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Scenic paddling trails in many states provide signed routes with a variety of facilities and recreation opportunities for canoeists and kayakers of all abilities. Water trails have been designated as National Recreation Trails, joining many kinds of trail recreation, including hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and driving ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles.
More about the National Recreation Trails program
Learn about National Water Trails System designation
More on Water and Boating Trails planning, facilities, projects, and projects
The National Trails System Act, during its 40-year history, has brought awareness to the importance of trails of all kinds. They range from long-distance trails, like the Appalachian Trail, to short nature trails. The National Recreation Trails program recognition of water trails has increased in recent years. Some projects include both paddling and land trails.
Some notable water trails that have been designated as National Recreation Trails:
On the Alabama Scenic River Trail
Alabama Scenic River Trail (Alabama) — Stretching 631 miles from the Coosa River to the Gulf of Mexico, this scenic water trail features numerous camping, hiking, and birdwatching opportunities. See website...
Apalachicola River Paddling Trail System (Florida) — Runs 100 miles through the panhandle of Florida to the Gulf of Mexico.
Cascadia Marine Trail (Washington) — This Puget Sound water trail is a network of 55 shoreline campsites for people traveling the Pacific Northwest inland sea in human or wind-powered, beachable watercraft.
Congaree River Blue Trail (South Carolina) — This 50-mile water trail and greenway offers an urban adventure featuring prehistoric Native American sites, sandbars, high bluffs, and Congaree National Park.
Delaware River Water Trail - Middle Delaware Segment (New Jersey) — This 40.6-mile water trail is located within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Des Moines River Water Trail (Iowa) — Two segments of the 19-mile trail along the river through Des Moines and Polk County provide a scenic, historical and natural experience with multiple access points.
Three Rivers Water Trail at Point State Park, PA
Juniata River Water Trail (Pennsylvania) — For 184 miles this water trail parallels the route of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal which operated primarily in the 1830’s through 1850s.
Kiski-Conemaugh Rivers Water Trail (Pennsylvania) — An important part of the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, a 320 mile corridor of heritage sites, hub communities, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Lake Michigan National Water Trail (IL, IN, MI) — Chicago to New Buffalo Segment
Limestone County Canoe and Kayak Trail (Alabama) — The beautiful Elk River provides challenging water and beautiful scenery. The 21.9-mile Canoe and Kayak Trail begins at Elkmont and ends at Wilson Lake at Joe Wheeler State Park.
Milwaukee Urban Water Trail (Wisconsin) — Providing water access to the city, this water trail encompasses three rivers and a Lake Michigan estuary.
Niobrara Scenic River (Nebraska) — This 5.6 mile water trail through Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge follows a deep canyon in the limestone rocks that underlie the Sand Hills.
On the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail
Occoquan Water Trail (Virginia) — The 40 miles of the river trail offer opportunities for boating adventure and exploration only 20 miles southwest of Washington, DC.
Potomac River Water Trail (DC, MD, VA, WV) — This water trail and greenway traverses over 300 miles along the diverse landscapes and rich history of the Potomac River.
Quinebaug River Water Trail (Connecticut) — The West Thompson Lake project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts this five-mile stretch of trail with moving water (but no rapids), flat water, and extensive wildlife habitat.
Schuylkill River Water Trail (Pennsylvania) — This 142-mile water trail traverses five counties and is part of the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area and Pennsylvania Heritage Corridor.
Susquehanna River Water Trail (Pennsylvania) — Flowing from Sunbury to the Maryland border, this 103-mile segment offers an array of experiences, from observing great blue herons to learning about the Underground Railroad. See website...
Three Rivers Water Trail (Pennsylvania) — This urban water trail follows the Three Rivers in the Pittsburgh area for about 75 miles: the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela River. The 75 mile route is part of the statewide water trail system, connecting to the Youghiogheny River Trail and the Kiski-Conemaugh River Water Trail.
For more information:
Unlike bikeways, water trails already exist. What is needed is help for trail users to get to the water and to find their way around. Signs, route markers, maps, and promotion of water routes are essentials. Trail supporters can create more opportunities by providing facilities like parking, boat ramps or docks, and places to camp and picnic.
See the Water Trails resources index