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People across the country laced up their boots, strapped on a backpack, and headed outside this past weekend. Sunday, June 1 marked National Trails Day. The American Hiking Society began the tradition in 1993. Since then, the first Sunday of June has been a day to learn about and to explore America’s trails.
National Trails Day grew from President Reagan’s 1985 President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. The Commission studied America’s outdoor resources. In 1987, it released a set of recommendations. Among the recommendations was the goal that every American should be able to leave their home and, within 15 minutes, be on a trail that meandered through or around their town and back without retracing any steps. It also challenged the federal government to expand the recreational opportunities available on federal land, and to provide financial support to state, local, and private agencies that offer recreational opportunities. National Trails Day was created to meet these goals. It encourages Americans to be outdoors, to immerse themselves in nature, and to walk a trail.
Parks across the country commemorate National Trails Day by hosting events this week. Find an event near you. You can also meander, peruse, or plod your way through several websites that will reveal more about America’s trail system, famous trails, and how to prepare for a super long hike.
The National Trail System—
The National Trail System Act of 1968 led to the creation of America’s National Trail System. Read sections one through four of that Act: Why did Congress think it was necessary to establish a trail system? What two trails were initially included in this system? What are the four types of trails and what purpose does each serve? What cabinet member and federal agencies oversee the trail system? Read the FAQs about national trails at the National Park Service. Then visit AmericanTrails.org website to learn more about how the National Trails System works.
America’s trail system offers a web of scenic and historic trails that connect farmland, urban centers, and wilderness. They extend north to south and east to west. Did you know American scenic and historic trails connect California or New Mexico to Canada, Georgia to Maine, and New York to North Dakota? They commemorate historic events, and celebrate North America’s natural diversity and beauty. Examine a map of national historic and scenic trails. Which trails are closest to your hometown? Where do they begin and end? Have you hiked on them? Are they historic or scenic? If historic, what event do they remember? See the lists of National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails. Visit the links of the national and scenic trails that most interest you.
The National Trails System also includes over 1,000 recreational trails. Check out the state-by-state database. Every year since 2001, new recreational trails are added. View the application process. Peek at the trails added during 2013. Finally, view the trail system by the numbers with REI’s infographic, Hiking the Beautiful USA.
The Hiking Trifecta—
For hiking enthusiasts in the United States, the trifecta of scenic trails is the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Each of these trails represents different geography, biology, and climate, and a unique climbing challenge. The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail each lead hikers along the bony spine of a mountain range—the Appalachian, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade, or Rocky mountains. Hikers encounter jagged peaks with endless views and long valleys. Along the way, hikers discover regional culture and local history. Hiking a National Scenic Trail may give you blisters, but it will also present you with a unique view of a microcosm of America. Familiarize yourself with these three national treasures.
Begin on the east coast and learn more about the Appalachian Trail. Check out a map of the Trail. Read about the history of the AT (as it is known to hikers) and how one man was instrumental in its creation. Study the plants and wildlife hikers find along their way, including wildflowers, plants and shrubs, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and birds. The Appalachian Trail crosses fourteen states. Scope out the terrain by state. Meet a few of the men and women who have been the first in their demographic to hike the AT.
On the west coast, the Pacific Crest Trail extends from Canada to southern California. Explore its five distinct regions: southern California, central California, northern California, Oregon, and Washington. View a map of the Pacific Crest Trail. Visit the most famous section of the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail. See a map of the John Muir Trail. Click on the blue icons to view photos from the trail. View the 2013 PCT photo contest winners and learn more about the history of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Continental Divide Trail follows the imposing Rocky Mountains and passes through five states: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Explore the interactive map of the CDT. Take a photo tour of the CDT as it passes through Montana and Idaho, and Wyoming. Discover more about the climate and weather in Montana and Idaho, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Read the Continental Divide Trail facts.
Take a Hike—
Perhaps you are interested in hiking one of America’s historical or scenic trails. There are several ways to tackle such a long hike. To successfully finish a long-distance hike you cannot simply strap on a pair of boots and hit the trail this coming weekend. Preparation is key. Planning what trail food to take and how much is a major part of preparation. You will not find a Piggly Wiggly on the top of a mountain so it is important to have a resupply plan and to protect your food. Safety is also important. Before heading out, consider some backcountry basics.
To make sure the long haul is for you, view an excerpt of the documentary, Walking the West. Watch from 3:00 to 16:00 for a glimpse into how two men prepare to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and their first eight days on the trail. See how their hike ends; watch from 13:50 to 18:50 of Part 2. If their journey has not deterred you, or if it has inspired you to hit the trail, revisit the state-by-state database. Now go take a hike!