I just recently learned about this trail designation and I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea it existed.
The National Scenic Trails designation is a collection of trails that meet certain criteria set by the National Park Service.
What I find most impressive is that only 11 trails have earned this designation. So what does it take to make the list?
The National Park Service defines it simply as, “national scenic trails are 100 miles or longer, continuous, primarily non-motorized routes of outstanding recreation opportunity.”
Sound like some good bucket list opportunities so let’s check them out.
Built by private citizens in the 1930’s, The Appalachian Trail stretches over 2100 miles. The trail connects Georgia and Maine and runs through 14 states.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy describes the Appalachian Trail as the longest hiking-only trail in the world. While over 2 million people a year will enjoy portions of this trail, only about 900 will complete it in its entirety in a single season.
As you connect the over 250 campsites and shelters you’ll find yourself immersed in the wild forest of the east. You’ll pass through what are called Trail Towns, small towns along the trail, that will give you a glimpse of society before you disappear into the woods again.
If you’re interested in hiking the trail a great place to start is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The Arizona National Scenic Trail (Arizona Trail) stretches over 800 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico to Utah, connecting deserts, mountains, canyons, wilderness, history, communities and people.
The trail is open to hiking, equestrian, and biking. Do yourself a favor and hit this one in the spring or fall as it can get downright hot.
The picture above was from a portion we completed during winter but keep in mind a lot of the trail is not passable due to snow during the winter.
To plan your trip head to the Arizona Trail Association.
CONTINENTAL DIVIDE SCENIC TRAIL
The trail stretches a massive 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada all while following the spine of the Continental Divide.
The sandy deserts of New Mexico give rise to the massive peaks of Colorado making for an epic yet challenging hike.
The hike is made even more challenging as some of the higher passes in Colorado hold snow for the majority of the year. Alternative routes are available should you hit too much of the white stuff.
To conquer this massive trail head over to The Continental Divide Trail Association.
If you decide to tackle one of these giants be sure to read our Trekking Packing List so you don’t forget anything.
The 1,300 mile trail meanders through some of the most unique and beautiful country in North America.
The trail got its start in 1960 by Jim Kern. Jim after finishing the Appalachian Trail returned home to Miami and was disappointed knowing that no similar trail existed for Florida.
Jim founded the Florida Trail Association and through a ridiculous amount of volunteer hours the trail has become what it is today.
ICE AGE TRAIL, WISCONSIN
The Ice Age trail is appropriately named after a massive glacial event some 12,000 years ago. The glacier that pushed its way down from the north carved out the impressive terrain we see today.
The 1,200 mile trail highlights this glacial push and the amazing features it left behind. The trail consists of some well-marked as well as some not so well-marked trail, making this an adventurous endeavor.
To follow the path of this 12,000 year old glacier head to the Ice Age Trail Alliance.
NATCHEZ TRACE SCENIC TRAIL
The Natchez Trace Trail barrows an old trail that once connected Missippi and Tennessee. The once well-traveled trail was the lifeline of the Southwest and is home to a rich history.
Today the trail is divided into sections and is no longer contiguous. There are 4 sections each at around 70 miles.
To learn more about the trail, head to the Park Service.
NEW ENGLAND NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL
The New England National Scenic Trail (NET) is a 215-mile trail that connects Connecticut and Massachusetts.
As you hike through the classic New England landscape you’ll enjoy sweeping vistas, summits, forested glades, wetlands and vernal pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls.
To get more details on the NET head to New England Trail.
NORTH COUNTRY SCENIC TRAIL
This one is a beast at over 4,600 miles. According to the North Country Trail Association, only 13 people have completed this massive undertaking.
The trail winds through seven states and ten national forests as you go from North Dakota to New York.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
The iconic Pacific Crest Trail(PCT) takes you through some of the West’s very best. You’ll experience a diverse and constantly changing landscape as you make your way through California, Oregon, and Washington.
The trail spans over 2,600 miles as you hike from Mexico to Canada. To get your bearings for this classic, head to Pacific Crest Trail Association for more information.
While you’re at it, don’t miss America’s Top Road Trip Destinations. These are a perfect addition to any of these National Scenic Trails.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL
Beginning at the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park the trail travels over 1,200 miles through Montana, Idaho, and Washington before reaching the Pacific Ocean near Cape Alava.
This far less crowded trail is a great alternative to the busy Pacific Crest Trail. You’ll see some amazing country as you make your way from high in the Rockies to sea level on the Pacific.
Head to Pacific Northwest Trail Association for more information.
POTOMAC HERITAGE TRAIL
Hike, bike, ride, and paddle your way through the historic Potomac Heritage trail. The 700 mile trail winds through the diverse landscapes of the Chesapeake Bay and the Allegheny Plateau.
What makes this trail unique is the ability to traverse the waterways by boat that flow along the trail. Giving the feet a break in a Kayak sounds like a great idea to me.
To get your hike or Kayak on head to the Park Service.
HAVE YOU CONQUERED ANY OF THESE NATIONAL SCENIC TRAILS?
I love learning new things and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this trail designation before. While I had heard of most of these trails I was pleasantly surprised by a couple. Looks like we have some more exploring to do.