They scale majestic peaks and cross ancient waterways. They traverse vast desert, lush forests, and snowy evergreens. Their wonders stretch to the far corners of our land: southern Florida and northern Maine, Nome, Alaska, and Hawaii’s Big Island. And they trace the stories of our past—the bold journey of Lewis and Clark, the ingenuity of the Pony Express, the triumph of Selma marchers to Montgomery, the tragedy of Cherokees evicted to Oklahoma.
Spanning more than 55,000 miles, our national trails cover America—and reveal it like nothing else. If our national parks are the picture of America’s splendor, then our national trails are the unforgettable pixels. Oct. 2 marks the 50th anniversary of Congress’ creation of the National Trails System, which today encompasses 11 National Scenic Trails, 19 National Historic Trails, and nearly 1,300 National Recreation Trails. Together, these land and water routes are longer than the Interstate Highway System and seamlessly intersect with national and state parks, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management territory, and national forests.
Depending on their location, you can experience national trails by foot, bicycle, car, boat, horse, even snowmobile. Serious adventurers should check out the National Park Service and the Partnership for the National Trails System for online trail overviews. For those who simply want to ramble for a while, consider the following walks, selected for their proximity to major cities. Just remember two magical words: comfortable shoes. Happy hiking.