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The National Trails System – Scenic, Historic, and Recreation Trails

Did you know that there are three different types of national trails? The National Trails System contains national scenic, national historic, and national recreational trails. The image above shows the national trails where USGS has source data. See the article below to learn more.

National scenic, historic, and recreation trails crisscross our Nation and highlight areas of special significance. Trails are managed or administered by a variety of land management agencies and trail organizations and aided by the Partnership for the National Trails System, American Trails, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.  The national trails shown in the USGS nationwide digital trails database have been provided by a number of sources including Federal land management agencies, state agencies, and trail organizations. We only show trails that are available in the public domain and in a digital format, so not all are available in our database. For the most current information, visiting the original data source is always a good idea.  

National historic trails are congressionally designated trails that memorialize significant national historic routes and migrations. The trails follow original historical travel routes as closely as possible. We include national historic trails in the USGS nationwide trails dataset only when they are actual trails on the ground.

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

National scenic trails are also congressionally designated and showcase outstanding natural resources, areas of exceptional beauty, and recreational opportunities. There are 11 designated national scenic trails. They are typically nonmotorized trails that extend for 100 or more miles.

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Each national scenic or national historic trail, established by law, is assigned for administration to one or two Federal agencies by either the Secretary of the Interior (Bureau of Land Management and/or National Park Service) or the Secretary of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service), as designated by Congress. The administering agencies provide trail-wide coordination and exercise trail-wide responsibilities under the Act for that specific trail. Such responsibilities include coordination among and between agencies and partner organizations in planning, marking, certification, resource preservation and protection, interpretation, cooperative/interagency agreements, and financial assistance to other cooperating government agencies, landowners, interest groups, and individuals. National trail management is more local and provides on-site jurisdiction for segments of national scenic and national historic trails. Various government and private entities own or manage lands along each national trail. Management responsibilities often include inventorying of resources and mapping, planning and development of trail segments or sites, compliance, provision of appropriate public access, site interpretation, trail maintenance, marking, resource preservation and protection, viewshed protection, and management of visitor use.  

National recreation trails (NRTs) are designated by either the Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Agriculture. NRTs are land- or water-based trails that provide recreational opportunities on Federal, State, and local lands.  The national recreational trail designation is recognized by the federal government to promote outstanding existing trails that provide recreation access to rural and urban communities, economic development, and healthy recreation opportunities. Upon designation, management and administration responsibilities continue to remain with the existing land management entity. There are over 1,300 national recreation trails throughout the country. 


Ozark Trail sign
Two trail signs in the woods, on for Round Spring Loop Trail and another for the Ozark Trail – Blair Creek Section
Springtime of the Ozark National Recreation Trail Missouri
Spring picture of a moss-covered trail; trees with bare branches; and blue sky in the distance. 

For more information on specific trails or how you can help, visit the Partnership for the National Trails System, American Trails, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.  In upcoming newsletters, we plan to highlight specific national scenic, historic, and recreation Trails. If your organization is interested in contributing or if you notice your trail is not represented in our nationwide digital trails database, please email