Of the 18,600 miles of trails throughout all units of the National Park System, most are natural surfaced trails in backcountry settings. However, front country trails are also an important element of the national parks transportation system, often connecting built facilities to popular overlooks, other tourist destinations, and local communities.
In addition, front country trails can provide an alternative to private motor vehicle access to many park units. Almost 700 miles of NPS front country trails are paved, helping to disperse users and allowing visitors who bicycle or walk to have a more first-hand park experience.
Much of the funding used to support trail improvements and upgrades comes from park resources or special grants. Increasingly, parks are working with neighboring communities to build trail connections that improve quality of life and foster health benefits. In addition, they enhance connectivity between modes and provide alternative transportation.
In 1988, 75% of park trails were in good or fair condition; now, only 64% are so rated. While many trails have been improved, many more continue to deteriorate due to weathering and heavy use. Currently there is a significant backlog of trail needs: 36% of all trails throughout the National Park Service (6,700 miles out of a total of 18,600) are in a "poor"or "seriously deficient"condition, signaling the need for major repair and rehabilitation.
The changing demographics, a growing emphasis on physical activity, and the coming National Park Centennial in 2016 will all contribute to increased demand on park trails.