The Sea-to-Sea Route (C2C) is a 7,800-mile network of existing long-distance hiking trails that spans almost continuously between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with the exception of an 800-mile gap in North Dakota and Montana along the Missouri River and a less formidable 30-mile gap in Vermont. The appeal of the C2C is rooted in its potential to (1) offer hikers an incredibly diverse and rewarding lifetime experience and to (2) unify our National Trails System for the benefit of current and future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. It combines the romance of a coast-to-coast walk with the rewards of a traditional backcountry thru-hike.
The modern history of the C2C begins with Ron Strickland — novelist and Pacific Northwest Trail founder — who started thinking about the C2C in 1996. Among other things, Ron convinced the editors at Backpacker magazine to include an article on the C2C in their February 2003 issue. The article absolustely inspired me, and before I even finished reading it I had pretty much decided what I was going to do when I finally graduated from Duke in December 2003.
The history of the C2C goes further back than Ron, however. Members of Congress that sponsored and voted for the 1968 National Trails System (NTS) Act wanted a sea-to-sea route, a critical part of which would have been The Lewis & Clark Trail, which was to trace the Corp of Discovery’s route from Illinois to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of the L&C Trail was not only to honor the Corp but to unify America’s recreational trails. In a 1965 document the Department of Interior recommended that the L&C Trail be a “major trunk trail to which local and regional loop trails can tie” and that it “connect with other major trunk trails being considered along the Continental Divide and Pacific Coast as part of a Nationwide System of Trails.”
Ten years after passing the 1968 NTS Act Congress re-designated the L&C Trail as a “National Historical Trail,” which are designed for cars and bicycles and which do not include hiking or multi-use trails. As a result there were no plans to complete the sea-to-sea route conceptualized by Congress between North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea — where the L&C Trail would have met the North Country Trail — and the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Northwest Trail, unanticipated by Congress, has significantly increased the potential of there one day being a continuous sea-to-sea route.