In 1997, the State Legislature charged the THC to create a statewide heritage tourism program. The THC responded with a program based on local, regional, and state partnerships, centered on the 10 scenic driving trails. These trails serve as the nucleus of 10 heritage regions, and include heritage tourism attractions and communities both on and off the trail.
The program began with the establishment of the Texas Forts Trail Region in 1998. Other heritage regions made a formal application to the program, demonstrating knowledge of area attractions and broad support from organizations and local government. The suite of heritage regions was completed in 2005 with the additions of the Texas Pecos and Hill Country Trail Regions.
The THTP received national recognition with the Preserve America Presidential Award in 2005. This award was given for exemplary accomplishment in the preservation and sustainable use of America's heritage assets, which has enhanced community life while honoring the nation's history. The following year, the program was awarded a Preserve America grant for developing the Heritage Tourism Guidebook and for providing heritage tourism training across the state.