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Three New U.S. National Park Units Were Just Announced, And Hikers Will Love Them All

Three beloved long-distance hiking trails that pass through 10 American states just earned a federal upgrade, bringing the total number of U.S. national park units from 425 to 428.

Three networks of hiking trails have been added to the National Park Service, the highest designation for public recreational spaces in the United States.

The newly elevated trails are: the North Country National Scenic Trail, a nearly 5,000-mile system of hiking routes across 8 states from Vermont to North Dakota; the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which follows the rocky edge of Wisconsin’s moraines (fields of sediment deposited by the most recent glacier in North America, 10,000 years ago); and the New England National Scenic Trail, a 235-mile collection of footpaths in Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

The designations, which gives 10 states a new NPS unit and raises the total number of national units from 425 to 428, were announced on Dec. 7 by Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who had been advocating for the change since 2014.

The national park name carries a certain gravitas in the U.S., conjuring images of magnificent destinations like the mountain peaks in Yosemite or the colorful ravines of the Grand Canyon. 

But these newly designated national park units, which fall under the National Trails System, aren’t unbroken strips of preserved land, as many national parks are. Instead, each one may cover various settings. Some sections may be paths worn into the ground from decades foot traffic, some may be trails that cut through privately owned land, and sometimes the routes must follow streets or detour around shopping center parking lots on the way through more stretches of wilderness and previously established reserves. 

The new federal upgrade will help link those sections with better maps, ranger interpretation, and signage. The increased financial support from the federal government will also likely fund staff to maintain the land and clean up trash left behind by lazy visitors.

There are some stellar vacation ideas tucked into these trails. The relatively flat Ice Age Trail passes through John Muir County Park, named after the famed environmentalist and author, where walkers can visit a crystal-clear lake and spot migrating birds. There are also gorgeous rocky formations along Devil’s Lake, Devil’s Staircase, and Devil’s Doorway (pictured above)—apparently if you look for anything in Wisconsin with “devil” in the name, it will be nice.

The hikes along New England Trail can be more challenging, traversing streams and climbing mountain landscapes, but much of this trail pleasantly meanders through woodlands that are particularly vibrant in autumn. The trail’s reach includes Massachusetts’ vigorous, 45-foot Royalston Falls, surrounded by trees and ferns. 

The huge North Country Trail is like a panorama of the great scenic wonders of the top half of the Lower 48, passing lots of waterfalls, especially in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where hikers can visit the stunning Miners Falls. From there, the trail winds along near the world-class Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (pictured below). In Michigan, the North Country Trail crosses between the Upper and Lower peninsulas via a ferry across the Straits of Mackinac. (If a boat ride is part of the trail, it is still considered hiking?)

These three new protected trails join a select group of other major American trails that have previously been inducted into the national park system, including the famed Appalachian Trail between Georgia and Maine, a rite of passage in the global hiking community.


(Credit: Paul Bryan / Shutterstock)