The United States of America is a trail runner’s paradise. From coast to coast, the land exhibits an array of ecosystems and wonders. There are wild places, and trail systems that travel through them that provide access to soul-nourishing experiences for runners and hikers alike.
These places in the landscape inspire runners. Trail junkies are drawn to the raw exposure of the elements, the challenge of terrain untainted by cement and asphalt. Views untainted by buildings. Soundscapes untainted by horns or traffic.
If not for the many land policies that have been put into place over the course of our nation’s history, many of these places would be lost to shopping malls and subdivisions.
This year, Trail Runner wants to pay homage to the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act specifically, in celebration of the the 50th anniversary of their creation in 1968. Check out the 50th Anniversary website for more information or celebrate at one of the events held this year.
The National Trails System Act authorized a national system of trails that established the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, providing outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the country. The system has since grown significantly to include 11 National Scenic Trails and 19 National Historic Trails covering over 55,000 miles through 49 States.
The North Country Trail
After the formation and popularization of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, construction of the North Country Trail was approved by congress in 1980. From the 90s until 2015, the trail grew to cover 2880 miles of trail. Beginning in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, the trail stretches through some of the most stunning wilderness areas in the northern United States. It traverses New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Here are a few sections selected for trail runners.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located along the northern shore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is a 42-mile stretch of trail that encompasses some of the most stunning cliffs and outcroppings along Lake Superior. Run the whole section, or arrange for a shuttle to pick you up at one of the many trailheads along the way. The trail weaves into the dense forest periodically to visit streams and waterfalls, only to pop out again to the edge of 100-foot cliffs. Drink up that Great Lakes breeze, and bring the bug spray to keep mosquitos and black flies at bay.
Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking trail is a 326-mile footpath along the ridgeline along Lake Superior in Minnesota. While most runners are not interested in running the whole thing, running segments (trailheads are located every 3-11 miles) makes for a picturesque outing for any trail runner. The website even has information available for trail runners specifically. The views are incredible, and the trail is designated exclusively for foot travel—no leaping out of a mountain biker’s path, and no baby-head-sized-rocks unearthed from equestrian travel to roll your ankles on. For miles.
Allegany State Park
The NCT actually links up with another thru hike called The Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), which travels through New York State. One notable section is through Allegany State Park, the largest state park in New York State. You can run from the northern end to the southern along the NCT/FLT to cover roughly 18 miles of forested single track, taking time to stop by the many historical sites along the way. Not enough? Continue exploring the 80 additional miles of trails in the park that wind their way around hills, valleys and lakes. Save this adventure for the fall, when the forest is ablaze in oranges and reds.
For more information about routes, conditions and history of the trail, visit the North Country Trail Association website.
Speak up! Trail Runner wants to get YOUR input. Have a favorite section of one of the National Scenic Trails? Send in stories, tips and photos to [email protected]