Congress passed the National Trails System (NTS) Act 50 years ago this October, designating the country’s marquee footpaths, the Appalachian Trail on the East Coast and Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast, as National Scenic Trails. The NTS also recognizes two additional categories, National Historic and National Recreation trails, and has grown to include dozens of trails covering thousands of miles. In honor of half a century of protecting our nation’s trails, we’ve identified eight great winter treks on NTS routes.
SARGENT MOUNTAIN NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia’s famed carriage roads crisscross Mount Desert Island, passing between mountains and around ponds on gentle grades ideal for winter hikers. The 4.5 miles of carriage road around Sargent Mountain were designated a National Recreation Trail in 1982 and connect to the island’s larger road network. Access the trail from the parking area on Route 198 near Northeast Harbor.
DISTANCE: 4.5 miles round trip
INFO: National Trails Database; Outdoor Adventures: Acadia National Park (AMC Books)
APPALACHIAN NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL (A.T.): LONESOME LAKE & KINSMAN POND
The first and most famous piece of the National Trails System, the Appalachian Trail (AT) spans 2,190 miles between Georgia and Maine. Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Pond are popular winter destinations on New Hampshire’s stretch of the AT, in Franconia Notch. A steep but short 1.5-mile hike on Lonesome Lake Trail leads to AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut, which remains open on a self-serve basis through winter. From the hut, follow the AT to Kinsman Pond then loop back via Kinsman Pond and Cascade Brook trails.
DISTANCE: 8.3 miles round trip
INFO: New Hampshire State Parks; AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide, 30th ed. (AMC Books)
A.T.: MOUNT JACKSON
Crawford Notch, N.H.
Mount Jackson (4,052 feet) provides breathtaking winter views from a summit that can be reached from a trailhead near AMC’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Follow Webster–Jackson Trail, veering left onto the Jackson Branch when the trail splits at 1.4 miles. Several steep sections on the ascent require aggressive traction on your snowshoes or, if the trail is packed, microspikes. If it’s a clear day, enjoy views of the southern Presidential Range. From Jackson’s summit, follow the AT past AMC’s Mizpah Spring Hut (closed in winter) and return to Route 302 via a gradual descent on Crawford Path.
DISTANCE: 6.9-mile loop
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide, 30th ed. (AMC Books)
A.T.: PICO PEAK
While Vermont’s Pico Peak won’t provide the sweeping views available elsewhere in the Green Mountains, this challenging hike pays off with beautiful boreal forests. Follow the AT, which coincides with Vermont’s Long Trail here, from its intersection with U.S. Route 4. At Jungle Junction, turn left onto Sherburne Pass Trail toward Pico Camp. Stop for a rest and a snack before continuing down Sherburne Pass for your return trip. You’ll emerge at Inn at Long Trail; the trailhead where you began is 0.8 mile west on Route 4.
DISTANCE: 7.6 miles round trip
INFO: Green Mountain Club; AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont (AMC Books)
NEW ENGLAND NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL (NET): HERMIT MOUNTAIN
New England hosts portions of two National Scenic Trails: the AT and, since its 2009 designation, the New England National Scenic Trail (NET). For tastes of the NET and some local history, take the trail up Hermit Mountain. The NET follows Briggs Brook north, past a junction with Farley Ledge Trail. Stay right to continue along the ridge below Northfield Mountain and across Packard Brook. Detour onto Hermit’s Castle Trail to see the cave where the mountain’s namesake hermit once lived. Continue until Hermit’s Castle Trail reconnects with the NET, turn left, and follow the NET back to the trailhead.
DISTANCE: 4.8 miles round trip
INFO: New England Scenic Trail
NET: TOTOKET MOUNTAIN
North Guilford, Conn.
The NET passes through Connecticut along a series of traprock ridges. This stretch of the Mattabesett Trail—part of the NET—offers dramatic views from Totoket Mountain, despite its modest elevation. The trail reaches the top of a ridge after 0.3 mile and levels out along the edge of the cliffs before alternating between gradual inclines and brief, steep climbs. Enjoy the viewpoint 0.75 mile into the hike before heading back.
DISTANCE: 1.5 miles round trip
INFO: New England Scenic Trail; AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut (AMC Books)
WILKINSON NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL
This trail traverses the meadows and fields of New York’s Saratoga National Historic Park. This was the site of a surrender by British troops in 1777, and the trail at that time was actually a roadway. The rolling route departs from the visitor center and heads east, eventually forming a loop around the northern portion of the park. For a shorter hike, cut off on Liaison Trail, which crosses Wilkinson Trail twice. More than a dozen interpretive stations dot the trail, providing historical context. The park’s Battlefield Tour Road remains unplowed in winter, providing several additional miles to explore and linking to a series of historic sites.
DISTANCE: 4.2 miles round trip
INFO: Saratoga National Historic Park
WASHINGTON–ROCHAMBEAU NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL
King of Prussia, Pa.
The Washington–Rochambeau National Historic Trail recognizes the path followed by American and French troops during the Revolutionary War. One popular stop on this route from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., is Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. To explore the edge of Valley Forge, follow River Trail, which meanders along the banks of the Schuylkill River. The path begins at the Betzwood parking area and passes the site of Sullivan’s Bridge, once used to transport food and supplies to soldiers from George Washington’s Headquarters across the river. The trail terminates at the Pawling parking area, where you can turn around.
DISTANCE: 6.0 miles round trip
INFO: Vally Forge National Park; Washington–Rochambeau National Historic Trail; AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books)
Editor’s Note: the Mount Jackson hike has been edited from the print edition of this story to better reflect its level of difficulty.