A national recreation trail is a gateway into nature’s secret beauties, a portal to the past, a way into solitude and community. It is also an inroad to our national character. Our trails are both irresistible and indispensable.
—Stewart Udall, US Secretary of the Interior (1961–69); 1920–2010
The National Trails System Act of 1968 as amended calls for establishing trails in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities. The National Trails System promotes the enjoyment and appreciation of trails while encouraging greater public access. The system includes national scenic trails, national historic trails, and national recreation trails.
Recently announced (June 9, 2023), the newly designated routes span a total of 340 miles across nine states. From the lush, tree-covered peaks of the Ozark Mountains to the babbling Fox River in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois, the nation’s trail system just got a big upgrade: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has designated nine new national recreation trails spanning 340 total miles in nine states.
The new routes add to America’s existing network of more than 1,300 national recreation trails located in every state plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
More broadly, the National Trails System which includes recreational trails as well as historical and scenic trails spans 50,000 total miles across the country. Created with the National Trails System Act in 1968, the network is meant to promote access to the outdoors “in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities,” per the National Park Service.
“These trails offer an abundance of opportunities to experience the breathtaking landscapes of our country, all while supporting outdoor recreation activities and boosting local economies,” says Haaland in a statement.
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If you’re looking for new destinations to explore, check out one of the additions.
Crown Zellerbach Trail in Scappoose and Vernonia, Oregon: The 22-mile Crown Zellerbach or Crown Z trail is open to horseback riders, runners, and walkers of all ability levels. Made primarily of gravel, the route follows the path of the historic Portland and Southwestern Railroad through Oregon’s Columbia River wetlands and Coastal Range. It’s lined with interpretive signs that offer insights into the region’s human and natural history.
Enterprise South Nature Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee: The Enterprise South Nature Park includes 70 miles of trails through 2,800 acres of heavily wooded forests.
Fabulous Fox! Water Trail in Wisconsin and Illinois: This unique water trail along the Fox River invites kayakers, rafters, canoers, and paddle boarders to explore 158 miles throughout southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois. It offers more than 70 access points through a variety of landscapes.
Harris Greenway Trail in Gwinnett County, Georgia: This paved, multi-use trail spans over five miles and links two parks on the outskirts of Atlanta: Tribble Mill Park and Harbins Park. It’s named after Lloyd N. Harris, who helped strengthen and expand the county’s public lands.
Iron Hills Trail System in Utah: Situated on Bureau of Land Management land north of Zion National Park in southwest Utah, the Iron Hills Trail System is perfect for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and horseback riding.
Old Highway 131 Trail in Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Wisconsin: This four-season trail is beloved by cross-country skiers, snowshoers, cyclists, hikers, and pedestrians alike. The state has already created a handy digital interpretive guide for learning more about the region.
Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas: Spanning 40 miles, the Razorback Greenway is an ideal jumping off point for exploring the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. It connects the cities of Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers, Bentonville, and Bella Vista while also providing access to museums, historic sites, entertainment venues, lakes, and local businesses.
Vernon Bush Garden Trail in Jackson County, Alabama: Located at Jackson County Park, the one-mile Vernon Bush Garden Trail is lined with thousands of plants, flowers, and trees including hydrangeas, azaleas, and trilliums. It’s named after longtime volunteer Vernon Bush who dedicated thousands of hours to beautifying the park.
Wilson Creek Trail in McKinney, Texas: With nearly ten scenic miles to explore, Texas’ Wilson Creek Trail links Bonnie Wenk Park and Towne Lake Park. For adventurous four-legged friends, it also includes a special 0.44-mile dog park loop.
We have hiked numerous trails including designated National Recreation Trails. Following are a few of our favorites.
Old Baldy Super Loop
Location: Coronado National Forest near Madera Canyon
Length: 12.9 miles
Description: The trails form a figure eight making it possible to put together a number of different loops using different portions of each. Old Baldy is the most heavily traveled and also remains the cooler of the two by keeping a more northerly aspect and staying in the trees for almost its entire length.
Above the midpoint of the 8 at Josephine Saddle, the Super Trail loops around the south side of the mountain through more arid country while Old Baldy switchbacks through thickets of New Mexico locust on a west-facing slope to Baldy Saddle. The last mile to the summit of Mt. Wrightson via the Crest Trail #144 is the same no matter which trails you’ve followed to the saddle.
The views from the summit are, to say the least, breathtaking. Actually, you don’t even have to go all the way to the top to enjoy great views.
And while you’re at it, remember that all that’s worth seeing here is not in the distance. The birdwatcher’s heaven that exists in Madera Canyon extends up the mountain into this area where in addition to the birds you have a chance to see Coues white-tailed deer, black bears, and even mountain lions.
Angel of Goliad Trail
Length: 2 miles
Description: The Angel of Goliad Trail, a 2-mile hiking, bicycle, and pedestrian trail is handicapped-accessible with multiple entry points for selected distances. The trail took 10 years to complete and serves to link multiple historical sites in Goliad.
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Named after Panchita Alavez, the Angel of Goliad as so designated by the survivors of the Goliad Massacre during the Texas Revolution on March 27, 1836 where Col. Fannin and 341 of his men who were captured by the Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto and executed under direct orders of Santa Anna.
Panchita was the wife of the paymaster of the Mexican Army and was directly and solely responsible for saving at least 28 lives during several confrontations. Those lives were that of the brave men fighting for Texas Independence.
Many Winter Texans visit Goliad State Park and comment on the natural beauty of the trail in its serene setting. Goliad State Park encompasses the restored Mission Espiritu Santo, claimed to be the very first beginning of Cattle ranching in Texas during the Spanish missionary period.
Francis Beidler Forest Four Holes Swamp Trail
State: South Carolina
Location: National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest near Harleyville
Length: 1.75 miles
Description: The National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest located in Four Holes Swamp contains within its 18,000 acres the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress and Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world. The Beidler Forest has been recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, a National Natural Landmark, an Important Bird Area, and a site on the Underground Railroad.
Wander along an elevated boardwalk past ancient trees, black water swamps, clear pools, and abundant wildlife. Thousand-year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia. The swamp is a birding paradise with some 140 species of bird documented on the sanctuary including nesting Prothonotary Warblers from April-July and Barred Owls present year-round. Reptiles are frequently seen on the boardwalk trail during the warm months.
A 1.75-mile self-guiding boardwalk trail allows visitors the chance to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp and experience the peace and serenity that characterizes the area, hear the sounds of birds and bugs, and take a relaxing and informative walk back in time and see a swamp the way nature intended it to be.
State: New Mexico
Location: Underground trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Length: 4.2 miles
Description: The underground trail system in Carlsbad Cavern is 4.2 miles long and includes six interconnected tour routes with 2.61 miles of paved trail and 1.59 miles of flagged off-trail tour routes. The paved routes include the 1.25-mile-long Main Corridor, the 1.2-mile-long Big Room loop, and the 0.16-mile-long Kings Palace loop.
The Main Corridor is a self-guided tour that drops 750 feet from the Natural Entrance to the Big Room and takes about one hour to walk. This tour passes Bat Cave where several hundred thousand Brazilian Free-tailed bats roost between April and November. It then descends down the impressive Devils Pit and into a giant hall before passing Iceberg Rock, one of the largest breakdown blocks found in any cave and finally past the Boneyard, a mazy area that resembles a giant sponge.
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The Big Room self-guided tour starts at the bottom of the elevator shaft and takes 1.5 hours to make a loop back to the elevator. This tour passes some of the most scenic and iconic places found in Carlsbad Cavern including the giant stalagmites in the Hall of Giants, the Chandelier, the Jumping off Place, the historic National Geographic Pit, Top of the Cross, Bottomless Pit, the impressive vista at Rock of Ages, and the beautiful Longfellows Bathtub, Painted Grotto, Dolls Theater, and Chinese Theater.
Location: In Boston a 2.5 mile path along city sidewalks marked by a red line that connects 16 historic sites.
Length: 2.5 miles
Description: To travel back to Revolutionary Boston—to understand the people, the events, and the ideals of the 18th century—is a great leap for us today. But the sites along the Freedom Trail do speak eloquently of that time. Bostonians and other colonists shared a notion of liberty that was precious and worth fighting for. The Freedom Trail sites include scenes of critical events in Boston and the nation’s struggle for freedom.
Most of the Boston National Historical Park sites are connected by the Freedom Trail. Recognized as a National Recreation Trail, the 2.5-mile trail is a walking tour of 16 sites and structures of historic importance in downtown Boston and Charlestown. Sixty-minute tours begin at the Visitor Center at historic Faneuil Hall and cover the heart of the Freedom Trail from the Old South Meeting House to the Old North Church. Tours leave at regular intervals in the spring, summer, and fall, weather permitting.
As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.
—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh