How To Apply for NRT Designation

Is your trail a good candidate for National Recreation Trail designation? This page will tell you the requirements and how to nominate your trail.


The Air Line State Park NRT is an abandoned railroad line that runs through rural central Connecticut.

There are two procedures for applying for NRT designation, depending on whether the trail is on land administered by the US Department of Agriculture or on any other land.

For water trails interested in applying to the National Water Trails System, follow Method One but note the additional requirements in the application to address the trail's best management practices.

METHOD ONE -- If your trail is on federal land administered by (or associated with) the US Department of Agriculture:

  • The USDA Forest Service has authority for designating NRTs on land administered by the Department of Agriculture (National Forests, National Grasslands, and National Recreation Areas) and associated lands.
  • See the details of the US Forest Service designation process for NRTs.

METHOD TWO -- If your trail is on other Federal Land or on State, local, or private land:

Note that trails on state, local government, or private land (anything other than Federal) should submit a letter of support from the appropriate State Trails Administrator/Coordinator. See a Sample Letter of Support.

Who can apply for National Recreation Trail designation?

Any public or private trail manager operating a trail that meets the definition and criteria below may apply for NRT designation.

What kinds of trails are eligible?

  • A trail is a travel way established either through construction or use and is passable by at least one or more of the following, including but not limited to: foot traffic, stock, equestrian, watercraft, bicycles, in-line skates, wheelchairs, cross-country skis, off-road recreation vehicles such as motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and four-wheel drive vehicles.
  • Roads and highways suitable for passenger car travel are not eligible for NRT designation.
  • For examples of the kinds of trails that are eligible, see our online database of all NRT designations.

What are the criteria for NRT designation?

  • The trail must be open to public use, have no gaps, and be designed, constructed, and maintained according to best management practices, in keeping with the use anticipated. Trails that demonstrate state-of-the-art design and management are especially encouraged to apply for NRT designation.
  • The trail is in compliance with applicable land use plans and environmental laws.
  • NRT designation must be supported in writing by the landowner(s), public or private, upon whose land the trail tread exists. For adjacent landowner(s), letters of support are encouraged but written approval is not required.

NRT Program Trainings

webinar: Fundamentals of National Recreation Trails

Learn about the benefits to designating your trail(s) as a National Recreation Trail (NRT), the history of NRTs, the process for trails to become NRTs, and more.

webinar: National Water Trails

This webinar will dive in deeper on the process for trails to become designated National Water Trails, which are a subset of the National Recreation Trails.

Getting Help

  • The Washington, DC contact is the Department of the Interior's NRT Coordinator at National Park Service: (303) 969-2620 or email: [email protected]
  • If your trail is on a National Forest or other land administered by the US Department of Agriculture, work with appropriate USDA Forest Service contact or Brenda Yankoviak at 414-297-3295 or [email protected].
  • For technical assistance with the online application, NRT website, or NRT database contact Michael Bullington with American Trails: [email protected]

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