Here Are the Best Running Trails in the USNov 11, 2020
Maybe you’re ready to pack your bags and explore the great outdoors — and a running trail with jaw-dropping scenery is the perfect excuse to book that vacation. Or maybe you just need a break from dodging cars on busy streets and want to find a quiet running trail near you. Either way, the U.S. is home to some of the most beautiful trail systems in the world, from rolling seaside routes to rugged mountain passes — so there are plenty of trail running destinations for you to choose from.
Once you’ve ID’d your ideal trail running route, be sure to bring water, a map or GPS, snacks, sunglasses, and a headlamp or small flashlight. Depending on the weather conditions — which you should always check before you head out — you may also want to pack a shell jacket, gloves, and a hat or headband. And be sure to let someone know which trail you’re taking.
Ready to go where you don’t need roads? Here are 15 scenic running trails to check out.
Tahoe Rim Trail (Nevada)
Lake Tahoe is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world, and the Tahoe Rim Trail takes the ridiculously scenic route around it. With 10 official trailheads, as well as a few unofficial ones, it’s easy to plan your running route along this 165-mile loop. And no matter where you start, your efforts will be rewarded with views of lakes, meadows, and snowy peaks. Sign up for the annual Emerald Bay Trail Run — a seven-mile, somewhat technical race held in September — or explore the trails on your own anytime. (Just check trail conditions before you head out, because some trailheads close in winter.)
Moab Trails (Utah)
The desert town of Moab is the gateway to thousands of square miles of stunning red rock landscapes and an abundance of running trails that stay open all year round. Moab is also home base for scenic endurance races like the Moab Trail Marathon series in November and the Canyonlands Half Marathon in the spring. These races fill up fast, so sign up early — and pack trail running shoes that can handle the rugged terrain.
Dipsea Trail (California)
The Dipsea Race — a challenging trail run with switchbacks, stair climbs, and secret shortcuts — was first run in 1905, making it the oldest trail race in the U.S. It’s also highly popular and limited to 1,500 runners, making it a tough race to register for. But you can follow the 9.7-mile race route any time of year. The trail begins at Muir Woods, takes you past California’s famous redwoods, and ends at Stinson Beach. Bring shoes with plenty of traction for the steep downhills, and don’t forget sunscreen for the open-road sections.
Crow Pass Trail (Alaska)
Drive one hour south from Anchorage and you’ll reach Girdwood, the location of the scenic Crow Pass Trail. The trail spans 21 miles, but you only need to go the first few miles to experience glaciers, wildflowers, waterfalls, and the occasional mountain goat. This trail isn’t for the faint of heart — bear sightings are fairly common, and due to the risk of avalanches, you may want to avoid this trail during the winter months. Experienced trail runners can apply to participate in the Crow Pass Crossing, a technical trail race that takes place every July and includes a crossing of the frigid, fast-moving Eagle River.
Big Bend Ranch State Park (Texas)
Texas’s biggest state park runs alongside the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexico border, and includes more than 230 miles of rugged, multi-use trails. Like nearby Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, making it the perfect place for post-run stargazing. Visit in January if you want to take part in the Big Bend Ultra, a race series that includes a 10K, 30K, 50K, and 50-miler.
Santa Catalina Island (California)
Located off the coast of Southern California, Santa Catalina Island — a.k.a. Catalina — features more than 165 miles of running trails for every ability level. The island also hosts several annual running events, including a half marathon, a triathlon, and a 50-miler. You’ll need to take an hour-long ferry ride to get there, but it’s worth it for the rugged coastlines and beautiful ocean views. You might encounter wildlife along the trail, like bison and rattlesnakes, so just be sure to keep your distance.
Ice Age Trail (Wisconsin)
Part running trail, part history lesson, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail lets you step back in time and explore a landscape sculpted by glacial ice more than 12,000 years ago. The historic trail spans a thousand miles, but you can decide which sections you want to explore by checking out the list of recommended Ice Age Trail day trips on the trail’s website. (Check the trail conditions before you head out, because some sections are closed during winter months.) Up for a serious challenge? Register for the Ice Age Trail 50 Endurance Run race series. The half-marathon, 50K, and 50-mile runs take place every May.
Mesa Trail (Colorado)
Head to Boulder and hit up the classic 7.5-mile Mesa Trail, which features beautiful wildflowers and plenty of wide-open spaces with panoramic views of the Colorado landscape. The trail is 7.5 miles from the Chautauqua Trailhead in the north to the South Mesa Trailhead in the south — so unless you plan to run the 15-mile out-and-back loop, find a running buddy and leave a car at each trailhead. Heads up: The City of Boulder warns of an uptick in car break-ins at the trailheads, so leave your valuables at home or in the hotel.
Art Loeb Trail (North Carolina)
The 30.1-mile Art Loeb Trail is one of the more challenging running trails in North Carolina, but it’s also one of the most popular. Named after an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, the Art Loeb Trail mainly travels along peaks and ridges, and offers beautiful panoramic views — especially at its high point on Black Balsam Knob, which reaches 6,214 feet. It takes two or three days to hike the entire length of the trail, but runners can tackle short sections of the trail for a scenic workout.
Dale Ball Trails (New Mexico)
The Dale Ball Trail system is a quick drive from downtown Santa Fe and offers plenty of variety for both new and advanced trail runners. The 22-mile network of trails connects to other local trails like the Nature Conservancy, Atalaya, and Dorothy Stewart trails. Thanks to the high altitude, some of the trails can be icy during the winter and spring, and if you’re not used to running at high altitudes, be sure to drink plenty of water and rest often to avoid altitude sickness.
Laurel Highlands Trail (Pennsylvania)
Located in western Pennsylvania, the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail stretches from Ohiopyle State Park to Laurel Ridge State Park. The 70-mile trail is basically boredom-proof — it traverses a variety of terrain, passing through state parks, forests, preserves, and game lands. And the scenery changes throughout the year — from spring wildflowers to colorful fall foliage to winter snow.
McKenzie River Trail (Oregon)
Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail is a popular destination for mountain bikers — but runners can also soak up the beautiful scenery along this 25-mile trail, which features waterfalls, lava rock, streams, and old-growth trees. Bring traction cleats in the winter and early spring, when the trails can get snowy. And check the trail conditions at the McKenzie River Ranger Station (located less than a mile from the Lower McKenzie River trailhead) before you head in.
Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine)
The Appalachian Trail is a whopping 2,180+ miles long and traverses 14 states — which means there are limitless options for trail runners of every ability level. Want to narrow it down a bit? The Appalachian Trail Conservancy put together a lineup of Appalachian day hikes that range in length and difficulty — and any of these can double as a great running trail. Needless to say, the weather can vary on a trail that spans most of the East Coast, so check the conditions in your area before venturing out.
Maah Daah Hey Trail (North Dakota)
This trail system in the badlands of North Dakota will give you a taste of nearly every type of terrain in the region, including prairielands, river valleys, and steep, rocky slopes. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing the nine trails with bighorn sheep, mule and whitetail deer, and prairie dogs. While the main Maah Daah Hey trail spans 144 miles, other segments are much less daunting — the Overlook Trail is less than a mile, and the 18.9-mile Buffalo Gap is great for a long trail run.
Finger Lakes Trail System (New York)
The Finger Lakes Trail System is a network of trails that covers more than a thousand miles, from Allegheny State Park at the Pennsylvania border all the way to the Catskills in southeastern New York. The main Finger Lakes Trail spans roughly 580 miles, and includes six branch trails and 29 loop and spur trails, so wherever you’re visiting in the Finger Lakes region, there’s probably a great running trail near you. Expect gorges and waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and plenty of wildlife along trails that suit all ability levels. Certain sections of the trail may be closed for hunting or other conditions, so check the trail conditions before you head out.