From the 326-mile Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota to the 196-mile Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail in Nebraska, the country’s nearly 1,300 National Recreation Trails span all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The whole premise behind this system is to designate and promote existing land and water-based trails that provide people with recreation opportunities and access no matter where they live. A National Recreation Trail could be anything: a rail trail, urban bikeway, nature trail, water trail, or backcountry trail. And the term “trail” is used generously: National Recreation Trails include routes that are open to diverse user groups like OHV traffic, ice skaters, horseback riders, and swimmers.
When Were National Recreation Trails Created?
National Recreation Trails were created under the National Trails System Act of 1968 to offer national recognition and promotion to local trails across the country.
Who Designates a National Recreation Trail?
The United States Secretary of Agriculture has the authority to designate National Recreation Trails on U.S. Forest Service land and the Secretary of the Interior can designate these trails on all other federal, state, and local land (with the consent of the land owner). The National Recreation Trail system opens up applications for designation on an annual basis (learn how to apply here). The program is sponsored by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and American Trails (the non-profit partner for the program). Beyond the designation there’s no federal oversight, investment, or management of these trails.
What Does It Mean to be a National Recreation Trail?
The goal of National Recreation Trails is to provide access to recreation for both rural and urban communities by promoting these trails. Another goal of recognizing these trails is to spur economic development and tourism. According to the National Park Service, trails must meet a certain criteria to be designated. Mainly, that means a proposed National Scenic Trail has to be open to public use and constructed and maintained according to best practices.