Explore the Nine Newest National Recreation Trails + Five Old Favorites

The United States has more than 1,300 national recreation trails spanning a total of 50,000 miles

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.

Hiking Okd Baldy Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

If you’re looking for new destinations to explore, check out one of the additions.

Angel of Goliad Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Frances Beidler Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: National Fishing and Boating Week: Exploring National Water Trails

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.

Old Favorites

We have hiked numerous trails including designated National Recreation Trails. Following are a few of our favorites.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Baldy Super Loop

State: Arizona

Location: Coronado National Forest near Madera Canyon

Length: 12.9 miles

Hiking Old Baldy Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angel of Goliad Trail

State: Texas

Location: Goliad

Length: 2 miles

Angel of Goliad Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

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.

Frances Beidler Forest Trail

Francis Beidler Forest Four Holes Swamp Trail

State: South Carolina

Location: National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest near Harleyville

Length: 1.75 miles

Frances Beidler Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns

State: New Mexico

Location: Underground trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Length: 4.2 miles

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

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.

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail

State: Massachusetts

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

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

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

Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Three and a half miles of cliffs, rocky beaches, Gilded Age mansions, and 40 Steps to nowhere in particular

While Newport Island boasts many attractions, one that stands out is the famed Cliff Walk. Overlooking Easton’s Bay as it travails past Gilded Age mansions and the homes of Newport’s rich and famous and turns back toward Bailey’s Beach, the path welcomes more than a million visitors annually who are looking for exercise or a stroll, regardless of the time of year.

Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From First Beach at one end to Bailey’s Beach at the other, Newport Rhode Island’s Cliff Walk is a three-and-a-half-mile National Recreation Trail with seven access points and 40 steps with a history dating back to the Gilded Age. The breathtaking views have made it one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions and a central part of Newport’s identity.

While the far-reaching ocean views are stunning enough, visitors looking toward land can take in the sights of Newport’s many famous mansions. Among those along the path are Marble House, Rosecliff, Ochre Court, The Breakers, and Rough Point. 

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.

Visitors can also traverse a little closer to the water at Forty Steps near Narragansett Avenue.

Cliff Walk in front of The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traversing the Cliff Walk has a few challenging (and slippery) sections but most of it is long easy stretches with sweeping views of Narragansett Bay. You can see why those Captains of Industry all wanted their piece of it—the bigger the piece the better.

The story of what is known as the 40 Steps just off the east end of Narragansett Avenue is one story of Cliff Walk in miniature. As Newport was being gobbled up as a resort town for the super-wealthy, access to some of the most arresting shorelines in New England was still open to people who weren’t named Astor and Vanderbilt. Sure there were mansions like The Breakers and Ochre Court dominating the land high atop the cliffs but their cooks, maids, butlers, chauffeurs, and gardeners created their piece of the seaside playground.

Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometime around 1880, a set of 40 rickety steps was built down to the bottom of the cliffs. With no beach at the bottom, the steps had no real destination. But they became the servants’ meeting place with music and dancing breaking up the monotony of work at the big houses. Today, much of the land along Cliff Walk is still privately owned but since 1975 this public trail with seven rights-of-way (and those 40 steps) the beauty of the Bay is still accessible for everyone.

Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1975 the Cliff Walk was named a National Recreation Trail. At the time, it was the first location in New England and 65th nationally. According to the National Park Service, “National Recreation Trails are recognized by the federal government with the consent of any Federal, State, Tribal, local, nonprofit, or private entity having jurisdiction over these lands. Today almost 1,300 of these trails have been designated throughout the country.” 

Over the years, the mostly paved pathway has fought the effects of erosion with multiple repairs, both big and small to maintain the popular site. Those efforts have kept Cliff Walk viable as both a significant attraction for tourists and local residents alike.

Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Both the city and state also contributed funds for repairs covering about 9,200 feet between Newport Beach to the west property line of Marble House at Sheep Point.

The 1938 and 1954 hurricanes destroyed several areas and the walk could have deteriorated completely. In the 1970s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent about two years supervising basic repairs using gravel, asphalt, and rocks weighing tons fitted to form revetments.

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further improvements were made in the early 1980s and funded by the National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund. In 1993 and 1994, an additional $3.4 million was spent on new retaining walls to check erosion along the northern cliffs and to repair damage from Hurricane Bob that occurred in 1991.

In 2004 additional improvements included the area south of Ruggles Avenue and extended to Reject’s Beach at Bellevue Avenue.

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 washed out several sections of the walk and closed about half of the walk for just over 13 months. The over $5 million project was financed through federal aid with the state matching 20 percent of the federal aid. Areas involved were a walk near Rough Point, a cement walk at the edge of Miramar, a cement walk near the Waves, and many smaller segments. The 40 Steps were rebuilt too, this time not so rickety.

The city is in a bind: Should it continue propping up its landmark Cliff Walk even though chunks of the path keep crumbling into the sea?

Earlier this year, coastal erosion knocked out 30 feet of the paved trail that winds its way beside Gilded Age mansions high above the rocky shoreline. Peering down at the collapsed section of trail where a chain-link fence still dangles in space, city officials pondered whether to rebuild or retreat. It’s a question they’ve reckoned with many times before in Newport. It’s unknown how long repairs could take or how much they might cost.

The section that collapsed this month is next to private property—the last original shingle-style summer cottage on the Cliff Walk—so the path can’t be moved inland there.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are taking a roughly four-minute detour on local streets to get around the 450-foot stretch that is closed off.

The freeze-thaw cycles and mud layers within the cliff’s shale layers possibly contributed to the collapse.

A major appeal of the Cliff Walk is—as the name suggests—that it runs along cliffs. It isn’t a sidewalk next to a calm pond. There’s surf and a churning ocean below.

International Tennis Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We humans like to put fixed infrastructure at the coast, particularly nice cliff walks around mansions to look at the views. There’s always this tension between where we want to put things and the dynamic coast. That means the city of Newport can count on constant repairs to keep the walk where it’s at.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a walk to the edge of a cliff. Every day we get a step nearer and what lies over the brink, no one can tell.

—Deepak Chopra