Urban Trails for the Traveling Runner
Run on the go with our guide to urban trails in 10 major cities where bike paths and greenways abound...
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Who says you have to get out of the city to get in a decent trail run? Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, finding yourself in any one of America’s most iconic cities doesn’t mean you have to take a break from your trail running routine. In addition to the city sights (and even the road running—many big cities are known for their marathons), some of these beloved cities boast miles of urban trails within city limits. Here are 10 of the best places in America for getting in a run and seeing a few sights along the way!
1. WASHINGTON, DC
Our nation’s capital is filled with movers and shakers, but it also features tons of urban trail running for those who need to get their workouts in. Historical landmarks like Rock Creek and Fort Circle Parks have plenty of trail options. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail also connects a ton of important historic sites along the Potomac River. With a variety of surfaces and terrain, it’s possible to run, hike, bike, or even paddle the PHT. For a classic sightseeing run, try the 3-mile Mall and MonumentsTrail, which takes you past the White House, Capitol Building, and Washington Monument, among others.
2. NEW YORK, NEW YORK
With more trail running than you could have imagined in a concrete jungle, it’s no wonder this city never sleeps. Runners can log dozens of trail miles in the world-famous Central Park, but that’s not the only place to get in some strides. Parks in the boroughs, like the 2,700-acre Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, offer soft surfaces to run on. There’s also the High Line, which has generated plenty of buzz in the last few years as it turned an unused elevated railroad bed into a park on the West Side, complete with a trail and art exhibits.
3. BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
Locals love to get in a few miles on the trail running along the Charles River. Photo: Brandon Turner
The vast majority of Bostonians are within walking distance of a park, which means trail runners looking for a place to stretch their legs are in luck. (There are also nearly two dozen Boston-area running clubs to connect with.) Locals love running on the 18-mile path alongside the Charles River, which can be tailored to your desired distance. There’s also the Emerald Necklace, a chain of nine parks (more than 1,000 acres) featuring a 7-mile trail linking them all from Franklin Park to Boston Common.
4. NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
Nashville is known for its country music, but there’s so much more to the city than that. Between city, state, and federal parks, there are more than 10,000 acres of green space in and immediately surrounding Nashville, which means the toughest part is narrowing down which of the many parks has the best running. The Warner Parks Trails are a great place to start, with nine well-marked, color-coded trails, including technically challenging dirt trails following yellow, red, white, or blue blazes. There are also tons of fantastic trail runs within half an hour of the city.
5. MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
Dedicated runners hit the trail year-round in Minneapolis.
The Twin Cities are home to plenty of running clubs and retail shops, and their abundance of bike paths makes it easy to lace up your shoes to get out for a run. But there’s plenty of trail running in Minneapolis, thanks in part to the Grand Rounds, the only urban trail system in America that’s also a National Scenic Byway. It includes 50 miles of trails around a dozen of Minnesota’s 10,000-plus lakes and the Mississippi River, and the Chain of Lakes features a great half-marathon-length loop on soft surfaces with water views all the way.
6. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Don’t be put off by Chicago’s reputation as the Windy City—it may be breezy, but the urban runs here are worth the effort. The 18-mile paved Lakefront Trail winds its way along Lake Michigan, offering gorgeous views not only of the lake, but also landmarks like the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, and, of course, the city’s skyline. There are also trails in many of Chicago’s urban parks, including Grant Park (site of the Chicago Marathon’s start and finish) and along the Chicago River.
7. DENVER, COLORADO
The Lycan offers optimum versatility for road-to-trail running. Photo: Quinn Carrasco
As any Denverite will tell you, the Centennial State’s capital is full of trails to run. It helps that, with 300 annual days of sunshine, the snow doesn’t stick around long, even in the dead of winter. Hook up with one of the Mile High City’s running clubs, or strike out on your own on the Cherry Creek Trail, one of several long-distance greenways in the metro area. City Park, Wash Park, and Cheesman Park also have loop trails you shouldn’t miss. Many of these paths are paved, but have dirt next to them if you are looking to get off the pavement.
8. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
With a skyline like that, it's no wonder that SLC's trail running community is booming.
Salt Lake City has the distinction of not only being a major metropolitan area, but also being right in the foothills of the mighty Wasatch Range. You don’t have to venture far outside city limits to get in a serious mountain run—including, if you want, a burly 5,000-foot ascent. With countless miles of trails ranging from easy to super-gnarly, you could spend an eternity running SLC and barely scratch the surface.
9. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
San Diego has plenty of competition among California cities, many of which have phenomenal access to urban parks and trails. But the clincher is its temperate climate, which makes running here pleasant year round. Train for one of the nearly 200 races that take place in the city each year by exploring the 65-mile network of trails in Balboa Park. You can also run up mountains, like on the 6.5-mile trail up Fortuna Mountain, or on the hard-packed sand along the La Jolla coastline.
10. PORTLAND, OREGON
Forested trails offer plenty of shade for running in the PNW. Photo: Aly Nicklas
In a city as bike-friendly as Portland, it should come as no surprise that there’s excellent running access, too. The Wildwood Trail winds through 30 miles of Portland between Washington Park and Forest Park. In addition to linking up many of the city’s best parks for running, this National Recreation Trail is also easy to get to from public transportation stops. (Check out the trail conditions and surfaces before you head out here.) There’s also the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade, both paved and both convenient if you’re staying downtown.
Whether you’re hitting a burly technical trail or a smooth dirt path, the Lycan is the perfect crossover shoe. With enough cushion for door-to-trail outings, the Lycan offers long-lasting sticky rubber and shock absorption to keep you performinf your best while staying comfortable—no matter where you’re planning to run.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with La Sportiva.
Preview Photo ©: Aly Nicklas
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