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For those who have a want or will to explore, taking the time to visit the 11 National Scenic Trails is a great way to do so. The US created National Trails System to preserve places of natural beauty while also providing opportunities for recreation and exercise.
For many trying to find beautiful landscapes to explore, the national scenic trails list provides a fantastic array of different long-distance trails to hike on, which could easily keep you busy for a lifetime.
These make up thousands of miles of trails covering amazing natural landscapes and the overall scenic beauty the United States offers. If looking for thru-hiking maps, I highly suggest FarOut for the most excellent maps available.
Take a Look At the National Scenic Trails
Here is a list of the eleven National Scenic Trails, what they offer, and some tips on how to hike them. Let’s start with the best and most well-known of the eleven, and they are the triple crown of thru-hiking, the AT, PCT, and the CDT.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail – 2,190 miles
It extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail passes through 14 states and offers stunning views of mountains, forests, and streams.
Hiking the entire trail can take anywhere from five to seven months, so it’s essential to plan both physically and mentally for such an endeavor.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most popular trails in America, and for a good reason. Spanning 2,200+ miles, it offers stunning views of mountains, forests, and streams.
Some of the highlights of the Appalachian Trail include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The trail also goes through some of the country’s most remote areas, so be prepared for some challenging terrain. There is just too much to ever cover in detail required, and I write about the Appalachian Trail as I continue to learn over here.
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail – 3,028 miles
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail stretches 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. The trail offers hikers stunning views of the mountains, forests, and streams that line the Rockies.
Some highlights of hiking on the Continental Divide Trail include hiking through Glacier National Park and seeing its vast and dramatic landscape, hiking along the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and exploring the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.
Be prepared for challenging terrain and cold weather when hiking on this trail. As with the Appalachian Trail above, there is just far too much detail to do this full topic justice, I am still reading books and gaining knowledge, but my content on the CDT will all reside here.
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail – 2,650 miles
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile-long trail that runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border. The trail passes through California, Oregon, and Washington.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a very popular thru-hiking trail, and it can take anywhere from four to six months to complete.
People choose to thru-hike the PCT for many reasons. Some people enjoy the challenge of hiking such a long distance.
Others enjoy the beauty of the natural scenery along the trail, like the majestic Sierras and Crater Lake, and so much more. And some people hike the PCT to experience different cultures and meet new people.
Most thru-hikers start their journey when they get their permit, as it tells you your start date. It is important to be aware of the different weather conditions along the trail and to plan accordingly depending on the date you receive.
I love the west coast. I grew up there and frequently visited much of the area of the thru-hikers in Washington, it holds a special place, and I add anything I find of value to my PCT content here.
North Country National Scenic Trail – 4,600 miles
The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) is a 4,600-mile long footpath traverses the northern tier of the United States from New York to North Dakota.
The North Country Trail offers hikers opportunities to experience a wide variety of natural and cultural features, including forests, wetlands, lakes, farmland, and small towns.
The NCT is a challenging trail to hike, with steep climbs, descents, and unpredictable weather conditions. However, for those who are up for the challenge, thru-hiking the NCT can be a rewarding experience.
The trail passes through various landscapes and offers hikers the opportunity to connect with nature and meet new people.
If you’re thinking about thru-hiking the NCT, be sure to do your research and plan. Make sure you are prepared for the challenge and have the necessary gear and supplies.
The North Country Trail is a great way to see some of America’s Great Lakes. The trail goes through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and explores the gigantic Adirondack Park in New York.
If you don’t want to do the whole thing, you can also walk parts of other trails in the area, like the Superior Hiking Trail (which I covered in my 12 shorter thru-hikes post here), Buckeye Trail, Finger Lakes Trail, and Iron Belle Trail.
The NCT is a beautiful trail that offers hikers plenty of challenges and rewards. If you’re considering thru-hiking it, do your research and prepare thoroughly. It’s a rewarding experience that you’ll never forget.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail – 1,200 miles
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200-mile-long trail that meanders thru Wisconsin and parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Trail passes along the edge of the glacial deposited driftless area, a unique region bypassed by the last glaciation.
The Trail offers hikers a chance to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest, including river valleys, rolling hills, and steep bluffs.
The Trail is also a great way to experience Wisconsin’s and Michigan’s rich history. Numerous Native American archaeological sites, pioneer homes, and old-growth forests are located along the route.
Because the Trail crosses through several small towns and villages, hikers can also enjoy local flavor by stopping for a bite at a country diner or picking up some fresh produce at a farmer’s market.
Thru-hiking the Ice Age Trail is a great way to experience all that Wisconsin and Michigan have to offer.
The Trail is well marked and maintained, and there are plenty of opportunities for hikers to rest and resupply along the way.
So if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure this summer, consider hiking the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail – 1,200 miles
The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNNST) is a hiking trail that runs from the Continental Divide in Montana to the Pacific Ocean in Washington.
It is over 1,200 miles long and passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
The Pacific Northwest Trail is well-maintained and well-marked, and there are plenty of places to camp and resupply along the way.
The PNNST is a popular thru-hiking destination because it offers hikers a chance to experience everything that the Pacific Northwest offers.
The trail crosses high mountain passes and winds through dense forests. Hikers can see glaciers, waterfalls, and wildflowers galore.
The PNNST is also a great place to see wildlife. Bears, deer, elk, and wolves can all be seen along the trail. Lucky hikers might even get a glimpse of a Sasquatch!
If you’re looking for a fantastic hiking experience, and want to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, then the PNNST is definitely worth considering.
Arizona National Scenic Trail – 800 miles
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is an 800-mile long trail that spans from the Mexican border to the Utah border.
It’s important to note that the Arizona National Scenic Trail differs from the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Grand Canyon National Park is a specific location, while the Arizona National Scenic Trail is a trail that goes through the Grand Canyon.
The Arizona Trail, or AZT for short, is a beautiful trail that offers hikers stunning views of the Grand Canyon and other parts of Arizona they may never have seen before.
Some of the highlights of hiking on the Arizona National Scenic Trail include hiking through the Grand Canyon and seeing its vast and dramatic landscape, hiking along Bright Angel Creek, and exploring the Painted Desert.
Be prepared for challenging terrain and hot weather when hiking on this trail. If you want to see it behind the scenes, check out the AZT film, Through the Great Southwest, a documentary by the well-known thru-hiker Darwin under his company, The Outdoor Evolution.
Florida National Scenic Trail – 1,300 miles
The Florida National Scenic Trail is one of eleven national scenic trails in the United States. The trail spans 1,300 miles across the state of Florida, from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The Florida Trail offers a variety of scenery and experiences, from wet prairies and cypress swamps to pine flatwoods and coastal estuaries. Hikers can enjoy wildlife viewing, camping, and fishing along the trail.
This trail has a split that takes you two different paths in the middle rejoining again at the Big Cypress National Preserve, one path going East and the other West.
The East section is generally considered more scenic with a more remote feel as it goes through the Ocala National Forest and Big Scrub area.
The West section is shorter but has more developed areas, such as Fort De Soto Park near St. Petersburg.
You can hike the entire trail or sections of it. Many people choose to hike it in sections, taking multiple trips over several years to complete the entire trail.
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail – 710 miles
The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a hiking trail that spans over 1000 miles from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
The trail follows the Potomac River and offers hikers beautiful views of the river and its surrounding landscapes. The trail is also a great way to experience the history and culture of the Mid-Atlantic region.
People choose to thru-hike the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail for several reasons. Some hikers are looking for an adventure and enjoy the challenge of walking for miles every day.
Others appreciate the river’s natural beauty and want to see as much of it as possible. And many hikers enjoy learning about the history and culture of the areas they pass through.
No matter why someone chooses to hike the Potomac Heritage Trail, it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail – 444 miles
The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is a 444-mile long trail that spans three states, including Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama.
The trail follows the route of the old Natchez Trace Parkway, which Native Americans and traders used for centuries before European settlement.
Today, the trail is a popular thru-hiking route, and attracts hikers from all over the country.
There are many reasons someone might choose to thru-hike the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the trail is its remote and scenic landscape.
The trail winds through rolling hills and dense forests, offering hikers plenty of opportunities to see beautiful wildlife and stunning vistas.
In addition, the trail is well-maintained and relatively easy to hike, making it a great option for beginner hikers. And finally, the trail is also historically significant, providing hikers with a unique opportunity to explore America’s past.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable and challenging thru-hiking experience, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is worth considering.
New England National Scenic Trail – 233 miles
The New England National Scenic Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that snakes its way through the six states of New England. At nearly 1,200 miles in length, the trail offers a wealth of natural and cultural experiences for hikers.
Some of the highlights include walking through the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont, crossing the green mountains of western Massachusetts, and exploring the rocky coastline of Maine.
The New England National Scenic Trail is also an excellent option for thru-hikers. Thru-hiking is when someone hikes the entire trail length in one go, and the New England National Scenic Trail offers an ample challenge for experienced hikers.
The trail can be completed in four to six months, depending on your pace and how much time you want to spend exploring all the trail offers.
If you’re looking for an adventure, and want to experience some of the most beautiful scenery in North America, then the New England National Scenic Trail is worth considering.
Final Thoughts on the National Scenic Trails
These 11 trails offer a great way to explore different parts of America and can test your skills on the trail like near nothing else. If you are new to thru-hiking, I made a very long form thru-hiking 101 post here that I work to continually update to help new hikers start on the right foot.
No matter your reasons for wanting to hike one of these trails, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
If you’re thinking about thru-hiking any of these trails, be sure to do your research and plan to make the most of your time on the trail. Thanks for reading!