The American Discovery Trail. In 1989, the American Hiking Society and Backpacker magazine created the idea of a coast-to-coast trail and in 1990-91 sent a scouting team consisting of Ellen Dudley, Eric Seaborg and others to map the route, as determined by citizens working with local, state and federal land managers across the country. The ADT society administers the affairs of the ADT and coordinates the efforts of the many local trail organizations that maintain it. The 6800-mile ADT’s western terminus is at the Pacific Ocean on Limantour Beach in California’s Point Reyes National Seashore. The eastern terminus is at the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park. Heading east through California, it traverses Nevada, Utah and Colorado where, in Denver, it splits into two routes. The Northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. The Southern Midwest reoute explores Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. After the two routes rejoin just west of Cincinnati, the route continues east through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC and Delaware. The ADT connects 5 national scenic, 10 national historic, and 29 national recreational trails; leads to 14 national parks and 16 national forests; passes through urban centers; and visits 10,000 sites of historic, cultural, and natural significance. Every attempt has been made to include multi-use trails in the route. The entire trail is hikable and the vast majority is bikable or has alternatives available. Many of the trails are open to horseback riding, although to a lesser extent. A bill has been introduced in Congress to create a new category in the National Trails System — “Discovery Trails” — with the American Discovery Trail to be the first so designated.
The Appalachian Trail. In 1921 Benton MacKaye proposed the trail in his article, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” Designated as the first National Scenic Trail in 1968, and thus the Granddaddy of the National Trails System, this famed footpath stretches approximately 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine. It touches 14 states, traverses 8 national forests and crosses 6 national parks. The A. T. has more verbiage published about it than any other trail in the United States. Thirty trail-maintaining clubs do the real day-to-day work of the Trail. Journals about Appalachian Trail thru-hikes are a virtual cottage industry, especially since the advent of print-on-demand publishing. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy sells these memoirs as well as guidebooks and maps. The Trail was first thru-hiked in 1948 by Earl V. Shaffer of Pennsylvania.
The Arizona Trail is a nearly 800 mile non-motorized primitive long distance trail that traverses the State from Mexico to Utah. Unlike many other long distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian National Scenic Trail, that follow one mountain range, the trail corridor for the Arizona Trail was developed to highlight the state’s topographic, biologic, historic and cultural diversity and to link public lands, mountain ranges, and other special places. In addition, the corridor was selected to maximize the incorporation of already existing trails into one continuous trail. The Arizona Trail begins at the Coronado National Memorial on the U.S.-Mexico border and ends within the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip District on the Utah border. In between, the Trail winds through some of the most rugged spectacular scenery in Western America. There are not a lot of books about the Arizona Trail, but what’s there is good and can be purchased from the Arizona Trail Association.
The Colorado Trail stretches 486 miles (782 km) from from the mouth of Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to its end about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) north of Durango. Trail users experience six national forests, six wilderness areas, and eight mountain ranges. Trail elevations range from a low of about 5,500-foot (1,700 m) at the Denver end of the trail to a high of 13,271 feet (4,045 m) on the slopes of Coney in the San Juan Mountains. Most of the trail is above 10,000-foot (3,000 m). The average elevation is over 10,000 feet and it rises and falls dramatically. Despite its high elevation, the trail often dips below the alpine timberline to provide refuge from the exposed, storm-prone regions above. Users traveling from Denver to Durango will climb 89,354 feet. While much of the trail passes through forests, a good portion of it reaches above timberline, where trees are unable to grow and views are breathtaking. The trail passes through what is considered to be some of the state’s most beautiful country, through historic mining towns, along ancient Indian trails, and through a modern, world-class ski resort. Some sections appear much as they would have 500 years ago. The western half of The Colorado Trail, between Monarch Pass and Durango, has less human influence, greater vistas and a display of spectacular wildflowers. The Colorado Trail is a mostly non-motorized trail open to hikers, horse riders, and bicyclists. Mountain bikers are prohibited on the sections which pass through designated wilderness areas. For 235 miles (378 km), the Colorado Trail runs concurrent with the Continental Divide Trail along the Collegiate East route. On the Collegiate West route, the Colorado Trail follows the Continental Divide Trail for 80 miles (130 km) more. The majority of thru-hikers hike from east to west. This choice of direction is preferred partly because snow typically melts earlier in the year on the eastern portion of the trail than on the higher western portion. In addition, the east-to-west hike allows a thru-hiker to start with more gradual elevation gains and build up to the more rugged terrain of the western portion of the trail in the San Juan Mountains. The time required for a thru-hiker to complete the Colorado Trail varies greatly. While some supported trail runners can finish it in less than 10 days, and the unsupported fastest known time is 10 days 11 hours, most thru-hikers spend about 40 days on the trail. The Colorado Trail was built and is currently maintained by the non-profit Colorado Trail Foundation in cooperation with the United States Forest Service. In 1973 Bill Lucas, Regional Forester, Rocky Mountain Region, and Merrill Hastings of Colorado Magazine conceived the idea of a “Rocky Mountain Trail” between Denver and Durango. The Colorado Trail was officially dedicated on July 23, 1988 at Junction Creek near Durango and on July 24th at Waterton Canyon near Denver.
The Continental Divide Trail follows the course of the Continental Divide, but deviates as much as 50 miles east or west in order to take in scenic or historic points of special interest, to avoid private land, or otherwise to offer a more enjoyable hiking experience. The total length when completed is expected to be about 3100 miles. The CDT has two associations: The Continental Divide Trail Alliance–a non-profit organization devoted to the completion, maintenance and protection of the CDT, and The Continental Divide Trail Society–whose mission is to help in the planning, development, and maintenance of the CDT as a silent trail [no mechanized or motorized vehicles] and to assist users in planning and enjoying their experiences along the route. The CDTS is funded entirely by membership support and sales of books and maps.
The Florida Trail. Founded in the 1960’s, the Florida Trail Association has over five thousand members, in 18 local chapters, who build and maintain the Florida Trail–“Florida’s Footpath Forever.” Designated a National Scenic Trail by Congress in 1983, this footpath gives hikers a chance to discover the natural beauty linking Florida’s wild and rural areas. Hiking in Florida is a little known and underrated outdoor recreation opportunity. The FNST is the only National Scenic Trail where hikers can enjoy both subtropical and temperate ecosystems year round, and its long hiking season is ideal for walking during times when weather can be unpleasant in other parts of the country. The trail extends over 1,400 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida to Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida’s western panhandle.
The Ice Age Trail The Ice Age National Scenic Trail had it origins in the 1950’s dream of Milwaukee attorney and avid walker Raymond Zillmer, who in 1958 founded the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation. The IAPTF has 23 local chapters whose members protect, promote, build and maintain the IAT. Due in large part to the efforts of Wisconsin Congressman Henry S. Reuss- -who in 1976 authored the book “On the Trail of the Ice Age”- -the IAT became a National Scenic Trail in 1980. The IANST is located entirely within Wisconsin, wandering through 30 of its 72 counties and following the southernmost edge of the last continental glaciation which occurred more than 10,000 years ago. Diverse geological features along the Trail rank among the finest examples of continental glaciation in the world. The trail was designed specifically to preserve and protect the state’s glacial and cultural heritage. Starting at the eastern terminus in Potawatomi State Park on Sturgeon Bay, the IANST travels southwest, then north, then west, and ends at the western terminus in the Interstate State Park Ice Age Reserve Unit on the St. Croix River. When completed, the trail will run some 1,000 to 1,200 miles. As of 2007 more than 600 miles of trail have been finished. The trail is thru-hikeable, with at least 25 percent (275 miles) currently on roads. The Trail was first thru-hiked in 81 days in 1979 by Jim Staudacher, a 20-yr.-old Marquette University student.
The International Appalachian Trail. The IAT is the idea of Dick Anderson, a fisheries biologist and former commissioner of Maine’s Department of Conservation. He had a dream of connecting the bioregion of the Northern Forest, on both sides of the US-Canada border. In 1994 this dream became reality and was named “The International Appalachian Trail/Sentier International des Appalaches.” The IAT runs northeast from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Katahdin, Maine to Mars Hill before following the US-Canada border north to Fort Fairfield, Maine, where it crosses the International Boundary into Perth Andover, New Brunswick. Upon crossing the border into Canada, the IAT continues up the Tobique River valley before crossing the Miramichi Highlands to the Restigouche River valley and along the Chic-Choc Mountains of the Gaspé Peninsula, ending at the easternmost point in the peninsula—Cap Gaspé in Forillon National Park. From Cap Gaspé, the IAT skips over the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the island of Newfoundland where the trail picks up again at Channel-Port aux Basques and follows the west coast of the island up the Great Northern Peninsula before terminating at the island’s northernmost tip—Cape Bauld. From there the IAT skips over the Strait of Belle Isle to the actual northern terminus of the Appalachian chain at Belle Isle. More than 40 official campsites, consisting of tent platforms, lean-tos or cabins, are now in place along the trail. In October of 1997, John Brinda became the first person the hike the whole of the IAT, and the first known person to hike the entire East Coast of the North American continent in his trek from the Florida Keys to Cap Gaspé. Since 1998, a known total of 86 people have thru-hiked the trail from Katahdin to Cap Gaspé and 11 of those hikers, including “Nimblewill Nomad” have finished the hike at Belle Isle, Newfoundland. The IAT is now approximately 1400 miles long. Maps, trail guides, and a companion guide are available for purchase through the SIA/IAT store.
The Long Trail. Conceived by James. P. Taylor, Vermont’s “footpath in the wilderness” is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States. It was envisioned in 1910 at the founding meeting of the Green Mountain Club, the organization that now has 14 local chapters and still stewards the trail. In 1930, a short 20 years later, the club oversaw the completion of the trail. The Long Trail extends 270 miles up the spine of Vermont, following the main ridge of the Green Mountains, from the Massachusetts border (near Williamstown) to the Canadian border (near North Troy) as it steeply climbs and descends Vermont’s highest peaks. The trail system has over 70 primitive shelters.
The North Country Trail. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. Forest Service proposed an east-west hiking path to complement the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail within the new National Trails System. In 1971, a combined federal-state task force was assembled to study the feasibility for the potential of the North Country Trail (NCT). On March 5, 1980, legislation authorizing the North Country National Scenic Trail was passed. The NCT is administered by the National Park Service, managed by federal, state, and local agencies, and built and maintained primarily by the volunteers of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA), which has 28 local chapters and 3,200+ members. As of 2008, over 1,800 miles had been certified. The NCT is the longest of the ten National Scenic Trails, meandering 4,600 miles across seven states that border Canada–between Crown Point on Lake Champlain in eastern New York and Lake Sakakawea in western North Dakota. The trail connects more than 160 public land units, including parks, forests, scenic attractions, wildlife refuges, game areas, and historic sites. Exceptional scenery is the strong suit of this trail. Every year, two thousand people or more set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end. Hundreds make it successfully. The Continental Divide and Pacific Crest Trails also have tens of successful end-to-end hikes each year. But you can count the number of successful end-to-end hikes of the NCT on one hand and still have a thumb left over. A successful thru-hike of the NCT will not be treated as a routine occurrence, as it is on the Appalachian Trail. It will be a true and a rare achievement. Maps and trail guides are available for purchase through the NCT Store.
[to be continued…]