Here are our picks for the top five trail running destinations in the U.S.
Many runners turn to the trails in search of a physical challenge. What they find when they leave the pavement behind is a love for getting off the beaten path, breaking new ground and pushing themselves in new directions. A perfect trail running community should have more than just a trail network diverse enough to challenge any level of runner. It also needs a strong sense of community that supports an active lifestyle and amenities that can’t be overlooked like a good coffee shop, fun attractions and cross-training activities.
These five locations across America have just those qualities.
Made famous as the birthplace of Nike and location of the classic comedy Animal House, Eugene, Ore., is gaining popularity as a trail running destination. Just 50 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the city known as “Emerald City” and “Track Town, USA” is a runner’s paradise. Well-maintained trails abound, and the mountains are just a short drive away for more rugged adventures.
Must-do runs: Just outside of town is the 14-mile Ridgeline Trail overlooking the Willamette Valley. Take a drive an hour outside of town via the Scenic Byway and hit the 30-mile McKenzie River Trail, which winds past waterfalls, old-growth forest and rocky lava flows. For a recovery run, hit Pre’s Trail, named after legendary University of Oregon athlete Steve Prefontaine. The woodchip-and-bark trail, located in Alton Baker Park, is part of the city’s extensive trail system.
Post-workout fun: Visit Hayward Field, site of the 2008 Olympic Trials and some of the greatest stories in running history. The Nike Store features a museum showcasing the company’s history, from the waffle shoe through today. Also stop by Pre Memorial Park and Pre’s Rock in memory of the running great. For a relaxing post-run activity, take a trip to the Silvan Ridge Winery, a traditional European-style winery (silvanridge.com), or bike through wine country.
Good eats: Laughing Planet and Cornucopia are cheap eats and great places to catch up with local runners. Laughing Planet is known for their burritos, soups and salads, while Cornucopia has an extensive beer list, including local brews, daily specials and great- tasting burgers for both vegetarians and meat lovers.
Sweet dreams: The Valley River Inn (valleyriverinn.com) on the banks of the Willamette River is a resort-style hotel close to trails and downtown. Get a mid-day pick-me-up from the coffee barista, relax at the indoor spa and enjoy the tastes of Northwest cuisine at Sweetwater Restaurant. The Fox Hollow Valley B&B (markanddrewstudio.com/bb/index.htm) is a green retreat just outside the city featuring an all-organic breakfast, free-trade coffee and private gardens.
Known as Music City, Nashville is home to country music and the Grand Ole Opry. When taking a break from music, residents enjoy 10,000 acres of city, state and federal parks in or surrounding the city.
Must-do runs: The Warner Park Trails are the top pick for trail running in the area. The Red, White and Blue Trails offer tree-covered hills, Tennessee wildflowers, spring crossings and open fields. Explore the old trails of the Natchez Trace for a peaceful recovery or easy run.
Post-workout fun: Stop by the Grand Ole Opry (opry.com) and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (countrymusichalloffame.org). The honky tonk bars throughout the city promise a good time with line dancing and live music. East Nashville is an up-and-coming historical area full of artsy shops and restaurants.
Sweet dreams: The historical Hermitage Hotel (thehermitagehotel.com) features Capital Grille, a restaurant embracing the “farm-to-table” concept. An extensive health and fitness center, in-room yoga and Pilates DVDs, and luxurious spa treatments make the Hermitage a pampering and relaxation paradise. For a less expensive option, consider the Linden Manor Bed and Breakfast (nashville-bed-breakfast.com) located in the heart of Nashville.
Good eats: Stop by the Loveless Café (lovelesscafe.com), a Nashville landmark, for good ole’ Southern comfort food. Off the Natchez Trace, this soul food cafe is a favorite stop for cyclists, runners and celebrities. If you need a coffee fix, stop by one of the numerous Bongo Java coffee shops (bongojava.com).
Info: To learn more about Nashville, go to visitmusiccity.com. You can also visit the blog for the Highland Rim Trail Running Club, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting trail running in the area, at hrtrc.blogspot.com.
ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS – HIGH PEAKS REGION
Adirondack Park in upstate New York is the nation’s largest trail system with more than 2,000 miles of hiking and running trails spread out on 6.1 million acres. The combination of waterfalls, mountains, lakes and streams makes the Keene Valley and Lake Placid region a true trail runner’s paradise.
Must-do runs: The Jackrabbit Trail is an 11-mile intermediate-grade route that winds through the Adirondack Mountains, starting at the Rock and River Guide Service
Lodge in Keene, N.Y., and ending at beautiful Lake Placid. You can also continue on to Saranac Lake for a longer route. The Soda Range Loop is approximately seven-miles long and offers a scenic adventure with rocky ridges, mountain passes and gradual climbs. The Loj Loop in Lake Placid, N.Y., is a perfect 6.5-mile recovery run or speed workout route. Post-workout fun: Take a trip on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (adirondackrr.com), which departs from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, for a unique view of the park’s magnificent beauty. If you need a break from running, take advantage of endless outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing and fishing.
Good eats: Try the Baxter Mountain Tavern in Keene for old-fashioned American fare or the Great Range in Keene Valley for an extensive wine selection and fine dining.
Sweet dreams: If you are looking to meet locals and fellow outdoors enthusiasts, try the Keene Valley Hostel for reasonably priced lodging. Rock and River’s Guide Service (rockandriver.com) offers mountain-style lodging in the Climber’s Lodge or Guide House with access to the Jackrabbit Trail and many other outdoor activities nearby.
Info: Visit the Adirondack Trail Running Club Web site at adktrailrun.com.
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Blending Spanish and Native American cultures, Santa Fe, N.M., is the oldest capital city in the United States, featuring one-of-a-kind adobe architecture, stunning cathedrals and a charming downtown. The city is best known for having one of the most vibrant art scenes in the United States and being the inspiration behind many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous pieces. The beautiful landscape provides not only a picture-perfect background for artists, but also a wealth of routes for the trail enthusiast. Runners looking for beautiful views of high desert scrub brush, aspens and evergreens will not be disappointed. Mild temperatures and minimal precipitation makes running feasible year round.
Must-do runs: The Dale Ball Trails consist of 22 miles of looped single-track trails close to town. Terrain ranges from easy to difficult. Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the desert views that make these trails so popular. The Windsor Trail starts near the Santa Fe ski area and heads into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, climbing up to 12,000 feet for hours of alpine running. For a flat recovery run, try the Rail Trail that runs from Santa Fe to the Lamy Amtrak station.
Post-workout fun: Visit the Ten Thousand Waves spa resort (tenthousandwaves.com) or Absolute Nirvana Spa Tea Room and Gardens (absolutenirvana.com) for some pampering, including massages, facials and post-run soaks. Spend a day strolling the plaza and browsing through art galleries, such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Guided walking tours showcasing the capital city’s unique history and architecture is a popular post-run activity.
Good eats: Stop by the Santa Fe Baking Company for award-winning burritos. For a true taste of local cuisine, try TIA Sophia’s or Coyote Cafe. Sweet dreams: Stay at the Inn at Santa Fe (innatsantafe.com), located in the heart of town, for close proximity to the area’s attractions. For a true lodging splurge, try the Encantado Resort (encantadoresort.com) at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Fine dining, luxurious casitas lodging, peace and tranquility await you.
Info: Contact The Running Hub at (505) 820-2523 or visit the Santa Fe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at santafe.org.
UPPER PENINSULA OF MICHIGAN
The land above the bridge—the Upper Peninsula—is the northern of the two landmasses comprising Michigan. Despite the harsh winters, the residents of the U.P. (known as Yoopers) love the 1,700 miles of shoreline, endless recreation opportunities and the Nordic and Finnish heritage of the area.
Must-do runs: The Algonquin Trail in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., offers a peaceful run through birch and oak tree forests, over wooden bridges and past rolling creeks. Take the ferry from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island and run the numerous trails around the island. The famous North Country Trail, which runs from North Dakota to New York, is a must-run while in the Upper Peninsula.
Post-workout fun: Tour the Lake Superior lighthouses, stop for fudge on Mackinac Island or go blueberry picking in Paradise. Visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior for beaches, sand dunes and sandstone cliffs.
Sweet Dreams: Enjoy views of the Mackinac Straights on the wraparound deck of the Colonial House Inn (colonialhouseinn.com) while staying in St. Ignace. Just minutes from the ferry to Mackinac, the Colonial House is part of the Green Lodging Program.
Good eats: Try the local specialty, a meat and vegetable-filled pasty, at Dobber’s Pasties (dobberspasties.com) in Escanaba.
Courtney Johnson is a freelance writer and photographer from Colorado. When not at the computer or behind her camera, she seeks out adventure, from trail running and biathlons to mountain biking and snowshoeing.