American Discovery Trail Background

Where is the ADT?
The American Discovery Trail begins (or ends) with your feet in the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. From there, it traverses California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, where in Denver it splits into two routes. The Northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. The Southern Midwest route explores Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. After rejoining just west of Cincinnati, the route continues through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC and Delaware, where the ADT ends (or begins) with your feet in the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen State Park.

Why is the ADT important?
The ADT fits the goals of the 1990 Trails for All Americans Report, which envisions trails that will serve all Americans, connect the people and places of the nation, provide diverse experiences while respecting the natural and built environments, and be built through creative partnerships. The ADT combines the qualities of national scenic, historic and recreational trails, but its real strength is that it provides connections — between trails, between communities and the back country, and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Who led the development of the ADT?
In 1980-81 The American Hiking Society (AHS) organized a cross country hike called HikaNation from San Francisco to Cape Henlopen, Delaware to raise public consciousness of backpacking and trails. In 1989, the AHS and BACKPACKER magazine proposed the idea of a coast-to-coast trail that would be the backbone of the National Trails System. The AHS hired a national coordinator who since 1991 has worked through volunteer state coordinators to develop and refine the route. The ADT is currently administered by the American Discovery Trail Society.

How was the route of the ADT determined, and by whom?
The route of the ADT was selected through the efforts of citizens working with local, state and federal land managers in the localities through which the trail passes. In 1990-91 a scouting team mapped the route determined by this citizen effort. There is a volunteer coordinator in each ADT state who leads the ongoing effort to refine the route, incorporate new trails into the route, and to promote and sign the trail in their respective state.

Is the ADT just for hikers?
No. Every attempt has been made to include multi-use trails in the route. As a result, the entire trail is open to hiking, and the vast majority is bikable, or has alternatives available. Many of the trails are open to horseback riding, although to a lesser extent. In areas where bicycles and sometimes horses are not permitted alternative routes have been found, there are still parts of the route where bikes and horses are allowed but may be impractical.

Who funded the development of the ADT?
The development of the ADT has been funded by the members of the American Discovery Trail Society, the American Hiking Society and through corporate financial and promotional support. The various land managing agencies and local and regional trail organizations have made significant contributions through their expertise and knowledge of the trails that make up the ADT.

Who will manage and maintain the ADT when it is complete?
The ADT is complete, but will probably never actually be finished. The ADT Society, a nationwide non-profit organization, was established for the purpose of administering the affairs of the ADT, and to coordinate the efforts of the many local trail organizations that maintain the ADT.

Who uses the ADT?
Long-distance trails are used mostly by people living close to the trail and by week-enders. Backpacking excursions are normally a few days to a couple of weeks. For example, of the estimated four million users of the Appalachian Trail each year, only about 1200 walk the entire trail. This is true of the ADT as well, especially because of its proximity to urban trails where use is the highest.

Are guidebooks and maps of the ADT available? Where can I get them?
Yes, and no. There are detailed turn by turn instructions available for the entire trail as well as GPX files for use with GPS devices. There are no (current) guides to the trail in the sense of surrounding facilities. No physical maps are available although it is easy to make one from the GPX files. (See Printed Maps). TBT and GPX documents can be purchased from the ADT store.

When will I be able to walk or ride the entire ADT?
A person can walk or ride the entire American Discovery Trail today, more than half of the 6,800-mile route is currently marked with ADT signs.

What is the National Trails System?
The National Trails System Act (NTSA) was enacted by federal legislation in 1968 as a framework for a national system of connected scenic, historic and recreational trails. Today, there are 11 National Scenic Trails, which are protected scenic corridors for outdoor recreation located primarily in the backcountry; 19 National Historic Trails, which recognize prominent routes of exploration, migration, commerce, and military actions; and almost 1,300 National Recreational Trails, shorter trails which vary in length, terrain, difficulty and accessibility and are managed by public and private agencies at the local, state and national levels.

How does the ADT fit into the National Trails System?
The American Discovery Trail is being proposed as the first of a new category of long-distance trails – National Discovery Trails – that will give recognition to the significance of urban and metropolitan trails that have developed mostly over the past 25 years, and to backcountry trails. This new category would recognize that using and enjoying trails close to home is equally as important as traversing remote wilderness trails. In February 2019 legislation authorizing ADT signage on federal lands was passed and sign placement is under way across the country. For the very latest legislative activity please visit our Legislation page.

Who do I contact to become an ADT volunteer or member?
Contact the ADT or any of our State Coordinators. You can also sign up for membership through the ADT Store.

American Discovery Trail Society
PO Box 1514
Front Royal, VA 22630-0032
Phone: (800) 663-2387