated funds, by exchange, and, within limited authority, by condemnation. The Secretaries are directed to cooperate with and encourage states to administer non-federal trail lands through cooperative agreements with landowners and private organizations for the rights-of-way or through states or local governments acquiring such lands or interests.

Organization and Management

Each national trail is administered by either the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture under the authority of the National Trails System Act. The National Park Service administers 15 of the 20 trails in the NTS the Forest Service administers 4 trails and Bureau of Land Management administers one. The Secretaries are to administer the federal lands, working cooperatively with agencies managing lands not under their jurisdiction. Management responsibilities vary for the type of trail.

National Scenic Trails

NSTs provide recreation, conservation and enjoyment of significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities. The use of motorized vehicles on these long-distance trails is generally prohibited, except for the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which allows: (1) access for emergencies (2) reasonable access for adjacent landowners (including timber rights) and (3) landowner use on private lands in the right of way, in accordance with regulations established by the administering Secretary.

National Historic Trails

These trails follow travel routes of national historical significance. To qualify for designation as a NHT, the proposed trail must meet all of the following criteria: (1) the route must have documented historical significance as a result of its use and location (2) there must be evidence of a trail's national significance with respect to American history and (3) the trail must have significant potential for public recreational use or historical interest. These trails do not have to be continuous, and can include land and water segments, marked highways paralleling the route, and sites that together form a chain or network along the historic route. 6

National Recreation Trails

The Forest Service administers national recreation trails within national forests, while the National Park Service is responsible for the overall administration of the national recreation trails program on all other lands, including coordination of non-federal trails. NRTs are existing trails in or reasonably accessible to urban areas, recognized by the federal government as contributing to the Trails System and are managed by public and private agencies at the local, state and national levels. 7 There are NRTs which provide recreation opportunities for the handicapped, hikers, bicyclists, cross country skiers, and horseback riders.

Connecting and Side Trails

These trails provide public access to nationally designated trails or connections between such trails. They are administered by the Secretary of the Interior, except that the Secretary of Agriculture administers those trails located on national forest lands.

Funding. The level of funding continues to be the biggest trail issue. With the exception of the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest NSTs, the National Trails System Act does not provide for sustained finding of designated trails operations, maintenance and development, nor does the Act authorize dedicated finds for land acquisition.

On June 9, 1998, President Clinton signed into law P.L. 105-178, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). TEA-21 is the 6-year reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency of 1991 (ISTEA). 8 ISTEA included the National Recreational Trails Fund Act (16 U.S.C. §§1261-1262, which is separate from the National Trails System Act) and established the National Recreational Trails Funding Program (Recreational Trails Program). The Recreational Trails Program provides funds to the states to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both non-motorized and motorized recreational trail uses. Trail uses include bicycling, hiking, in-line skating, cross-country skiing, snownmobiling, off-road motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, four-wheel driving, or using other off-road motorized vehicles.

Extent and Nature of System.

Another issue is the appropriate number of trails. Some ask, "How many national trails are enough?" If the six new long-distance trails considered in the 105th Congress had been added to the National Trails System, the System would extend to every state, except Rhode Island. According to some observers, one of the weaknesses in the NTS, is that "a poor definition exists of which kinds of trails should be part of the System (except for NHT criteria)." 9 While it is relatively easy to add new trails to the System, it has proven more difficult to provide them with adequate staffing and partnership resources.

The 105th Congress considered, but did not enact, legislation to (1) amend the National Trails System by adding "National Discovery Trails" as a new category of long-distance trails (S. 1069, passed Senate), and (2) designate the "American Discovery Trail" (ADT) as the nation's first coast-to-coast National Discovery Trail (H.R. 588). Some have questioned the need for a new category of trails. The ADT, as proposed, would connect several national scenic, historic, and recreation trails, as well as many other local and regional trails.

Finally, some trails supporters have advocated a nationwide promotion to inform the public about the National Trails System. They assert that most Americans are unaware of the Trails System and the breathtaking scenes and journeys into the past which can be experienced along the national scenic and historic trails. However, a significant increase in the number of trails users could overwhelm present staffing and resources.

National Trails System



Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present oversight of the National Trails System Act.

Trails designated through the National Trails System Act provide millions of visitors rewarding and enjoyable experiences. These national trails are a popular way of linking together thousands of significant historic sites and drawing attention to local cultural and natural resources. Many of the most important benefits of national trails are intangibles such as inspiration, education, fitness, adventure, challenge, and family time together. National trails also provide an important opportunity for local communities to become involved in a national effort. More than 500 community partnerships have been created annually in recent years in support of national trails. Thousands of volunteers each year work tirelessly to plan, promote, build, maintain, and otherwise care for these trails. The number of hours these volunteers have devoted has increased more than 20 percent in the last several years, from almost 500,000 in 1998 to over 600,000 in 2004.

The National Trails System Act (Act), passed in 1968, recognized this central role trails have played in forming our Nation, promoting good health and well-being, and connecting us to history. The Act instituted a national system of trails, designated the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and prescribed the authorities for adding components to the system. It provides for the establishment of national recreation trails, national scenic trails, national historic trails, and connecting or side trails. The trails range from less than one mile to over 5,600 miles in length and together total around 50,000 miles. Today, there are almost 900 national recreation trails that have been administratively designated, and 24 long-distance trails - 8 national scenic trails and 16 national historic trails - all designated by Congress.

National recreation trails, officially recognized each year by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, are existing trails that connect people to local resources and improve their quality of life, with applications for these trails often reflecting diverse partnerships. These trails have been designated on Federal, state, local and privately owned land throughout the country. National recreation trail designation offers only recognition and seldom affects each trail’s long-term protection and management.

National scenic trails and national historic trails are among the pre-eminent trails across the Nation. Of the national scenic trails and national historic trails, the National Park Service (NPS) administers 17, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers one, the Forest Service administers four, and the NPS and the BLM share administrative responsibility for two of the trails. Other Federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, are responsible for managing the parts of the trails that cross their lands. Many of the long-distance trails cross Tribal lands. Often, different agencies administer and manage portions of the same national trail.

National scenic and national historic trails are developed through voluntary partnerships and emphasize local initiatives and involvement to better serve the needs of communities and their local conservation efforts. Every one of the national scenic and national historic trails is based on a web of partnerships often involving a variety of volunteer organizations, state agencies, Tribes, Federal agencies, landowners, land trusts, service organizations, and historic societies. Some may have close ties to universities, outing clubs, youth clubs, and similar groups. Trail partners, especially advocacy groups such as the Oregon-California Trails Association, the Santa Fe Trail Association, and the Florida Trail Association, are vital to ensuring stewardship of trail resources and trail heritage.

Strong partnerships that respect private property rights are critical to achieving preservation of historic trail resources and interpretation of those trails to the public. Only the two national scenic trails established with the Act in 1968, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Appalachian Trail) and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (Pacific Trail), are authorized to use the Act’s full set of land acquisition authorities, including the use of condemnation authority as a last resort. The next nine national scenic trails and national historic trails established between 1980 and 1983 are not permitted to use Federal funds for land acquisition because Congress believed acquisition authority would not be needed to complete the trails. National trails established after 1983 are permitted to use Federal funds for land acquisition from willing sellers. These designations include specific language that protect the private property owner by clearly stating that all lands or interests in lands acquired by the Federal government to protect national trails shall be acquired by providing willing sellers the full market value through the standard Federal appraisal process. In some places, state governments have taken the lead to assemble trail corridors. Where private lands are involved, nonprofit land trusts have in some cases obtained scenic easements on those lands.

The Appalachian Trail is a continuous footpath in a rural and rustic setting that has been established and maintained by volunteers since 1937. Dislocations of the footpath onto roads to keep it continuous led trail proponents to seek Federal government support as a last resort to restore the trail to its ridge-top location and protect a corridor around it. The Appalachian Trail is the only trail on which NPS has used condemnation authority to achieve corridor protection. All of the other national historic and national scenic trails have been developed segment by segment (through partnerships, acquisition from willing sellers, and other cooperative means) usually starting on public lands. While the Appalachian Trail is almost completely in public ownership, the remaining national scenic trails range from 20 to 50 percent under public ownership, easements, or land trust covenants.

The administration of national trails consists of the trail-wide functions outlined in the Act (such as planning, coordination, trail marking, site and segment certification, volunteer support, etc.). Trail management consists of on-the-ground activities that make the trail accessible to the public (including visitor and volunteer management, resource monitoring, interpretive services, local land use planning and compliance, etc.). Each agency utilizes methods of corridor protection that most appropriately relates to their respective missions.

For example, in Wyoming, the BLM has worked with both the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the Oregon and California Trail Association to facilitate management of the trail and the surrounding oil and gas development in a way that benefits all interests. Screening of oil and gas facilities can be accomplished in several ways including the use of blending paint colors, and siting, using topography and vegetation to hide or reduce the visibility. They have worked together on uses of these techniques to maintain the integrity of the trail while not unduly burdening the oil and gas industry.

Along the national historic trails, voluntary site and segment certification of non-Federal properties, rather than Federal acquisition, has become the preferred mode of officially identifying and incorporating properties associated with each national historic trail. Certification allows local, voluntary groups to request that the Federal government recognize a segment of land as part of a national trail. The advantages to certification are that private landowners and the State take a more active role in a national effort, the land remains in private or State ownership, and it is less expensive to the government.
Partnerships and cooperation are keystones to the development of national trails. Trails often cross private and public lands and it is important to develop corridors and solid, long-lasting relationships that stimulate and maintain a strong trail system, while enhancing public/private partnerships that make nationally designated trails successful.

Economic benefits from trails may include new businesses, raised real estate values, and increased visitation on recently designated trails. Many towns hope that designation of a trail through or near their town will bring tourism benefits, but there has been no multi-trail research to verify the actual tourism or land value benefits of national trails.

The presence of a trail in a region can also be the catalyst for a myriad of community-based conservation efforts, thus supporting Secretary Norton’s policy of conservation through cooperation, consultation and communication. In 1995, a North Carolina State University study determined that visitors along the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail in the Carolinas were spending $5.4 million (an estimated $7.6 million in total economic impact when the multiplier effect is added) each year in the 15 counties along the trail. The trails contribute to an awareness of history, an increase in local heritage tourism, and an increased recognition of tribal issues, such as with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

National trails have proven an excellent venue to leverage Federal funds with other sources of funds to complete projects of much greater combined worth. For example, in FY 2005 the NPS Challenge Cost-Share funds devoted $5 million to Lewis and Clark Bicentennial projects. That money was leveraged 4 to 1, allowing funding for 103 projects that included special events, tribal cultural programs, new or upgraded visitor facilities, wayside exhibits, educational services, maps, publications, and resource preservation projects.

In addition, the National Trails System, through a number of authorities, supports and encourages the creation of trails at the state and local level to meet the outdoor recreation needs of the American people. Through the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program we work in collaboration with state, local and nonprofit groups to help create and expand trail opportunities throughout the country. Through such endeavors we help address the national need for increased physical activity by providing local, close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities.

With the renewed emphasis on improving overall health and physical fitness in our nation today, walking, jogging, and hiking along trails are popular activities that provide recreational and health benefits as well as creating social opportunities and camaraderie for millions of people. We are proud of our record in developing and maintaining these trails for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of present and future generations.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the Committee may have.