Want to become a stronger runner? Don’t climb mountains. Run ‘em. Take off from a town tucked deep into craggy granite canyons. Explore a trail shaded by aspen trees and cool off burning feet in a pool fed by ice-cold alpine streams. There’s no doubt: the Rocky Mountains have some of the best trail runs for beginners and intermediates.
Here are five of our favorite trail runs in Colorado:
Any Ski Area, CO
Location: Just take a look around
Distance: Runner’s Choice
New to the trail running game? Step up to an established ski area where cat tracks create switchbacks from parking lot to summit. Some ski areas offer lift service for hikers and bikers in summer; take a lift up, explore hiking and biking trails and then run back down. Take care, as some trails are bikes only. Add distance by running intersecting loops, combining traverses and climbs.
Telegraph / Horse Gulch
Distance: Runner’s Choice (Trail network)
These trail networks crisscross the rustic red rock of Durango, with 30-plus miles of fun, winding paths to string together. The Horse Gulch area is less crowded than the nearby Animas River Trail, remaining relatively quiet on weekends. Our favorite zone is the Telegraph Trail network on the southeast side of town. Find a solid mix of physically challenging technical sections and steep climbs, not to mention views overlooking the Animas River and Fort Lewis College.
Location: Castle Rock
Distance: 5-6 miles
Remains of the old, breached Castlewood Dam that flooded Denver in the 30s are surrounded by preserved open space. Home to bounteous wildlife yet close to the city, Castlewood is an accessible escape. One of our favorites: begin at the Homestead trailhead before turning left on Rimrock for a quick uphill. Traverse the canyon rim then descend back toward the dam. Follow Creekbottom trail back to the trailhead.
*Watch for poison ivy in Castlewood Canyon.
Distance: 5 miles (with add-ons available)
Another southwest Colorado gem, Deer Creek offers deep woods desolation right outside the small mining town of Silverton. Meadows turn to dense forest as the trail climbs; trail texture and color changes from light greens and browns to red rocks and silvery shale and dark pines. Try the Red Mesa Loop along with the quick n’ dirty Homesteader Trail. Explore Plymouth Creek and Meadowlark down low to cool off.
Distance: 8.5 miles
Primarily known as a biking trail, Mary’s Loop trail winds through slick rock and junipers and even rides the edge of a cliff high above the Colorado River for a mile or so. It’s a gorgeous intermediate run, with only 650 vertical gain and a few moderately technical zones. Run Mary’s at dawn in the summer since temps can hit triple digits midday. Also, keep an open ear for riders taking corners hot anytime you run in bike country.