According the 1966 study proposing the National Trails System, “Trails for America,” National Scenic Trails are to be "a standard for excellence in the routing, construction, maintenance, and marking… Each should stand out in its own right as a recreation resource of superlative quality and of physical challenge."
National Scenic Trail designation is a rare and prestigious achievement that has been awarded only 11 times since 1966. Trails hoping to receive a National Scenic designation must be contiguous and are typically more than 100 miles in length. Each trail will undergo a thorough process that takes, on average, between six and 15 years to achieve designation. The most recent designations were in 2009 which added the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Arizona Trail, and the New England National Scenic Trail. These were the first trails designated as National Scenic Trails since 1983—a drought of 26 years.
According to the National Park Service (the agency which oversees the designation process), “A trail is most likely to succeed in designation if there is a strong, well-organized, citizen-based organization working on behalf of the trail.”
National scenic trails require four steps to become fully established:
Program Lead, National Trails System
Department of the Interior
National Park Service
1849 C Street, NW, Rm 1344
Washington, DC 20240