Photographing the National Scenic Trail System

In 1968, Congress approved the National Scenic Trails Act of 1968, which established the funds and authority to create and maintain scenic and historic trails across the country. The first completed trail was the Appalachian Trail quickly followed by the Pacific Crest Trail, both in 1968. Since that time 11 National Scenic Trails have been completed or authorized, most of them at least 60% complete. The most recent was the New England National Scenic Trail in 2009.

My goal with this project is to take the next 11 years, starting in 2013, to thru-hike all eleven National Scenic Trails and document it with high-resolution professional photography. While many people today take cellphone and point-and-shoot cameras to document their trips, I will take this a step further by taking my professional-level DSLR equipment (albeit the bare essentials) on these trails. I intend to shoot a level of photography that has never been captured from beginning to end on these trails: amazing vistas, sunrises and sunsets, time-lapse of approaching storms over the mountains, star trails, campsites, fellow thru-hikers and day-hikers, and much more.

On average, I expect to take about 20% longer than the average thru-hiker since I will stop periodically to take photos. I expect to take about 100 photos per day. Once I complete a trail, it will take me almost as long to edit the photos as it took me to hike the trails. By the end, however, I expect to have the most extensive archive of National Scenic Trail photography in the world with close to 100,000 photos.

This will be an enormous feat to accomplish, something which I began special training in Spring 2012 to be able to complete. This single project, divided into eleven sections, will take the next 14 years of my life. But in the end, it will be an amazing journey filled with breath-taking photos. Use the list below to learn more details about each specific trip as they come available.

Trail Expected Completion Description
Appalachian Trail 2013 The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, also known as simply the Appalachian Trail or the AT, is a 2,100 mile long trail that runs along the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. This trail typically takes 6 months to thru-hike, during which time I’ll take about 14,000 photos.
Arizona Trail 2014 The Arizona National Scenic Trail is an 800-mile trail from Mexico to Utah, running across the entire southern border of Arizona. This shorter, simpler hiker trail takes about 40 days to thru-hike.
Pacific Crest Trail 2015 The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, simply known as the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT, is a 2,700-mile trail that runs from Mexican border north to British Columbia, Canada, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington. This trail, one of the more rigorous of the National Scenic Trail System, takes the average hiker 8 months to complete.
Potomac Heritage Trail 2016 The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, also know as the Potomac Heritage Trail or PHT, is an 830-mile trail running through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The trail follows the Potomac River watershed area and, unlike most of the other trails, contains many side-trails.
Ice Age Trail 2017 The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200-mile long trail that runs through nearly half the counties in Wisconsin. The trail basically follows the edge of the southern terminus of glaciers during the Ice Age.
North Country Trail 2018 The North Country National Scenic trail, known as the North Country Trail or NCT, is the longest of the National Scenic Trails at 4,600 miles. It runs from Crown Point, New York across the Appalachian Mountains, through the Great Lakes, to Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota. The average thru-hiker takes close to a year to complete the trail, which means I could shoot about 34,000 photos of the trail.
New England Trail 2019 The New England National Scenic Trail runs through 39 communities in southern New England, following the route of the three single trails Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, Mattabesett Trail, and the Metacomet Trail. The trail is 220 miles long and takes the average hiker a mere 11 days to complete.
Continental Divide Trail 2020 The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, or just Continental Divide Trail, is a 3,100-mile trail running from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains. The average thru-hiker takes about seven months to complete the trail.
Florida Trail 2021 The Florida National Scenic Trail is a 1,400-mile trail that runs from Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami to Fort Pickens in Pensacola. The trail travels through many bogs, swamps, and waterways but the average thru-hiker can still complete the trail in about three months.
Natchez Trace Trail 2022 The Natchez Trace Trail is a 444-mile trail that follows the Natchez Trace Parkway through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. This trail only has 60 miles complete as of 2012, making it the shortest trail but one with great potential.
Pacific Northwest Trail 2023 The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1,200-mile trail that runs from the Continental Divide in Montana, where it connects with the Continental Divide Trail, through Idaho to Washington’s Olympic Panhandle. The trail crosses several mountain chains and even included a 30-minute ride on a ferry. The average thru-hiker takes four months to complete the trail.


About Jason Barnette

Jason Barnette is an internationally published travel photographer based in Abingdon, Virginia. From here, Jason explores the Southeastern United States shooting photos of the travel industry, tourism, and beautiful landscapes. His photos focus on telling the story of a destination from beginning to end throughout all four seasons, highlighting landscapes, people, food, lodging, and entertainment. Through this blog, Jason publishes his best photos from specific assignments, travel destinations, parks, and projects.

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