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  Water Trails/Blueways: National Park Service Partnerships and Resources

Water trails, or blueways, embody the nexus between rivers and trails. They provide recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline; most water trails are managed in public-private partnership with the philosophies of environmental stewardship, environmental education, and accessibility for all users. The NPS has helped communities create water trails nationwide for almost two decades.

Photo of people canoeing and kayaking on the Big Sandy River on National Trails Day.
Water Trail Resources for Communities: What's New
River Stories Launched: Take a unique journey down a water trail New! National Water Trails System

Get inspired by water trail success stories

Working on Water Trails in partnership with the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program

Understanding the economics of water trails: North Carolina Paddle Tourism Study

Access local resources and find out more about water trails in your state or nationally


National Resources:
Image of ribbon cutting on a water trail in Texas.

NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, provides professional assistance for water trail development

River Stories: Take a unique journey down a water trail

Why Water Trails?, by River Network, includes articles and examples by NPS

Water Trails Information, by American Trails, including water trail resources and links.

Water Trails Toolkit by Iowa DNR, an in-depth guide to developing water trails, focused on Iowa, but applicable nationwide.

Blue Trails Guide by American Rivers, A diverse listing of tools for the creation of water trails.

Water Trails Database on American Canoe Association website, Learn about and link to water trails in your state, or list your own water trail.

Sea Kayaker Magazine's Water Trail database

National Recreation Trail database, which includes many water trails.

Logical Lasting Launches, This guide provides design guidance for developing canoe and kayak launches; case examples, designs, and photos are included.

North Carolina Paddle Tourism Study, This study was conducted by the NC State Trails Program in partnership with North Carolina State University’s School of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management in 2008. More than 2,000 online responses were collected from paddling enthusiasts and outdoor outfitters.

Northern Forest Canoe Trail Economic Impact Study, This study looks at the economic impacts and implications for sustainable community development in the communities on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile route traversing New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine.

A Special Report on Paddlesports from the Outdoor Industry Assocaition uses the latest participation data collected annually by The Outdoor Foundation to present detailed information on participation in kayaking, canoeing and rafting by gender, age, ethnicity, income, education, and geographic region.

Case Studies of Water Trail Impacts on Rural Communities,A comparative analysis of rural communities with calm water trails. Case studies illustrate impacts of calm water trails and trends are drawn from community ecomonic development associated with water trails.

Flows and Recreation: A Guide to Studies for River Professionals, This guide is intended to facilitate decision-making to define flows for recreation on regulated rivers. It provides an updated framework and methodologies for assessing flows for recreational use.

Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network - an online toolbox for developing water trails

State Specific Water Trail Resources:
Image of a kayak headed toward Seattle on the Lakes to Locks Trail.

State and regional water trail information provides local connections to water trail resources, funding, and paddling opportunities.

Please let us know if your state has information on water trails that we should link to.

Southern Blueways - provides several links to state information for the Southeast

Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NY, VT, NH, ME, and Quebec)

Chesapeake Bay Gateways Water Trail maps

Rivers Alliance of Connecticut

Florida Paddling Trails

Georgia Water Trails

Iowa Water Trails

Maine Island Trail Association

Maryland Water Trails

Minnesota Water Trails

North Carolina Paddle Trails - online series on how to build a paddle trail

Ohio Water Trails

Pennsylvania Water Trails - information on safety and Leave No Trace

Image of the celebration at the New York City Water Trail ribbon cutting. Oregon Water Trails

Rhode Island Blueways

South Carolina Water Trails

Texas Water Trails

Washington Water Trails Association

West Virginia Water Trails

Water Trails Locator - additional state information

Water Trail Success Stories:
Image of magazine article showing an illustrative map of the Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail. Courtesy Adventure Kayak Magazine

River Stories: Take a unique journey down a water trail

'Astounded by the beauty' of the Twelve Mile River (2011, SC) - a potential blueway in South Carolina

Georgia Coast Saltwater PaddlingTrail profiled in Adventure Kayak Magazine, see page 54 (2011, GA)

Delaware River Water Trail (2010, PA)

In 2010, RTCA guided a Steering Committee consisting of staff from the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP), and American Canoe Association's Delaware Valley Division in the development of a comprehensive signage program for paddlers on the 220-mile water trail through the three states of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. The signage program was based on the previously established Delaware River Water Trail Concept Plan. A $26,270 NPS Challenge Cost Share grant funded the development of the sign plan, while Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and NJ DEP funds totaling $49,000 are contributing to the development of additional plans to improve river safety, and enhance marketing of the water trail, including the creation of an interactive, trip planning web site.


Willimantic River Water Trail (2010, CT)

Willimantic River Water Trail Building on the success of Last Green Valley Source-to-Sea events in 2009, the Willimantic River Alliance requested assistance to establish a water trail. RTCA staff worked with volunteers to assess launch sites and produce an online and downloadable Paddle Guide ( water-trails.html). In the future, information distilled from access site assessments will guide stewardship improvements such as erosion control, signage, and removal of invasive vegetation. This project will also lead to a nomination for National Recreation Trail designation in 2011. The Willimantic River lies within the Quinebaug-Shetucket Rivers National Heritage Corridor (known as The Last Green Valley, Inc.). RTCA staff will continue to assist with the assessment of water trail access sites and the production of guides that encourage less experienced paddlers to explore these wonderful rivers safely.


Hawkinsville Pulaski Waterfront Park (2010, GA)

The National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program and Hawkinsville Better Hometown completed a new 24-acre riverfront park offering water access points and opportunities for hiking, camping, and environmental education. The Hawkinsville-Pulaski Blueway stretches 14 miles and incorporates two public boat launches and is a vital part of the 54-mile Ocmulgee River Blueway, a water trail connecting Warner Robins and Hawkinsville, Georgia.


North Raccoon River Water Trail (2010, IA)

Over 100 supporters and future paddlers celebrated the North Raccoon River Water Trail, 160 miles of river that flow through six counties in central Iowa. Local river supporters, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Water Trails Program, and the Raccoon River Watershed Association were joined by Iowa's Congressional delegation for a day of celebration including food, music, and fantastic paddling. The National Park Service's River, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program provided technical assistance to the Greene County Conservation Board by helping to design the detailed water trail guide map. The map includes local business information, land trails in the area, town festivals, and specific paddling routes for beginners. The project's success was due to many partners, including Central Iowa Paddlers, Iowa Whitewater Coalition, and Dallas County Conservation Board, and has inspired the creation of an online toolkit for developing other water trails.


Forked Deer River Water Trail (2010, TN)

Dyersburg residents are excited about a new River Center and a paddle trail on the Forked Deer River. The 39-mile water trail connects the North Forked Deer River to the Mississippi, and may be extended all the way to Memphis. The trail and River Center give residents a way to enjoy activities on the water and learn about the importance of a healthy local environment. It is also expected to help businesses promote their tourism, recreation, and education related products. Experts from the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program helped determine the best sites for boat launches, campsites, rest stops, and sign placement while also recommending effective construction methods that keep the river safe from harm.


Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy Water Trail (2010, KY)

The Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River has long been used to float the region's economy. This area is rich in Native American, coal mining, and logging history. Now a new water trail boosts tourism potential as well--expanded by the National Park Service, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department, and local partners to include a 40-mile stretch along the Levisa Fork with a new access area for boaters. To complement this effort, Floyd County became the first county in Kentucky to have a certified Swiftwater Rescue Squad and is establishing a training center to teach swiftwater rescue throughout the Southeast.


Paddlers Gather at the Lake Superior Water Trail (WI)

The official opening of the Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Water Trail was announced in the summer of 2009, along the shores of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula. This long sought-after trail stretches the entire 400-mile length of Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shoreline from Superior, Wisconsin, to the Montreal River at the Michigan border. The Wisconsin Water Trail also links with Minnesota’s Lake Superior Water Trail which follows the shoreline to Canada.

The water trail committee consisted of tribal, Federal, regional, and state agencies and the Inland Sea Society and was coordinated by the NPS RTCA program. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore staff were part of the planning team.All public access sites were identified and ranked for appropriate use and inclusion in the trail; gaps in access were also identified. The trail emphasizes safe and legal access and camping sites while highlighting the need to steward the shore’s abundant natural, cultural, and recreational resources.


Video from Southeastern Water Trails Forum, Nov. 2009

Nine Days-One Hundred Miles
on the Lakes-To-Locks Water Trail

Summer Event Makes Blueway Shine: Seattle, WA (July 2002) - Washington Water Trails Association (WWTA) hosted a 100-mile paddle trip of the Lakes-To-Locks Water Trail in a series of nine day trips that took participants across Lake Sammamish, down the Sammamish River, around Lake Washington, and through the Chittenden Locks into Puget Sound. NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program sponsored the event on behalf of the trail's 16 partners as part of their 2002 NPS Partnership in Recreation Award. Sixty-eight paddlers traveled the route, with at least 11 paddlers participating each day. Sixteen speakers, including mayors, park directors, historians, and naturalists greeted the group along the way. Congressman Jim McDermott accompanied 40 paddlers through the locks on the ninth day. On day four, WWTA, NPS, and the City of Kirkland installed the first official Lakes-To-Locks sign at Houghton Beach Park. Partnership Award monies are providing signs at all launch and landing sites along the water trail. For more information, please contact Sue Abbott, Seattle, WA, at or 206-220-4116. To access the Nine Day--100-mile Daily Web Journal, visit


Tennessee River Blueway opens to much celebration

50 mile flatwater paddling opportunity in Tennessee: Chattanooga, TN (May 11, 2002) - This May National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Congressman Zach Wamp, and others marked the grand opening of the Tennessee River Blueway. Stretching from just upriver of Chattanooga to Marion County, the Blueway provides a close-to-home outdoor experience featuring designated and well-marked access locations, campsites, and color brochure to serve as a guide.

Since spring of 2001, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program has been working in close partnership with Tennessee River Gorge Trust, which initiated the project, and others to provide technical assistance in the form of project organization, partnership development, site selection, brochure development, and trail implementation. It is envisioned that a long-term, grassroots, self-sustaining organization will be created to coordinate stewardship and development of a broad network on Blueways within the Tennessee River Watershed. For more information, contact Jeff Duncan at (423) 987-6127.


Lake Superior Water Trail,
Bayfield Peninsula/Apostle Islands Section Opens

92 mile trail links new and existing sites, including Apostle Island National Lakeshore: Washburn, WI (June 15, 2000)-An open house marked the debut of a 92-mile section of the Lake Superior water trail that opened in time for the summer 2000 season. The water trail project includes existing sites and new sites from Port Wing, WI to Ashland, WI, including the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, as well as a map and brochure. The Rivers & Trails program (RTCA) provided overall project coordination by establishing and chairing the advisory committee and by providing technical assistance on water trail development and management, funding, and public involvement. Other project partners include: the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Inland Sea Society, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin (UW) Sea Grant, UW Extension, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Northland College, Apostle Islands Realty. Funding for the project was received from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the Northern Wisconsin History Center, local area chambers of commerce, local economic development council, and a local printer. For more information, please contact: Angie Tornes, Rivers & Trails Program, Milwaukee, IL, 414-297-3605.


First Two in a Series of Eastern Shore Water Trail Maps Published

Guides provide information on routes, paddling safety, resource interpretation and other amenities: Worcester County, MD (June 2000)-The county and nearby Assateague Island National Seashore (ASIS) have published the first two in a series of water trail maps designed to provide visitors with easy-to-use guides to canoeing and kayaking the region's rivers and coastal bays. The NPS-Rivers & Trails Program (RTCA) staff researched, tested and wrote the guides, with assistance from ASIS staff, and RTCA assisted with design and printing. The two brochures are "Exploring the Pocomoke River & Nassawango Creek of Worcester County" and "Exploring Coastal Bay & Salt Marsh Flats of Assateague Island." Both are based on water trails that can be navigated by relatively inexperienced paddlers. They include maps with several route options; basic paddling and water safety information; sources of equipment outfitters; launching sites; locations of parking, food, camping & toilet facilities; any fees & reservations required; some interpretation of the natural & cultural history of the area; and rules for protecting fragile resources. The water trail series is part of a regional ecotourism partnership to promote the low impact use of Delmarva's (the coastal peninsula consisting of parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) natural and cultural resources to enhance local economies and to insure the preservation of quality of life. Other goals of the project include packaged multi-modal ecotours, organized educational boat trips, and bike trails. Other partners include The Nature Conservancy, Assateague Coastal Trust, Furnace Town Foundation, Bob O Dell Club, and Assateague State Park. For more information, please contact: Sherry Peck, Rivers & Trails Program, Philadelphia, PA, 215-597-6478.


Housatonic Valley River Trail
Takes Shape in Western Connecticut

Hard work by volunteers pays off: Housatonic Valley, CT (November 2001) - Volunteers installed two key access points on the Housatonic Valley River Trail in November 2001. An Eagle Scout candidate, assisted by fellow Scouts, installed log steps on November 12 and 13, 2001. The steps stabilize the bank and provide paddlers with a rest stop and means to enjoy the Still River Bird Sanctuary. On Saturday, December 1st, 35 volunteers installed the trailhead launching site next to a Marriott Hotel in Danbury, Connecticut. The put-in marks the beginning of the Housatonic Valley River Trail, which will ultimately become a 38-mile route to Long Island Sound.

Volunteers placed 246 of the 53-pound paving blocks (6 tons) to create an apron for launching canoes and kayaks. Other contributions (valued at $14,000) included heavy equipment and engineering. During the work day, the newly-acquainted volunteers suggested creating a canoe & kayak club. Key partners are the Housatonic Valley Economic Development Partnership and Housatonic Valley Tourism District. More than 35 members of the Advisory Group represent interests from paddlers and youth to tourism and natural history. NPS Rivers & Trails staff helped to convene the Advisory Group and the strategy to engage volunteers. For further information, contact John Monroe, Director of Connecticut Program, Boston, MA, 617 223 5049.


Northern Forest Canoe Trail Opens

Trail Connects New York's Adirondacks With Maine's Northern Border: Rangely, ME (July 8, 1999) - Over 40 people gathered in the rain in Rangeley, Maine's town park to dedicate 50 miles of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The dedication included a day paddle of Rangeley Lake and a three-day paddle along the trail. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a project of Native Trails, a small nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of pre-mechanized travel routes, stretches from the Adirondacks of New York to northern Maine, crossing every major watershed in the Northeast. For the past year, the Rivers & Trails program of the National Park Service, in partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club, guided an effort in the Rangeley region to create the first Northern Forest Canoe Trail guide and map, to identify landowners and to sign all portages. Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust was the lead partner with Maine Conservation Corps/AmeriCorps, several local businesses, and Trails for Rangeley Area Coalition also playing key roles. Sale of the Rangeley region guide, published by the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, will provide funds for maintaining a portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
Contact: Julie Isbill, National Park Service/Appalachain Mountain Club, Rivers & Trails Program, Brunswick, Maine, (207) 725-5028.


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