AZ Hiking Trails

National Scenic Trails – National Historic Trails

In the early days of this nation, before railroads and highways were constructed, people traveled overland on foot, on horseback, or by wagon. Some of these trails remain in existence today as reminders of our rich historic past. Stories of the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Trail of Tears, and others bring to mind exciting and sometimes tragic chapters in our national heritage.

Other visions come to mind with trails. In the early 20th century, outdoor enthusiasts in New England and the Sierra Nevada’s constructed footpaths to gain access to scenic mountain terrain. Trails became a way to gain access to spectacular natural beauty and at the same time to pursue healthy outdoor recreation. The first interstate recreational trail was conceived in 1921 as a national preserve parallel to the East Coast; it is known today as the Appalachian Trail.

In 1968 to provide federal assistance to the Appalachian Trail and to establish a national system of trails, Congress passed the National Trails System Act. The Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails were named in the act as the first two national scenic trails. Today the National Trails System consists of Congressionally designated national scenic trails, which are continuous protected scenic corridors for outdoor recreation, and national historic trails, which recognize prominent past routes of exploration, migration, and military action. The historic trails generally consist of remnant sites and trail segments, and thus are not necessarily continuous. Although both types are administered by federal agencies, land ownership may be in public or private hands. Of the 17 national scenic and national historic trails so far established, 12 are administered by the National Park Service, four by the Forest Service, and one by the Bureau of Land Management.

National recreation trails are existing trails recognized by the Federal Government as contributing to the National Trails System. They vary in length, terrain, difficulty, and accessibility. These trails are managed by public and private agencies at the local, state, and national levels and include nature trails, river routes, and historic tours.

Besides administering and coordinating national trails, the National Park Service conducts a variety of programs to enhance and build a national system of trails available to all. Trail system planning occurs at the metropolitan, state, and regional levels to fulfill the requirement for a National Trail Plan. Through its Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the National Park Service provides technical assistance to local and state public agencies and private organizations working on river and trail corridor projects. Some of these involve establishing trails on abandoned railroad rights-of-way.

For further information on the National Trails System and its various components and programs, contact: National Trails System Branch, National Park Service (782), P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C. 20013-7127, or call 202-343-3780.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1968
2,144 miles (3,452 km)

The Appalachian Trail was first envisioned in 1921 by Benton MacKaye as a greenway from Maine to Georgia. The trail hugs the crests of the Appalachian Mountains and is open only to the hikers. Shelters are spaced for convenient overnight stays. The Appalachian Trail Conference established in 1925, developed the trail and maintains it today through 32 affiliated volunteer trail clubs. Only 65 miles still needs protection through public ownership. Almost 175 people each year hike the entire trail, while millions find inspiration and adventure on shorter trips along the “A.T.”

Appalachian Trail Conference, P.O. Box 807, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; 304-535-6331

National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Project Office, c/o Harpers Ferry Center, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; 304-535-6278

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
Forest Service
Established 1978
3,200 miles (5,150 km)

The Continental Divide Trail provides spectacular backcountry travel the length of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. It is the most rugged of the long-distance trails. The only section officially designated runs for 795 miles from Canada through Montana and Idaho to Yellowstone National Park. It is open to hikers, pack and saddle animals, and in some places, off-road motorized vehicles. Some segments are open for use in other states.

Continental Divide Trail Society, P.O. Box 30002, Bethesda, Maryland 20814

Forest Service, Northern Region, Federal Building, P.O. Box 7669, Missoula, MT 59807; 406-329-3150 (Montana and Idaho)

Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, 11177 West 8th Avenue, Box 25127, Lakewood, CO 80225; 303-236-9501 (Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico)

Florida National Scenic Trail
Forest Service
Established 1983
1,300 miles (2,090 km)

The Florida Trail was conceived and initiated by James A. Kern, who formed the Florida Trail Association in 1964. The trail will eventually extend from Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida through Florida’s three national forests to Gulf Islands National Seashore in the western panhandle. It is especially delightful for winter hiking and camping, passing through America’s only subtropical landscape. Side loop trails connect to nearby historic sites and other points of interest. More than 1,000 miles are completed and some 300 miles are officially open to public use.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1980
1,000 miles (1,610 km)

At the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, glaciers retreated from North America and left behind a chain of moraine hills which defined their southern edge. In Wisconsin, the band of hills zigzags across the state for 1,000 miles from Lake Michigan to the Saint Croix River. A trail along these hills was conceived by Ray Zillmer in the 1950s and publicized by Rep. Henry Reuss in his book, On the Trail of the Ice Age. Today, with help from the State of Wisconsin and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, almost half of the trail is open to public use. Certain sections are popular for marathons, ski races, and ultra-running.

Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation, P.O. Box 422, Sheboygan, WI 53082

National Park Service, Ice Age National Scenic Trail, 700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53711; 608-264-5610

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1983
110 miles (180 km)

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trails within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway, extending for 450 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The Parkway commemorates the historic Natchez Tracer, an ancient path that began as a series of animal tracks and Native American trails. It was late used by early explorers, “Kaintuck” boatmen, post riders, and military men, including General Andrew Jackson after his victory at the Battle of New Orleans. In the trail’s 1987 comprehensive plan, four segments near Nashville, Jackson, and Natchez totaling 110 miles were selected for development as hiking and horseback trails.

National Park Service, Natchez Trace Parkway, Rural Route 1, NT-143, Tupelo, MS 38801; 601-842-1572

Natchez Trace Trail Conference, P.O. Box 6579, Jackson, MS 39282; 601-373-1447

North Country National Scenic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1980
3,200 miles (5,150 km)

Conceived in the mid-1960s, the North Country Trail links New York’s Adirondack Mountains with the Missouri River in North Dakota. The trail journeys through a variety of environments: the grandeur of the Adirondacks, Pennsylvania’s hardwood forests, the farmland and canals of Ohio, the Great Lakes shorelines of Michigan, the glacier-carved forests, lakes, and streams of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the vast plains of North Dakota. Today, almost half of this trail is open for public use. Some of the longer segments cross nine national forests and two national park areas along the route.

North Country Trail Association, P.O. Box 311, White Cloud, MI 49349; 616-689-1912

National Park Service, North Country National Scenic Trail, 700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53711; 608-264-5610

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
Forest Service
Established 1968
2,638 miles (4,247 km)

Lying along the spectacular shoulders of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges from Canada to Mexico, the Pacific Crest is the West Coast counterpart of the Appalachian Trail. Inspired in the 1930s by the idea of a long-distance mountain trail, citizen activists worked with the Forest Service to establish the trail. It passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. The trail was completed in Oregon and Washington in 1987. Today only 30 miles in California are not protected.

Pacific Crest Trail Conference, P.O. Box 2514, Lynnwood, WA 98036-2514

Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, P.O. Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208; 503-326-3644

Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, 630 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-705-2889

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1983
700 miles (1,130 km)

The Potomac Heritage Trail recognizes and commemorates the unique mix of history and recreation along the Potomac River. Much is already in place: the 184-mile towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the District of Columbia and Maryland, the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trial in Virginia, and the 75-mile Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania. In western Maryland, members of the Potomac Heritage Trail have recommended a 55-mile hiking path from Cumberland, Maryland, north to Pennsylvania’s Mount Davis and on to the Laurel Highlands.

Potomac Heritage Trail Association, 5529 Benson Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21227

National Park Service, National Capital Region, Land Use Coordination, 1100 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20242; 202-619-7027

National Historic Trails

Iditarod National Historic Trail
Bureau of Land Management
Established 1978
2,450 miles, main route 900 (3,945 km, main route 1,450)

The Iditarod is a system of historic trails made famous by Alaska gold prospectors and their dog teams during the late 19th and early 20th century gold rush. Most of the trail is usable only during Alaska’s six-month winter when rivers and tundra are frozen. Each year the renowned 1,150-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race is run along the trail from Anchorage to Nome. Other events include the 210-mile Iditasport race for skiers, mountain bikers, and snowshoers, and the Alaska Gold Rush Classic Snowmachine Race. A network of shelters is being installed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Iditarod Trail Committee.

Anchorage District, Bureau of Land Management, 6681 Abbott Loop Road, Anchorage, AK 99507; 907-267-1246

Iditarod Trail Committee, P.O. Box 870800, Wasilla, AK 99687; 907-376-5155

John Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1990
1,200 miles (1,930 km)

In 1775, a party of Spanish colonists led by Col. Juan Bautista de Anza set out from Mexico to establish an overland route to California. They sought to build a presidio and mission overlooking the Golden Gate and secure it from threats by the Russians and British. This party of 30 families, a dozen soldiers, and 1,000 cattle, horses, and mules spent three months traversing the deserts of the Southwest before reaching the missions of the California coast. Another three months were spent traveling up the Pacific coast to the Golden Gate where the city of San Francisco now stands. In 1975 and 1976, an expedition re-enactment took place from Horcasitas, Mexico, to San Francisco.

National Park Service, Western Region, Planning, Grants, and Environmental Quality, 600 Harrison Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94107-1372; 415-744-3975

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1978
3,700 miles (5,960 km)

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and the “Oregon Country.” Setting out in boats from what is today Wood River, Illinois, and following the Missouri River upstream, their expedition eventually reached the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805 and returned east the next year. In Idaho and western Montana, the route follows roads and trails as it crosses the Rocky Mountain passes. Along the route, state, local, and private interests have established motor routes, roadside interpretive markers, and museum exhibits telling the Lewis and Clark story.

Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 3434, Great Falls, MT 59403

National Park Service, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, 700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53711; 608-264-5610

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1978
1,300 miles (2,095 km)

Mormon emigration was one of the principal forces of settlement of the West. Departing form Nauvoo, Illinois, in February 1846, thousands of Mormons crossed into Iowa seeking refuge from religious persecution. They spent the next winter in the Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, area. Early in 1847, Brigham Young led an advance party west along the Platte River, paralleling the Oregon Trail, to Fort Bridger, Wyoming, where they turned southwest and eventually came to the Great Salt Lake. The 1,624-mile auto tour route in five states is generally marked with the trail logo and closely follows the trail’s historic route.

National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Planning and Compliance Division, 12795 West Alameda Parkway, Lakewood, CO 80225; 303-969-2830

Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail
Forest Service
Established 1986
1,170 miles (1,885 km)

This trail route honors the heroic and poignant attempt by the Nez Perce Indians to escape capture by the U.S. Army. In 1877, the Nez Perce were forced to leave their ancestral homelands and move to a reservation east of Lewiston, Idaho. During this journey, hostilities broke out between white settlers and some groups of the Nez Perce. The U.S. Army was called in. The resisting bands headed east, crossed the Rocky Mountains, and hoped to find refuge in Canada. Led by several commanders including Chief Joseph, they eluded capture for months, traveling through the newly established Yellowstone National Park and out onto the Great Plains. Just short of reaching the Canadian border in Montana, most of the party were overtaken near the Bearpaw Mountains.

Forest Service, Northern Region, Federal Building, P.O. Box 7669, Missoula, MT; 406-329-3582

Oregon National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1978
2,170 miles (3,495 km)

As the harbinger of America’s westward expansion, the Oregon Trail was the pathway to the Pacific for fur traders, gold seekers, missionaries, and emigrants. Beginning in 1841 and enduring for more than 20 years, an estimated 300,000 emigrants followed this route from the Midwest to Oregon on a trip that took five months to complete. Today the trail corridor contains some 300 miles of discernible wagon ruts and 125 historic sites. The approximate route can still be followed by automobile, and opportunities are available to travel by foot, horse, or mountain bike in many places.

Oregon-Country Trails Association, P.O. Box 1019, Independence, MO 64051-0519; 816-252-2276

National Park Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Oregon National Historic Trail, 83 South King Street, Suite 212, Seattle, WA 98104; 206-553-5366

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1980
300 miles (485 km)

In the fall of 1780, upcountry patriots from Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina formed a militia to drive the British from the southern colonies. This trail marks their 14-day trek across the Appalachians to the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. There they defeated British troops at the Battle of Kings Mountain, setting in motion events that led to the British surrender at Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War. Each year history buffs commemorate this patriotic event. Much of the trail has become road and highway; only a small 20-mile portion remains as a foot trail across the mountains. in most places roadside signs indicate proximity to the trail. A guide to the seven walking sections of the trail is available.

Overmountain Victory Trail Association, c/o Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, 1651 West Elk Avenue, Elizabethton, TN 37643; 615-543-5808

National Park Service, Southeast Region, Planning and Compliance Division, 75 Spring Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303; 404-331-5465

Santa Fe National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1987
1,203 miles (1,937 km)

After Mexican independence in 1821, U.S. and Mexican traders developed the Santa Fe Trail, using American Indian travel and trade routes. it quickly became a commercial and cultural link between the two countries. It also became a road of conquest during the Mexican and Civil wars. With the building of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880, the trail was largely abandoned. Of the 1,203 miles of trail route between Old Franklin, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, more than 200 miles of ruts and trace remain visible; some 30 miles of these are protected on federal lands.

Santa Fe Trail Association, Santa Fe Trail Center, Route 3, Larned, KS 67550; 316-285-2054

National Park Service, Southwest Region, Branch of Long Distance Trails, P.O. Box 728, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0728; 505-988-6888

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
National Park Service
Established 1987
2,052 miles (3,304 km)

After many years of pressure from white settlers, 16,000 Cherokee Indians from the southeastern states were moved by the U.S. Army in the late 1830s to lands west of the Mississippi River. Various detachments followed different routes west to the Oklahoma Territory. Thousands died along the way. Today, the designated trail follows two of the principal routes: a water trail (1,226 miles) along the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, and Arkansas rivers; and an overland route (826 miles) from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

National Park Service, Southwest Region, Branch of Long Distance Trails, P.O. Box 728, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0728; 505-988-6888