When my parents first introduced me to hiking in the foothills of Idaho, they established one paramount rule: no running on the trail! Like many rules, this one was made to be broken, as an estimated 4.8 million Americans identified themselves as trail runners in 2009. Today, this once-taboo activity has become a blossoming outdoor sport of its own, just as valid as hiking or biking through any of the world’s iconic outdoor spaces.
Trail runners love the thrill that each trail brings, with its own unique technical challenges, powerful steep slopes, endurance-testing distances, and beautiful terrain. However, as any outdoor enthusiast knows, you can’t always get the complete experience in your own backyard. Sometimes you just have to travel to get the most out of your hobby, and it’s no different for trail runners. With that in mind, here are four cities in the US worth traveling to for the trail running:
Trail running is a little more involved than a casual stroll through the woods. Make sure that you’re prepared before you hit the trail or you could quickly find yourself in over your head, exhausted on steep terrain and far from help.
Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. If you get hurt on the trail, this person could be your only chance to call for help.
Trail running will often take you over a variety of difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain. This is no time for worn-out sneakers — find a pair of trail running shoes that fit your needs and fit your feet.
A good diet is ideal for trail running. Easy-to-digest foods like fruits and veggies are good for the trail, while a balanced meal with plenty of healthy carbohydrates and protein will help you build the muscle necessary to make it on tougher trails.
If you’re traveling a lot for trail running, make sure that you stay fit while you travel. Sitting in the car for hours on end can take its toll on your body, so it’s critical to get out and stretch every few hours on a big trip.
Bishop represents an entirely different side of California compared to cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Established on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevada, Bishop is well known as a world-class destination for outdoor sports like rock climbing and mountain biking. Trail runners should also be adding Bishop to their lists.
When it comes to Bishop, the real question is where not to run. Runners who want to experience beautiful terrain should traverse the Buttermilk area. Traditionally known for its bouldering, the Buttermilks also hosts a variety or trails perfect for running: from short technical spurts to long endurance trails that cover the whole region.
Runners looking for a serious challenge should try the many trails through the Sierras. These trials will offer the works: endless steep trails filled with technical challenges that carve their way through the jagged peaks of this mountain range.
The Bishop High Sierra Ultras include a number of racing lengths to test any trail runner’s endurance. The race plays out in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Nevada on relatively easy terrain. The real challenge comes from the distance (up to 100K) and the hot desert climate.
Boise is the fastest-growing area in the United States and for good reason. People are starting to discover the truth about Boise: it’s an affordable metropolitan area with easy access to some of the best outdoor spaces in the country.
Boise is surrounded by local foothills trails within a five-minute drive from downtown. These trials are perfect for warm-ups and getting a workout in, but they’re just the beginning of what the Boise backcountry has to offer. Less than an hour out of town you can find beautiful and technical shaded trails in the Boise National Forest. The real adventures lie just two or three hours away in the world-class Sawtooth Range, where sharp peaks tower above alpine lakes at elevations between 9,000 feet and almost 11,000 feet.
The Dirty Dog Marathon takes runners through the local foothills and, for those who choose the full marathon option, along the ridgeline above Boise. The terrain is moderately difficult, meant to provide a challenge for experiences runners without turning away newcomers who want to run in their first race.
Outdoor enthusiasts won’t be surprised to see Boulder on this list. The city of 108,000 has become a gateway to the Rocky Mountains. Its proximity to both the comfortable city life of Denver and the wild backcountry of the Rockies makes it a must-see for trail runners of all experience levels.
Adventure is always nearby in Boulder. Chautauqua Park is a five-minute drive from downtown Boulder. This park hosts Boulder’s iconic Flatirons — massive sandstone slabs that rise 2,000 feet above the city.
Ultra runner Timothy Olson trains in Boulder’s Chautauqua Park.
Boulder is also incredibly close to some of best alpine trails in the world. Take your pick of the the Front Range, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, or any of the world-class mountain ranges within just an hour or two of Boulder.
The XTERRA Colorado Trail Run Series offers a wide range of races for trail runners of all skill levels. Racers can expect to be challenged by high elevations, unpredictable weather, and rocky terrain in a variety of locations throughout Colorado.
Vegas has mades a name for itself as the Sin City — a place where you can experience worldly pleasures from gambling to dining so fine you’ll feel guilty. However, outdoor enthusiasts are discovering a whole new side to Las Vegas. Step outside the Strip and you can experience a world of high desert trail running unlike anything you’ve seen before.
The prime spot for trail running near Las Vegas is going to be Red Rock Canyon. This National Conservation Area is filled with trails at a variety of difficulty levels. Expect lots of elevation gain, rocky terrain, and watch out for snakes.
When Red Rock is too hot, check out the nearby Mount Charleston. With trails spanning 7,000 feet to nearly 12,000 feet at the summit, Charleston will test your trail running abilities at high elevations.
Check out the Bootleg Beatdown in Bootleg Canyon. This race is will test your technical running skills on trails so steep that you’ll need to use your hands and feet to complete the race. Technical challenges combined with intense desert heat mean that this is not a race for beginners, so make sure you have some experience under your belt before you sign up.
Feature image credit: Paola UquillasLast updated on Oct 9, 2019