As far as National Scenic Trails are concerned (and for these purposes I’m not including National Historic Trails or National Recreation Trails), there are currently 11 in existence (three of them were added as recently as 2009). They represent some of the most dramatic and geographically (not to mention historically) significant regions of the United States. As I briefly describe them below, my intention is to highlight their importance, but also to point out the lack of representation in the mid-sections of the country and particularly, of course, in the Great Plains. Most other major regions of the country are represented by at least one National Scenic Trail, and with the possible exception of the Great Basin, the Great Plains is the only major region without a National Scenic Trail. (btw – when we complete the Great Plains Trail (GPT), we can talk about the need for the Great Basin Trail (GBT)!
1) The Appalachian Trail (AT) – This is the grand-daddy of them all and probably the most famous. It was conceived in 1920’s and designated in 1968. It runs from northern Georgia to the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine and follows the crest of the Appalachian Mountains.
2) The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – Also esablished in 1968, this trail passes through the high country of the west coast along various coastal and inland mountain ranges from the Mexico border to the Canada border.
3) The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – Established in 1978, the CDT traverses the crest of the continent deep in the Rocky Mountains with the Pacific/Atlantic watershed as its guiding principle. It also goes from border to border.
4) The North Country Trail (NCT) – Established in 1980, it is the longest of the National Scenic Trails (4,600 miles) and runs east-west from upstate New York all the way to central North Dakota. This is as close as we come the the Great Plains having a representative in the National Scenic Trails. The westernmost 100 miles or so of the NCT is certainly in the Great Plains, and the westernmost 300 miles or so are in the tallgrass or mixed grass prairies, but that’s a small percentage of such a long trail.
5) Ice Age Trail (IAT) – Established in 1980, this trail lies entirely within the state of Wisconsin and follows what would’ve been the southern edge of the last big continental glaciers that covered the region more than ten thousand years ago. Prairie potholes, lakes, hills, moraines, and drumlins are featured.
6) Florida Trail (FT) – This trail was designated in 1983 and criss-crosses the state of Florida in order to feature the varied country of Florida from northern forests and rivers to southern swamps and lakes.
7) Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT) – Also established in 1983, the PHT highlights the scenery of Maryland, Virginia as well as the District of Columbia. It connects with various other trails in the region such as the C&O Canal Towpath.
8) Natchez Trace Trail (NTT) – This trail exists in the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi and follows a historic route of Native Americans as well as military troops in later days.
9) Arizona Trail (AZT) – This is one of three newer trails designated in 2009. The AZT goes from the Mexico border in the south to the Utah border in the north. It highlights the incredibly varied scenery and topography of Arizona from scorching deserts to high mountain forests.
10) Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) – This trail travels near the Canada border from where it connects with the CDT in Montana, all the way west to the Pacific coast in Washington. Snow-capped peaks and dark forests are consistently on display.
11) New England Trail (NET) – The New England Trail was studied by Congress in 2000 in order to preserve and connect several existing trails in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
There you have it – eleven National Scenic Trails covering the West Coast, the Rockies, the Midwest, the Southeast, and the Northeast. If you ever get the chance, go hike or bike or ride a horse along any one of them for any length you choose. I promise you will not regret it!
That said, the time has come for heart of the nation to get its long deserved National Scenic Trail in order to recognize the ecological, geographical, and historical importance of the Great Plains!