FAQ: How to designate your trail as a National Recreational Trail.

The NRT program works to preserve and celebrate our nation's pathways. Here's an overview of how to apply for NRT designation.

Determine Eligibility 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, 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.
  • The trail will be open for public use for at least 10 consecutive years after designation.
  • NRT designation must be supported by the landowner(s), public or private, whose property the trail crosses.

Determine Which Application Route Matches Your Trail

There are two procedures for applying for NRT designation, depending on who the trail's land is administered by.

For trail administered by 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.


More Things to Consider

  • Application Deadline is November 1 of each year.
  • Designations are announced on National Trail Day, the first weekend in June.
  • 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.

Getting Help

  • The Washington, DC contact is the Department of the Interior's NRT Coordinator at National Park Service: (202) 763-3450 or email: John Cannella: [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 Jeff Mast at 503-808-2443 or [email protected].
  • For technical assistance with the online application, NRT website, or NRT database contact Michael Bullington with American Trails: [email protected].

More Information


More resources in this category

FAQ: Trail Graduate Programs

posted May 24, 2021

Are there any graduate programs that are focused on trail planning, development, and design?

FAQ: Apps for Trail Management and Volunteers

posted May 19, 2021

Information on apps that can be used for trail management that would be suitable for volunteer-type organizations.

FAQ: What is the definition of a trail?

posted Jan 14, 2021

Defining a trail corridor in law, policy, and planning.

FAQ: Graffiti on Trails

posted Dec 2, 2020

Solutions to graffiti on trails.

1,612 views • posted 12/13/2019