The Omnibus Public Lands Bill that President Obama signed into law last March authorized three new national scenic trails; the New England National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, and the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. With the addition of these three trails, the first to be designated since 1983, the tally of national scenic trails now stands at eleven.
The New England and Arizona trails are very worthy projects in their own right, but the Pacific Northwest Trail is especially intriguing because of the extraordinary linkages it will establish. When completed, this remarkable trail, which is to be administered by the Forest Service, will link three national parks, seven national forests, several major mountain ranges, and two border-to border national scenic trails. It will also move the long-held dream of an Atlantic-to-Pacific pathway around 1,200 miles closer to reality.
The Pacific Northwest Trail is rooted in a concept that writer/conservationist/trails developer Ron Strickland began promoting around 40 years ago. The central idea is to create a trail that runs all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. You put it way up north so that it runs close to the Canadian border for most of its length, traversing some of America’s most ruggedly beautiful terrain, avoiding population centers, and taking maximum advantage of existing public recreation lands.
For three decades now, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association has been hard at work creating trail segments and trying to get Congress to authorize the route as a national scenic trail. Now that federal designation has been achieved, there will be an infusion of federal funds and related resources to complete missing links, construct bridges and additional improvements, install signage, establish access points, and do other necessary work.
For an NPT map and additional information, visit PNTA’s website.
The 1,200-mile PNT is, in many ways, a hiker’s dream. Consider, for example, the epic adventures that the PNT will make possible. The PNT will allow you to walk from the Cascades to the Rockies, and thus from the Pacific Crest Trail to the Continental Divide Trail. These two border-to-border trails open the way to an even bolder trek. If you were so inclined, you could start at the Mexican end of the PCT, hike north to the Canadian border, hang a right on the PNT, hike to the CDT, hang another right, and then hike southward on the CDT all the way back to Mexico. Wow!
And remember that some day, hopefully by the National Trail System 50th anniversary in 2018, additional east-west links will be established and hikers will finally be able to walk from coast to coast, following the PNT for around a third of the way. Trail developer Ron Strickland has been promoting a transcontinental "C2C" route (aka Sea-To-Sea Route) since 1996 and has recently begun pushing for the creation of a National Trails Center to consolidate many functions of the National Trails System.
For now, national park enthusiasts can celebrate the fact that the PNT will link Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park. That’s three of our most wildly gorgeous national parks. Hurrah!