Trapped in an urban jungle and dying to run outside? Good news: you don’t have to go far to hit these sweet trails and get in your workout.
K. Aleisha Fetters 1 / 9
Pounding the pavement is overrated — the trail is the real path to fitness. Heading off-road requires you to constantly change up your running gait, get up on your toes, and work the ancillary muscle groups in your legs and core that provide stabilization and prevent muscle imbalances and injury.
Problem is, if you call the city home, getting to nature’s trails can seem like a workout in itself. Not true. Here are the best places to run right in (or near) your city.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico
The City of Santa Fe/Patrick Sinnott
The Dale Ball Trails consists of 22 miles of looped single-track trails close to Santa Fe. 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.
City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park
With more than 200 miles of routes in close proximity to the city, Boulder is a veritable running republic. One local favorite (of recreational runners to ultramarathoners alike!) is the 7-mile Mesa Trail. It connects a huge network of trails that runs beneath and around the iconic towering Flatirons. For an amazing view of the city below, head to the top of the 8,144-foot Green Mountain or 8,461-foot Bear Peak.
The Ice Age Trail Alliance
Winding between and around four lakes, Madison is home to miles of soft-surface beachfront trails. But for those up for a short drive, The Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers 1,200 miles (let’s repeat, 1,200 miles!) of trails across Wisconsin, 650 miles of which are off-road. The trail traces the edge of glaciers’ stopping points some 15,000 years ago, providing plenty of streams, valleys, ridges, and rolling hills to keep you on your toes. Portions of the Ice Age Trail host many races each year. If you want to run the whole thing, the time to beat is 22 days and 6 hours.
Austin Parks Foundation
Austin packs about 19,000 acres of parks into its city limits—and its surrounding Hill Country is dotted with even more mazes of singletrack. Among the city’s most popular trails is Barton Creek Greenbelt. Its 7.25 miles start in Zilker Park and wind through the city. To find shade in the sun-soaked city, head to the Colorado River at the northwest corner of the city where huge cypress and pecan trees run for miles.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
20 minutes north of the city, the Pinckney State Recreation Area’s Potawatomi Trail offers up 17.5 miles of creek crossings, steep climbs and descents, and many sections with gnarly roots. Not surprisingly, the Potawatomi plays host to some of the best trail races in the Midwest, ranging from 5 miles to full marathons. Within city limits, several parks provide varied trails, but the Nichols Arboretum, which is operated by the University of Michigan, is a favorite for students and post-grads alike.
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, National Park Service
Trail running in the nation’s capital is a history lesson in itself: The Fort Circle Parks contain the remains of Civil War fortifications and the 2,000-acre Rock Creek Park was founded as one of the country’s first federal parks. Most notably, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail connects various trails and historic sites in Washington, DC and the Potomac River and includes 830 miles of existing and planned connecting trail segments.
Metro Parks/Gary Layda
With more than 10,000 acres of city, state, and federal parks in or surrounding the city, you won’t be hard-pressed to find a trail in Nashville. Don’t know where to start? Try the Warner Park Trails system. It includes nine color-coded trails ranging in length from 150 yards to 4.5 miles. For more intense elevation gains and challenging routes, try the yellow, red, white, and blue trails.
New York, New York
The Central Park Conservancy
No, that’s not a misprint. You can run dozens of miles of trails within Central Park alone, while the boroughs provide a number of other parks (like the Bronx’s 2,700-acre Pelham Bay Park) with myriad soft-surface trails. Then, starting at about 20 miles north of downtown, the great upstate offers untamed natural areas for tough, technical trail running.