Hiking The National Park System’s National Trails System
Created by the National Park System in 1968, the National Trails System (NTS) is a network of 11 scenic trails covering 18,753 miles.
Criteria for the NTS include exceeding 100 miles, linking resources in a continuous corridor for non-motorized recreation, and created by an act of Congress. The longest of the trails is the North Country Trail at 4,600 miles; the shortest is the New England Trail at 220 miles. Gray’s Peak, Colorado on the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail is the highest peak of all the National Scenic Trails. That is higher than 13 Eiffel Towers or 23 space needles stacked end to end.
Coming in second is Forester Pass on the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153 feet. Other high peaks are Tuchuck Mountain at 7,781 feet on the 1,200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail, Lookout Mountain (1,920 feet) on the North Country Trail, and Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet on the popular Appalachian Trail which runs 2,181 miles from the mountains of North Georgia to Maine.
Shorter trails include the Florida Trail at 1,400 miles and the Ice Age Trail in the upper Midwest at 1,200 miles. The four shortest trails are the Arizona (807 miles), the Potomac Heritage (700 miles), the Natchez Trace which runs from Nashville to Natchez, MS (695 miles) and the New England Trail.
Top 10 Essential Items to Pack
If you plan to hike any of the NTS, there are ten essential items that you should plan to pack to help ensure your safety and comfort. Navigational tools such as a map and compass are important. Topographic maps provide details that are important for route finding.
Sun protection is essential, even in winter, so you should take sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays and at least 30 SPF sunscreen.
In case of injury a preassembled first-aid kit that will accommodate the trip length and group size is essential.
Some type of illumination is recommended in the form of headlamp and flashlight. Headlamps offer hands-free operation and they are low weight, compact and have a long battery life.
For food preparation, first aid and gear repair, knives and multi-tools are handy. Make sure you always carry extra water, at least one water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. It is also recommended to bring a day’s worth of extra food.
Make sure you have reliable waterproof matches, lighter and candles. And finally, carry something that will serve as an emergency shelter such as a tarp, bivy sack, or space blanket to provide quick shelter.
With careful planning and carrying the right equipment to plan for unexpected weather or emergencies, hiking any one of the National Trail Service’s scenic trails should prove to be a memorable and rewarding experience.