Will We Soon Have an Official Coast-to-Coast Trail for Hikers?

The Appalachian Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail. The names of the trails that lead hikers through major sections of America have a certain allure. That you can walk from one state to the next on trails is a wonderful thing, a reminder that even in a modern world there is still room for slow travel.

While the AT and PCT are fairly well-known references, even to non-hikers, the coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail has a much smaller following of devotees, but the 6,800-mile trail might soon get the credit it deserves, thanks to a long-discussed bill recently introduced in the Senate to amend the National Trails System Act in order to include the ADT.

If the bill passes and the ADT is officially designated part of the National Trails System, it would be the longest trail designated within the system. Starting at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware and ending at Point Reyes, California, the trail crosses 15 states and passes through 14 national parks. Bringing the ADT under the NTS umbrella would give it federal support, expanding access for users of the trail, and boosting local economies along the way. The two Senators behind the bill are Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

“I’m a strong believer in the value of trails and what they represent,” Coons said in a press release. “Recreation for families, friends, and individuals; tourism and economic development for local parks and towns; and the opportunity to connect communities with the outdoors.”

Beyond simply getting the ADT official trail status, the ‘National Discovery Trails Act of 2014′ would actually create a new category within the National Trails System for long-distance trails that connect urban areas with outdoor resources, public lands, rural areas and other communities.

Who wouldn’t want a coast-to-coast trail? Well, according to the American Discovery Trail Society, a few years ago Congress required the National Park Service to conduct a study to see if the trail was worthy of being in the National Trails System. It was, and while the NPS backed legislation that was passed in the Senate unanimously three times, each time it stalled in House committees.

Which is why the American Discovery Trail Society recommends taking action if you’re excited about the potential of this trail, with sample letters and talking points on the society’s website that can be used to contact your member of Congress to ensure that this bill passes.

But for those interested in exploring the ADT, you don’t have to wait until it gets official trail status.

The first official through-hike of the ADT was in 2003, when a 50-plus year old couple, Joyce and Peter Cottrell, trekked from the Atlantic to the Pacific. After finishing the hike, Joyce Cottrell called it “the adventure of a lifetime.”

“I would recommend this trail to anyone,” she said. “Even if you can only go for a day or a week or a month.”

The Cottrells are in a passionate group of ADT hikers, some of whom do extended sections, and others who just get on the trail for the weekend. There’s even an ADT marathon, whose proceeds benefit non-profits that work on trail stewardship.

Now, go start planning your coast-to-coast hike.


Bryan B.
Bryan B.3 years ago

How about using some of our original trails. One of my mother's favorite stories was about the time she met her grandfather. She only met him once as a very old man. When asked about the Oregon Trail he was very firm, "I did not travel the Oregon Trail, I WALKED the Oregon Trail!" Many of the travelers walked much of the way to spare their draft animals.

The Oregon Trail only goes part way of course, but there are other passages, like the Cumberland Gap trail and later road, that could be linked to become a trans-continental trail. Also tragedies from our history, like the Trail of Tears, could be remembered with trails.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

What an awesome idea. I had not heard about it before and it sounds like (if I were younger) would have been a great thing to do.

Warren Biggs
Warren Biggs3 years ago

Don't make more trails! It fragments ecosystems. Instead, set the area aside for wilderness areas and have a trail that is only wide enough for one person. I have been to several wilderness (a special designation that means absolutely NO man-made things are allowed there permanently) areas in Washington state. Only the more serious hikers seem to use them. The trails often aren't easy- especially in mountainous areas, but experiencing a true wilderness area- especially if it is bordered or encompassed in a "regular" park is almost magical. I have been on some trails that are about 2' wide with a100 ' drop on one side of you. I have a fear of falling (different than a fear of heights) so I tend to sweat a little more on those trails. The absolute worst was a 20' stretch at Machu Picchu (not a wilderness area lol). I guess the Peruvians don't believe in railing or something. It literally took me a couple of moments to work up the courage to walk along that ledge. My wife laughed at me, but all it takes is one trip or stumble and then you are free-falling down the cliff. I get antsy driving mountain roads that have areas that are only a car-width wide. There is even one road that is supposed to be the "scariest road of Washington". It's not- believe me. Anyway, what most people consider "trails" really do fragment areas although not as bad as a real road would.

Mark H.
Mark H3 years ago

This is exciting. Think of the positive habitat protections this could generate as well.

Teresa W.
Teresa W3 years ago

thank you

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Exciting news! I hope it comes a reality.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

This is a great idea, and I would love to see it be successful.

Steven G.
Steven G3 years ago

I've hiked throughout the Sierras when I was younger. Always wanted to hike the PCT. Just too damn old now; relegated to short local ventures into the local mountains/desert. Yeah! I'm OK with that.

Michelle Doust
Michelle Doust3 years ago

oh please, please, please!!

Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

Sounds like an excellent idea. There's a little-known movie with Emilio Estevez, The Way, that talks about what taking a hike can individually mean for each person doing. Very profound, and the more we can get people out of their boxes; away from the boob tube; and back into nature, the better.