One of the best ways to learn history is to literally follow in the footsteps of those who were there, says Karen Berger, author of the new book, "America’s National Historic Trails" (Rizzoli, $55).
“These are historic routes – a trail version of the national park system,” she says. The 19 federally recognized trails range from 54 to 5,000 miles and pass largely through rural areas, making them perfect for road trips and socially distant traveling.
The author shares some favorites with USA TODAY:
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabama
Although the shortest trail at 54 miles, this route resonates with many travelers, retracing the famous five-day voting rights march to the Alabama state Capitol in 1965.
The trail crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where John Lewis and others were beaten by police. Mostly following U.S. Highway 80, the route lets travelers delve into civil rights history at visitor centers, museums and memorials.
More information: nps.gov/semo
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Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
The 4,900-mile route tracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition stretches across the country from Pittsburgh to Astoria, Oregon, taking travelers over the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. Since much of the original route was along waterways, it allows travelers to float on wild and scenic rivers. “It’s sometimes called the journey that opened the American West,” Berger says. (Note: The visitor's center in Omaha, Nebraska, is temporarily closed because of COVID-19.)
More information: nps.gov/lecl
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Stretching 1,200 miles across five states, this route brought American traders to the edge of the Spanish empire until it was eclipsed by railroads. Travelers can see tallgrass and shortgrass prairies and visit museums and monuments before reaching the trail’s end at the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
More information: nps.gov/safe
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
In 1838, the Cherokee Indians were forced off their lands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia and relocated to what is now Oklahoma. The series of migration paths are among the most documented in the National Historic Trail system, Berger says, featuring scores of museums, monuments, parks and markers along the routes. The Cherokee are the largest of the nation’s federally recognized tribes. Most live in Oklahoma, though a smaller contingent that evaded relocation stayed in the Southeast.
More information: nps.gov/trte/
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Arizona and California
This route commemorating the settlement of San Francisco Bay is one of several trails linked to southwestern settlement and trade. It focuses on Spanish expansion from Mexico that occurred at roughly the same time as the Revolutionary War back east. The trail highlights include missions, parks and hiking paths.
More information: nps.gov/juba
Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
Centering on the Chesapeake Bay, this water-and-road trail not only commemorates English explorer John Smith but also the region’s Native American Indian history and cultures. In total, it includes more than 2,000 miles of shoreline. Smith, who sailed to America in 1607, was a larger-than-life personality. A former pirate, slave and mercenary, he developed Jamestown, Virginia, and explored the bay and its tributaries, creating detailed maps of the region. “His biography, you couldn’t make up,” Berger says.
More information: nps.gov/cajo
Oregon National Historic Trail
Overlapping at times with the California, Pony Express and Mormon Pioneer trails, this path was an emigration route for families making a new start in the West. “Imagine a 2,000-mile journey with small kids, most of whom were walking,” Berger says. “This is about overcoming diversity, optimism and starting a new life and escaping poverty.” Travelers can still see wheel ruts where covered wagons once passed.
More information: nps.gov/oreg
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
During the latter half of the Revolutionary War, the British found themselves outmaneuvered and outsmarted by southern mountain men, who won 1780's decisive Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina. ”It’s not very well known, but it’s considered one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War,” Berger says. This trail through Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina includes driving and hiking routes.
More information: nps.gov/ovvi
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this pathway explores an area developed by ancient settlers. The 175-mile corridor includes routes through lava fields, by beaches and up mountains. “On some parts you can walk on rock that was the Polynesian equivalent of pavement,” Berger says.
More information: nps.gov/alka/
Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska
This pathway made famous by the annual Iditarod Anchorage-to-Nome dogsled race includes a network of 2,300 miles of winter trails developed by Alaska Natives to connect villages. “It was an important factor in the settlement of Alaska. Most of it's accessible only during the winter,” Berger says. (Note: The Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed some visitor centers because of COVID-19.)
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 10 great National Historic Trails