National Trails System Celebrates 50 Years of Trails

I was going to write about the Santa Fe Trail today, but decided before I do, I need to give you a little more information on the National Trails System.  The National Trails System Act of 1968 calls for establishing trails in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities. The act promotes the enjoyment and appreciation of trails while encouraging greater public access. It establishes four classes of trails: national scenic trails, national historic trails, national recreation trails, and side and connecting trails.  So 2018 was the 50th Birthday of the National Trails System.

National Trails System Map

National scenic trails are to be continuous, extended routes of outdoor recreation within protected corridors. The first two established under the National Trails System Act were the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest trails. They wind through some of the nation’s most striking natural beauty.  The Appalachian Trail is probably the most well-known trail in the system.  Two to three million visitors hike at least a portion of the Appalachian Trail each year with about 700 doing the entire trail.  There are eleven National Scenic Trails.

National historic trails recognize original trails or routes of travel of national historic significance including past routes of exploration, migration, and military action.  The National Park Service administers 19 National Historic Trails.  I have written about several of them previously:  Oregon Trail, California Trail, Old Spanish Trail, and Lewis and Clark Trail.

The term national recreation trail is given to an existing local or regional trail when recognized by the federal government, with the consent of any federal, state, local, nonprofit, or private entity having jurisdiction over these lands. Today almost 1,300 of these trails have been designated throughout the country. They are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  Tom and I often find their logos on trails that we just happen to be hiking in an area.

The National Park Service administers all the national scenic and historic trails.  Some of them are administered in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.  National Recreation Trails are administered by local and state groups with some oversight by the Department of the Interior.

Tom and I love to explore these National Trails, especially the National Historic Trails.  It is fun to think that you are traveling the same route as Lewis and Clark or covered wagons on the Oregon Trail.  We like to stop and read as many National Trails System waysides as possible.

The National Park System does a good job putting out books and brochures on the various trails.  You can read more by going to the National Park websites for the individual trails.  Even though the 50th anniversary passed last year, you can enjoy these trails for years to come.