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Know the West

A network of trails that spans the country

The National Trails System, by the numbers.


A network of long trails crisscrosses the West, through open deserts and wild forests. Many trails follow historic routes where people made pilgrimages or embarked on exploratory expeditions. The National Trails System has officially designated some of these extensive trails, seen here.

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Under the National Trails System Act, passed in 1968, national scenic trails and national historic trails are long-distance paths designated by acts of Congress. National recreation trails and connecting and side trails may be designated by the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with the consent of the federal agency, state or political subdivision involved.

Agencies involved include the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Department of the Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.

60,000+ (all 50 states)

HIGHEST ELEVATION Continental Divide Trail
The highest point of all of the trails in the National Trails System is on the CDT, at 14,270, on Grays Peak. On another trail, thru-hikers willing to veer slightly away from the Pacific Crest Trail can summit California’s Mount Whitney, 14,494 feet.

OLDEST IN THE WEST Pacific Crest Trail
The PCT was the first trail designated when the National Trails Act was created in 1968; the first recorded proposal for a trail through California, Oregon and Washington, was in 1926. (The oldest trail in the U.S. is the Long Trail in Vermont, which runs the length of the state and was constructed between 1910 and 1930.)

Note: This story has been updated to correct how the National Trails System is managed. It is overseen by a number of federal agencies, not solely the National Park Service. The highest point is on the Continental Divide Trail on Grays Peak, not in Lake City.