Gallery: The 8 Best Running Trails In America
Published on 04/23/2013
Long Distance Alpine: Colorado Trail - CO
The perfect way to see all the Rocky Mountains have to offer while still logging significant alpine miles. Starting at the edge of Denver and snaking to the southwest through 483 miles to Durango, the Colorado Trail covers eight mountain ranges, seven national forests, and six wilderness areas. The 28-segment trail reaches almost 14,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains and travels through historic mining towns, old railroad tunnels and passes between Colorado's two highest peaks, the 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert and 14,428-foot Mt. Massive.
In The Woods: McKenzie River Trail - OR
This twisty 25-mile trail stretches along the McKenzie River and through ancient forestlands to the heart of the Cascade Mountains. The route includes smooth single-track trails, log bridges, hairpin turns, and steep climbs and descents as it traverses over former lava fields, under fallen trees, and past hot springs and waterfalls. Infamous for its “Blue Hole”, the trail's diverse beauty is a big reason the early September McKenzie River Trail Run 50-K sells out quicker than a downhill sprint.
Solitary Steps: Hayduke Trail- UT and AZ
Traversing six national parks of the Colorado Plateau including Arches, Grand Canyon, and Zion, this 800-plus mile trail is cut up into 14 sections. Named for Edward Abbey's fictional eco-warrior, the Hayduke climbs to around 11,420 feet on Mt. Ellen near Capitol Reef and then drops to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at 1,800 feet. Along the way, it hops down the plateau’s famed Grand Staircase, where you can see layer upon layer of ancient sandstone and limestone excavated by the region's rivers. The Hayduke can only be considered a “trail” in the broadest sense of the word. Technical knowhow is a must as much of it is unmarked.
Through the Desert: Poison Spider Mesa - UT
The Utah dessert’s adventure capital of Moab is usually known more as a mountain biking mecca than a trail running destination. But, if you can stand the heat and the herds of bikes, the region's Navajo Sandstone slick rock trails and variety of technical features will make it any trail runner's new favorite destination. The 13-mile loop encompassing Poison Spider Mesa boasts jagged red rock vistas and awesome views of the snowcapped La Sal Mountains in the distance. Just be sure to pack your sunscreen.
Stop and Smell the Flowers: Ice Age National Scenic Trail - WI
Once completed, this route will be a 1,200-mile trek across Wisconsin highlighting the state's vast array of geological features created by ancient glaciers. The current 600-mile completed portion of the trail covers the rolling terrain of the Kettle Moraine State Forest near LaGrange, where you'll find a mix of evergreen and deciduous groves interspersed with prairies, ponds, marshes, and kettles left behind by long-ago ice floes. The completed meandering route will take runners through wetlands, shaded forests, and remnants of ancient prairies that come alive with wildflowers in the late spring and early summer.
Play in the Park: Golden Gate National Recreation Area - CA
Though technically a park, the trails around Golden Gate National Recreation Area are a bit more challenging than your average run around the playground. The possibilities are almost limitless in this maze of trails and, with a map and a little motivation, and ambitious runner can create any number of loops at any distance. Sprint up ridges. Take in the water’s edge at Point Bonita Lighthouse. Wind through valleys or ascend the windswept cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Whatever combination you come up with, the awesome remoteness felt while sauntering between San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge makes this a runner’s dream.
Get Technical: Channel Islands National Park - CA
Only accessible via plane or boat, the five separate islands composing Channel Islands National Park are best suited for the technical runner willing to travel to find the perfect Californian backdrop. Each island features trails that alternate between smooth and steady and rough and rugged. The surefooted will find routes up to 20 miles long between coastal areas and mountainous interiors.
Big Bragging Rights: Grand Canyon Traverse
There may be no more challenging, or satisfying, feet for a trail runner than going rim-to-rim in America’s Backyard. The real challenge of this 21- mile one-way route isn’t so much the distance but the change in elevation, and not falling while you marvel at the beauty of it all. And telling someone you not only crossed a national treasure on foot, but ran across it, will certainly win you a spot on just about anyone’s adventure checklist.