The difference is usually ones of scale, significance, and administration responsibility and how they are designated.
The National Trails System Act of 1968, as amended, calls for establishing trails in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities. The act promotes the enjoyment and appreciation of trails while encouraging greater public access. It establishes four classes of trails: national scenic trails, national historic trails, national recreation trails, and side and connecting trails.
NHTs are established by an act of Congress. As of 2018 there are 19 designated NHTs. Most are over 100 miles in length, usually interstate in extent, and commemorate a route of travel significant to the nation such as the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Trail of Tears.
The trails have to be an actual route of historic travel, not just a modern commemorative tour route. They are nominated through a feasibility study process that must address all the requirements for NHTs found in Section 5 of the National Trails System Act. Once established, NHTs are administered by a Federal land-managing agency to coordinate partnerships, standards, marketing, volunteers, interpretation, etc.
NRTs are self-nominated and are recognized by either the secretary of the Interior or the secretary of Agriculture (for trails largely on Forest Service lands). They require no Congressional action. In fact, there are a number of historic walking tours already listed as NRTs. There are nearly 1,300 designated NRT's as of 2018.
Most NRTs are found in one county. NRTs can be any length and in one or more jurisdictions. Few are over 100 miles in length. They must exist ("dream trails" are not allowed). The first piece of a trail should be connected and continuous.
Is your trail a good candidate for National Recreation Trail designation? Our NRT application page will tell you the requirements and how to nominate your trail.
National Scenic Trails consist of trails of particular natural beauty. There are eleven National Scenic Trails. These trails are among America's most iconic trails such as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Published February 2011
posted Aug 23, 2023
What would it take for all Americans to be able to go out their front doors and within fifteen minutes be on trails that wind through their cities, towns or villages and bring them back without retracing steps?
posted Feb 14, 2023
The primary goal of this study was to understand who uses the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), how they use it, their preferences, and the economic impact of the CDT in the region. Additional data were also collected regarding protecting public lands and using the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado.
posted Aug 17, 2022
For students with moderate to extensive trail building experience who want to lead trail crews and work parties. Not a construction techniques class; this is about effective leadership. Students will have classroom and field work in the following topics: work day responsibilities, risk assessment and safety, tool safety and tool talk, leadership and team building, practical experience leading volunteers.
posted Jul 15, 2022
This research investigates the influence of layout and design on the severity of trail degradation.