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10 National Forests With Incredible Trail Running

A section of the North Country Trail running through Allegheny National Forest

From Alaska to the southeast, our National Forests offer some of the best trail running opportunities. 

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The National Forest System in the United States includes 193 million acres of public land, accounting for about 8.5 percent of our country. While the national forest distinction was originally created in the wake of the 1891 General Revision Act to protect local watersheds and sustain timber supplies, these days the United States boasts more than 150 national forests across 40 states. With tons of trail running- through lush greenery, along bluffs and gorges, and past red sandstone formations- it’s no surprise that these protected lands are home to some of the nation’s best trail running and hiking opportunities. Here are 10 suggestions to get you started.

1. Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania

Originally used mostly for hunting and fishing, dozens of facilities were built in Allegheny, Pennsylvania’s only national forest, in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today this 800-square-mile slice of the Appalachian foothills is home to plenty of recreational opportunities, including prime trail running. The highlight here is a 95-mile section of the North Country Trail, with access points within the forest where you can jump on to put in a few miles. Depending on where you start you might see remnants of the area’s oil and logging past, cruise through the scenic Minister Creek Valley, or have views of the Allegheny Reservoir. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like bears, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and eagles.

La Sportiva Recommends:

The Helios 2.0 is a good option for running on the North Country Trail, especially if you like a lightweight, neutral shoe that fairs well on all but the most technical terrain.

2. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Mount Mitchell became North Carolina's first state park in 1915.

With more than 800 square miles of rugged mountain terrain in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, Pisgah National Forest contains hundreds of miles of trails. American forestry as we know it today has its roots in Pisgah, where the Biltmore Forest School (the first of its kind) was established in the late 19th century. Today, the Grandfather and Appalachian Ranger Districts offer the highest concentrations of runs in Pisgah. For a serious challenge, take the rugged 11.9-mile Black Mountain Crest Trail to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Following the ridgeline you’ll climb a handful of peaks over 6,000 feet, accompanied by unimpeded views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

La Sportiva Recommends:

The Black Mountain Crest Trail serves up challenging hills and some technical terrain, so you’ll want a sticky sole with good ankle support, like the Bushido.

3. Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

The Pedestal Rocks are among the Ozarks' coolest formations

The Ozark National Forest, along with its counterpart the St. Francis National Forest, has more than 300 miles of trails, including a hike to Arkansas's highest point, Mount Magazine. Hiking and running in Ozark and St. Francis National Forests afford views of tall sandstone bluffs, deep gorges, and, if you time your trip right, incredible fall foliage. The partner forests cover more than 1,800 square miles, offering tons of accessible trail running options. The Pedestal Rocks and Kings Bluff Loops, both in the Bayou Ranger District, are short and sweet, offering up-close views of the area’s famous cliffs.

La Sportiva Recommends:

A decent, all-around trail runner is a good choice for exploring the Ozarks. The Akasha promotes heel-to-toe motion in your foot, while providing cushion, durability and flexibility. 

4. Carson National Forest, New Mexico

Carson National Forest is full of five-star views.

Named for legendary American frontiersman Kit Carson, this 2,200-square-mile national forest in northern New Mexico is home to the state’s highest peak, plus five designated wilderness areas. Trails in Carson are known for a lot of vertical gain over long, moderate grades and many of the best running trails cut through dramatic scenery: think craggy cliffs, scenic meadows, and alpine lakes. For a decent run with five-star views of the second-highest point in New Mexico, head up the 5.5-mile out-and-back Trampas Lakes Trail.

La Sportiva Recommends:

Because this isn’t your traditional, soft-packed forest trail kind of place, there’s lots of loose dirt and rocks that could get into your shoe. Try the Helios SR—it’s well-ventilated (a good feature to have in the heat) and the sticky rubber sole performs well on loose gravel.

5. White River National Forest, Colorado

You’ll find some of Colorado’s most iconic views in the gorgeous Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

At nearly 3,600 square miles, this enormous national forest is host to stand-out features including eight wilderness areas, 12 ski areas, and 10 fourteeners. With more than 2,500 miles of trails, White River is a mountain runner’s paradise with first class options in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area, and the 27-mile Four Pass Loop which summits four 12,000+ foot peaks, gaining more than 8,000 feet along the way. One of the most sought-after runs in Colorado, runners flock to Four Pass to catch the leaves bursting into shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall.

La Sportiva Recommends:

For serious mountain running, you’ll want a shoe that is durable and supportive, but with enough cushioning to protect your feet from any rocks you might come across. The Akyra is secure-fitting and stable to keep your stride steady.

6. Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Coconino National Forest features desert views and red rock formations

Covering almost 3,000 square miles of high desert on the Colorado Plateau, the Coconino National Forest is home to dense stands of ponderosa pine, Sedona’s famous red rock formations, and quintessential southwestern desert trails. Of the hundreds of miles of trail in Coconino, don’t miss the half-mile route out to the Montezuma Well, a collapsed limestone sinkhole, or the 4.5-mile trail up to the heart-stopping Devil’s Bridge. History buffs will delight in the many ruins left behind by Ancestral Puebloans who once lived in the area, including dwellings built into the sides of the cliffs.

La Sportiva Recommends:

Wherever there is red sandstone, you’ll likely go home with red-stained socks. The Mutant solves that problem with Spyraltongue™ technology for a glove-like fit around the ankle and the top of the foot, which helps keep sand out.

7. Angeles National Forest, California

The view on the trail to Mount Wilson

Just 20-odd miles north of bustling Los Angeles, California's first national forest is also a historical landmark. Angeles National Forest protects 1,000 plus square miles of the Sierra Pelona and San Gabriel Mountains and features 700 plus miles of trails. One of Angeles’ best-loved trail runs is the challenging 13-mile out-and-back up Mount Wilson, whose summit features an astronomical observatory of the same name. Check out the Mount Disappointment 50k course, for a longer run and bag some other local peaks.

La Sportiva Recommends:

The routes are steep, but not particularly technical, so a well-cushioned shoe with ProTechTion™ reinforcements like the Akasha will give you the support needed for longer distances.

8. Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon

In 2002, Oregon’s Fremont and Winema National Forests merged to create 3,500 square miles of jointly managed public land. With few sizeable towns nearby, Fremont-Winema offers a chance to experience remote wilderness, from snowy alpine tundra ecosystems to sage-filled basins. It’s also home to the approximately 175-mile Fremont National Recreation Trail, with incredible views of Mount Shasta and the Cascade Range. This forest is also one of the best for spotting birds, as it’s situated near major migratory flyways.

La Sportiva Recommends:

If you’re romping around through water and potentially snow, you’ll want either a waterproof shoe or something that is lightweight and dries quickly. The Crossover 2.0 GTX offers a waterproof option with built-in gaiter, while the Helios 2.0 provides a lightweight and quick drying minimal option. 

9. Olympic National Forest, Washington

From temperate rainforest to craggy peaks, Olympic National Forest has it all.

This 981-square-mile national forest, which nearly surrounds Olympic National Park, was established as a forest reserve in the late 19th century. From temperate rainforest to craggy peaks, Olympic covers a huge range of environments lending a wide range to the local trail running opportunities. Plenty of trails criss-cross the forest and designated wilderness areas, but the highest concentration (and most popular) are in the Buckhorn Wilderness. With creek crossings, alpine meadows, and views of nearby peaks, the 14.4-mile out-and-back to Royal Basin is not to be missed.

La Sportiva Recommends:

The Pacific Northwest is known for being wet making a pair of quick-drying, waterproof shoes a must. The Wildcat 2.0 GTX has a waterproof Gore-Tex liner, as well as the stability and traction that you need to hit serious trails.

10. Chugach National Forest, Alaska

  Mountains, glaciers, ocean, and forest: there’s no shortage of adventure in Chugach National Forest.

Clocking in at 10,800 square miles, this behemoth national forest covers a swath of land on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula along the Prince William Sound. It’s among the wildest landscapes you’ll find anywhere in North America, and is larger than the state of New Hampshire. Countless miles of trail are accessible from Anchorage, but among the best and most scenic runs is the Resurrection Pass Trail. You can thru-hike or run as much or as little of the 39-mile Res Pass as you’d like—for the distance, the trail isn’t very strenuous. The route from Hope to Cooper Landing runs by countless alpine lakes, megafauna, and its seven-mile-long namesake pass.

La Sportiva Recommends:

The aggressive Akyra is a good option for Alaska, too, because you never know what conditions might be like.

Photos in order of appearance: ©The Cut, Kolin Toney, JustTooLazy, Brian Welker, Greg Willis, U.S. Forest Service Coconino National Forest, Anna Papuga, Gary Windust, USDA Forest Service Alaska

Originally written by RootsRated for La Sportiva.

7/25/2017 2:00 PM
Posted in Running By Team Sportiva

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La Sportiva

posted on 3/26/2018 10:35 AM
Hi Evan,

Thanks for sharing your story—Resurrection Pass sounds truly amazing! We hope you've had many more hiking/ backpacking adventures since!


La Sportiva

Evan Tibbott

posted on 3/26/2018 10:35 AM
Hiked the Resurrection Pass Trail in 1985 over four days. Due to the northerly latitude, near 60 degrees, much of it, particularly the pass area at 2,600 ft. is above timberline. The surrounding terrain is sub-arctic moist tundra, with small areas of black and white spruce in narrow, more protected ravines along the more elevated sections. We ran into some driving rain and found some temporary shelter behind alder, where we ate lunch. At one of the A-frame shelters, a porqupine kept working underneath the raised platform. As it annoyed one of our members, who threatened to shoot it, I managed to find a long enough pole, flushed him out and sent him on his way. We all had fun. A great trail.
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