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  What We Do

Water Trails: Ribbons of Discovery

A water trail, or blueway, is a stretch of river, a shoreline, or an ocean that has been mapped out with the intent to create an educational, scenic, and challenging experience for recreational canoers and kayakers. The trails are organized by local volunteers with the help of public officials and private landowners, all of whom promote its proper use and maintenance.

For communities across the country, water trails are a flexible and responsive tool for promoting a healthy economy and a high quality of life while preserving our natural and cultural heritage. Water trails, such as the Lakes to Locks Water Trail, can energize individuals and unify communities.

Guiding Principles

All water trails follow three guiding principles:

1. Environmental Enhancement

  • natural resource conservation, preservation and restoration
  • volunteer resource stewardship by the users of the resource
  • sensitive, sustainable, no-impact use by individuals and business

2. Community Livability

  • citizen's rights of access to public waterways and enjoyment of the resource
  • scientific, historical and cultural interpretation, appreciation and education
  • citizen involvement, local community involvement, action and pride

3. Personal Wholeness

  • health and wellness through outdoor exertion
  • character growth - building confidence and self-reliance through outdoor skills
  • spiritual growth through solitude, observation and communication with the wilderness

photo of two men kayaking

On water trails, you discover....

Outdoor classrooms: Water trails are perfect classrooms and bring teachers and students to life.

Your history: Your community probably began at the water's edge.

Your skills: Water trails demand learning and growth from paddling and map reading skills to self-confidence.

Ecotourism: Paddlers bring life and wealth to your community.

The public benefits: Many public officials support water trails as tools to enhance communities.

Yourself: Try a watertrail!

To find out about water trails near you, visit American Canoe Association's Water Trails database.


NPS RTCA staff have been involved in supporting water trails for the past 13 years. For more information on NPS assistance on water trails and for water trail tools, visit the NPS water trail page.

Challenge Cost Share Program | Federal Lands to Parks | Hydropower Relicensing Program
Land and Water Conservation Fund | Conservation and Outdoor Recreation | National Trails System
Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers | Rivers and Trails Program | Urban Park and Recreation Recovery
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