If you’re an adventure runner stuck in a big city and you crave tougher, longer routes, look no further. You don’t have to pound the pavement and dodge traffic to get in a good workout. And urban running doesn’t have to be boring—if you know where to go. From rapid elevation changes to buttery double-track forested trail, here are the best adrenaline-pumping runs you wouldn’t expect to find in a city.
If Los Angeles’ Venice Boardwalk doesn’t cut it (ahem, it’s touristy and flat, we don’t blame you), check out Runyon Canyon Park. This 160-acre trail hub in the Santa Monica Mountains has dozens of elevation-gain routes that’ll leave your quads and calves screaming for more. The 3.5-mile Runyon Canyon Trail takes you high over L.A. to quiet ocean views, sans the crowded hassle of running downtown.
The cool thing about running in New York City is that you can use the bridges and boroughs to your advantage. If you crisscross the East River over the 59th Street Bridge, Pulaski Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and Brooklyn Bridge, you create a killer-long zigzag loop without ever having to backtrack. This sub-17 miler comes with traffic to dodge, but you’ll also score spectacular views of the skyline and it’s not as busy as Central Park—prime for the urban-island-hopping adventurer.
Skip Chicago’s crowded Lakefront Trail (you’ll just have to dodge tourists here). Instead, head to the North Branch Trail, about four miles west of Lake Michigan. The trail hugs the North Branch Chicago River and provides a mini network of lesser-known urban runs tailorable to your needs. There’s a four-mile loop around Skokie Lagoons that can be extended to six miles if you make it to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. And if you’re going for an even longer distance, you can run the six-mile out-and-back paved trail between Tower Road and Golf Road. Three solid options, right in the center of the Windy City.
There’s a reason why world-class Olympians and ultramarathoners flock to Santa Fe, NM. It’s the highest state capital in America, boasting some of the best alpine running and altitude-endurance training around. For a lung-piercing elevation workout right in town head to Atalaya Trail, a single-track three miler that’s part of the 22-mile Dale Ball network. You’ll climb several hundred vertical feet up rocky steeps and switchbacks to top out at a ridgeline overlooking the Rio Grande Valley. Not for the faint-hearted.
Nestled along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, CO has almost 200 miles of challenging routes connecting the iconic Flatirons with the city below. Try the Mesa Trail, a seven-miler (one way) that parallels the range and provides access to Green Mountain and Bear Peak—two 8,000-plus-feet peaks to summit, if you’re feeling brave with your workout. Bring your stamina, and don’t let the short distance fool you into thinking it’s easy.The 5 Most Climbable Mountains in America>>>
6) Austin, TX
Austin, TX, has nearly 20,000 acres of city parks strewn with killer single- and double-track bike-turned-running paths. Lady Bird Lake Trail, a 10-mile route downtown that circles Lady Bird Reservoir, a buildup of the Colorado River. True to its nature one of Austin’s first-ever nonmotorized paths, it provides the best and least crowded in-city run for the guy who really wants to book it. The paved path is mostly flat and starts in Zilker Park winding through the city. Bonus? It has pedestrian bridges to avoid traffic.
Portland, OR, the active capital of the West Coast, has one of the best route varieties of any city in America. In a span of just a few miles, you can cruise long, flat distances along the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, or head uphill in any direction for a killer glute workout. Leif Erikson Drive wins our vote, hands down, though—12 miles along a gravel road in the city’s 5,000-acre Forest Park is pretty hard to beat. (Not to mention, loose gravel is easier on the knees than pavement.) On this urban route, you’ll genuinely feel buried deep in the woods.
Run the 13.3-mile Chain of Lakes loop in Minneapolis’ trail system, and you’ll quickly forget you’re in one of America’s largest cities. Fifty miles of paved path circle 12 lakes and crisscross the mighty Mississippi River, offering dozens of urban running options for the adventurer. The Chain of Lakes run boasts gorgeous waterway vistas and forested pine tree paths. Though it’s not difficult in elevation, you can mix up the distance by tacking on extra mileage and circling the lakes.
Don’t let its name fool you. The Charles River Bike Path isn’t only for cyclists, and if you’re training for a marathon, this is where you want to cruise. The 17.1-mile course loops around the river so you can run a near-complete marathon distance along Boston’s historic Back Bay and Cambridge. Long stretches of path allow you to put your head down and work it, and various bridge crossings keep you sharp on your mental game. In a big city like Boston, it’s a godsend when you hammer out several miles without traffic hassle.
No other city in America can claim a national park within limits, so running at San Francisco's Presidio is a must. Dozens of trails wind around this lush coastal bluff area nestled under the Golden Gate Bridge. Head straight up to the observation point for a lung-busting hill workout and gorgeous views of the Bay Area. Or, hit up the 2.7-mile section of the California Coastal Trail (connecting Baker Beach and the Golden Gate), part of a longer 1,200-mile route that hugs the coast from Mexico to Oregon.