Even nonhikers have heard of the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails. They rightly hold elevated status in the modern American zeitgeist. Perhaps slightly lesser known, the Continental Divide Trail is accumulating awareness, especially by section and thru-hikers looking for a path less-travelled. In a third tier of name recognition are the eight other National Scenic Trails. These are no less special, magnificent, or worthy of our attention. This is especially true because they all have stretches that remain at risk of development.


Hover over the numbers on the map to read more about each trail:

A Jewel of America’s Public Lands

“The National Trails System is one of the jewels of America’s system of public lands,” says J.T. Horn, TPL’s senior director of national trails initiative. “These 11 routes offer the journey of a lifetime to thousands of long-distance hikers, but they also make up close-to-home recreation for millions of people who want to go for a day hike or a weekend backpacking trip. TPL is partnering with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and trail stewardship groups to accelerate the protection of these routes by helping with mapping and parcel analysis as well as offering land acquisition training for trail managers. We’re also pursuing dozens of acquisitions designed to give these trails a permanent home.”

Established by Congress in 1968, the National Trails System continues to grow as advocates increasingly ring alarm bells about highways, pipelines, vacation homes, and other projects that threaten these special corridors. The trails deliver unparalleled outdoor adventures and facilitate natural wildlife migration. They also help balance sensitive ecosystems, and ensure climate resilience for urban and rural communities.

1. New England Trail

Total Trail Length: 235 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 2,312 acres

The shortest in the NST portfolio, the New England Trail is comprised of three historic trail systems. It passes through 41 communities in two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It also passes within 10 miles of 2 million people, so it is an exemplary example of how these trails connect locals and visitors to accessible outdoor experiences. In 2022, TPL’s Land and People Lab developed a comprehensive parcel analysis for the NET in Massachusetts. This accelerated the land protection planning by the National Park Service.

Notable Projects:

Only about half of the Massachusetts section’s 90 miles is protected. In 2023, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, TPL helped conserve 200 acres in Southwick. This included part of Provin Mountain, a stretch of the traprock ridgeline running from the coast of Connecticut to the Mount Holyoke range. These rare landscapes host scenic cliffs, wetlands, and vernal pools as well as an abundance of rare plant communities in unique microclimates.

2. Potomac Heritage Trail

Total Trail Length: 710 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 7,544 acres

With a goal of connecting places to our national stories, the Potomac National Heritage Scenic Trail runs through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia. It passes through several sites with historic and natural significance. This includes a section of the Great Alleghany Passage, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, and the Civil War Defenses of Washington Trail. In Northern Virginia, it passes through George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

Notable Project:

TPL partnered with the National Park Service to conserve 2,000 acres at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. This includes 550 acres at the former Popes Creek Plantation.

3. Appalachian Trail

Total Trail Length: 2,190 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 115,368 acres

Stretching from Maine to North Carolina, the AT, as it’s known, is one of the oldest scenic trails in the U.S. It’s also the scenic trail that TPL has had, arguably, the most significant impact. We’ve helped protect 150 landscapes in the 14 states through which the trail passes. Projects as far as 10 miles from the trail’s footpath but within its watershed boundary and wildlife corridors are considered critical landscapes by the A.T. Landscape Partnership. TPL’s 100,000+ protected acres preserve the AT viewshed and also maintain a climate adaptation corridor in one of North America’s most biologically diverse landscapes.

Notable TPL Projects:

Sterling Forest in Orange County, 40 miles from New York City, was our first project on the AT corridor. We’ve helped to conserve nearly 15,000 acres of the state park, the northern portion of which the AT traverses. More recently, our protection of 2,600 acres around Maine’s Bald Mountain Pond preserves what J.T. Horn calls “a classic Maine adventure—a paddle-hike combination. It’s not for the faint of heart. It is a wilderness experience, and it’s way out there. But it’s also one of those experiences that really makes your jaw drop.”

4. Florida National Scenic Trail

Total Trail Length: 1,500 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 29,015 acres

The trail was administered by the U.S. Forest Service and stretches from the Big Cypress National Preserve in the southern end of Florida northwest through the panhandle. Designated in 1983, the trail is within a one-hour drive of most Florida residents and hosts 370,000 visitors a year. It passes through three national forests, nine wildlife management areas, eight state forests, eight state parks, two properties administered by the National Park Service, and a wildlife refuge.

Notable Projects:

Located 25 miles northeast of Orlando, the Mills Creek Woodlands was once a 470-acre family-owned farm. When TPL acquired and then conveyed the property to the U.S. Forest Service in 2002, we helped to protect a two-mile section of the Florida Scenic Trail. The trail connects the Big Little Econ State Forest and the Chuluota Wilderness. With help from then-Congressman John Mica, who secured federal funding for the project, Mills Creek became the largest single purchase by the USFS for the FNST up to that point.

5. North Country Trail & Ice Age Trail

Total Trail Length: 4,600 miles (NCT), 1,200 miles (IAT)
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 65,138 acres (NCT), 29,159 acres (IAT)

At 4,600 miles and passing through eight states, the North Country Trail is by far the longest. Since 1990, TPL has completed more than 35 projects within a mile of the trail. We’re currently working on five more. The trail stretches from North Dakota and through the Upper Midwest. It skirts the shoreline of the three largest Great Lakes to Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. The Ice Age Trail traces the edge of a glacier that once covered much of what we know today as Wisconsin. It’s now evident in the many waterways, hills, and ridges that dot the topography.

Notable Projects:

Not only is Victoria Lake on the North Country Trail route, but it’s also on the Wild and Scenic Ontonagon River on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Consequently, the area is popular with hikers, hunters, anglers, and boaters. TPL protected tens of thousands of acres in this corridor, many recently as part of our Forever Northwoods program. When 245 acres of private land adjacent to the Ottawa National Forest became available, TPL secured funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire it. Afterward, we transferred the property to the U.S. Forest Service, which protected a segment of the trail and created a new public access point to the river.

6. Continental Divide Trail

Total Trail Length: 3,100 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 28,963 acres

The PCT and the AT may have greater name recognition along with well-earned reputations as journeys of a lifetime, but the CDT is considered by many to be more challenging. The trail stretches from New Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. When it was established in 1978, many sections of the trail were inaccessible or fenced off, so hikers had to detour long distances or do significant route finding in tricky conditions. Over the past 45 years, TPL helped to open more of the trail to the public and make it more easily navigable. From the indigenous Zuni and Acoma peoples in what is today New Mexico to the Blackfeet Nation whose ancestral lands stretch through today’s Montana and Alberta, Canada, these mountains are sacred. The Blackfeet call the divide “the backbone of the world.”

Notable Projects:

Between 2005 and 2016, TPL conserved nearly 3,000 acres within a mile of the trail in New Mexico and Colorado. Most recently, we purchased 605 acres of private land at Upper Bear Creek near Silver City, New Mexico and conveyed it to the Gila National Forest using the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A single but mighty mile of the CDT runs through the property.

7. Arizona National Scenic Trail

Total Trail Length: 800 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 2,083 acres

A dream since the 1970s and finally designated by Congress in 2009, the Arizona Trail threads the state from Mexico to Utah and is divided into 43 passages. Passing close to Tucson in the south and through Flagstaff to the north, it also runs through dozens of rural gateway communities that benefit from the economic activity that trail-based recreation generates. The trail is particularly beloved by mountain bikers. In fact, much of the trail was built to International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) standards.

Notable Projects:

Rincon Creek is the only body of water within Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, and it attracts hikers to the trails that weave through the area, including the AST. In 2016, Trust for Public Land added 300 acres along a mile and a half of creek to Saguaro.

8. Pacific Crest Trail

Total Trail Length: 1,200 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 48,761 acres

The PCT stretches from Mexico to Canada through California, Washington, and Oregon. For two decades, TPL has protected more than 30,000 acres within a half mile of the trail. Expand that buffer to a mile—which in most cases is more inclusive of the footpath’s viewshed, watershed, wildlife corridors, and access points—and TPL’s total protected acreage more than doubles. For TPL, the strategy and focus for projects along the PCT centers on addressing the trail’s five greatest challenges—climate change, timber harvest, route protection, wildlife habitat, and lack of funding. Even though the trail was designated by Congress, 10 percent of it runs through unprotected land, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Notable Projects:

In 2019, TPL completed an extensive conservation effort along the PCT corridor. We partnered with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, U.S. Forest Service, and Michigan-California Timber Company to protect the Trinity Divide parcel including 10,300 acres along a 17-mile section of the trail. This was the longest unprotected section at the time.

9. Pacific Northwest Trail

Total Trail Length: 1,200 miles
Total TPL Trail Corridor Protected: 5,089 acres

Traversing east-west from the Rocky Mountains at Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean at the Olympic Peninsula, the PNT is among the newest national scenic trails. It earned the designation in 2009. TPL’s work on what is now the PNT stretches all the way back to 1986 when we protected 50 acres in Island County, Washington. Our total protected acreage tally is nothing to sneeze at: 4,839 acres across 10 projects. Looking ahead, TPL’s Land and People Lab is about to develop the first digital mapping tool that will analyze the PNT down to the parcel level. This will set the stage for relocation of the trail off roads and land protection of threatened trail segments.

Notable Projects:

On Whidbey Island in Washington’s Puget Sound, the PNT travels through Ebey’s Landing National Historical Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. This island section of the PNT offers a unique recreation experience for a trail that traverses mountains for most of its length. In the early 2000s TPL protected the historic Engle Farm by transferring 304 acres to the National Park Service utilizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. An additional phase protected another 111 acres with a conservation easement maintaining the scenic value of this section of the PNT.


Deborah Williams is Trust for Public Land’s editorial director. Prior to joining TPL, she spent more than 20 years writing and editing for consumer and trade media in the lifestyle, travel, ski, and outdoor industries.


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