Taking your run off-road does a lot more for you than offer some cool views, mix up your routine, and let you imagine, however momentarily, that you’re Rambo. (Admit it: That’s probably why you like running in the woods to begin with.)
Bounding over nature’s obstacles, negotiating rocks and roots, and stutter-stepping across uneven terrain is actually great for your legs—it activates stabilizer muscles that wouldn’t kick in if you were just striding on plain old asphalt (to say nothing of the gentler impact forces and myriad benefits for your hamstrings, glutes, and calves inherent in cranking uphill).
Got it? Good. Here are some of the coolest American paths to work your wheels.
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Pikes Peak Trail
Where: MANITOU SPRINGS, CO
Airport: DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Accommodations: THE CLIFF HOUSE AT PIKES PEAK (FROM $125)
Begin at City Hall, start running, and more than 7,000 vertical feet later—at a ridiculously punishing average grade of 11%—you’ll find yourself at the spot where America the Beautiful was composed. (If you want, snap a selfie while thumbing your nose at the softies who took a nearby railway tourist car to the top.)
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Where: EUGENE, OR
Airport: PORTLAND, OR
Accommodations: INN AT THE 5TH (FROM $199)
The spiritual home of American distance running lies in Alton Baker Park, where Steve Prefontaine flew over the bark-covered rolling hills. The trail offers loops from one mile to 10,000 meters. While you’re there, jog over to historic Hayward Field just a mile and a half away on the University of Oregon campus, the birthplace of modern competitive distance running.
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Where: ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, ME
Airport: PORTLAND, ME
Accommodations: THE CLAREMONT (FROM $145)
Fall foliage—oak, maple, beech leaves turned fiery colors—line this section of Mount Desert Island where John D. Rockefeller Jr. constructed 45 miles of carriage trails. Locals favor the 3.3-mile loop around Witch Hole Pond or the 3.2-mile run around Jordan Pond. Later, hit up Thurston’s Lobster Pound on nearby Bass Harbor.
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Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
Where: LEELANAU PENINSULA, MI
Airport: DETROIT, MI
Accommodations: WHALEBACK INN (FROM $119)
This mostly flat (i.e., really fast) trail winds through 25 vineyards; we recommend the hillier 10-mile stretch between the northern tip of Lake Leelanau and Leelanau Wine Cellars of Omena Bay. Bonus: Oct. 24–26, join in the free Hunt for the Reds of October tasting festival.
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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Where: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ
Airport: LAS VEGAS, NV, OR PHOENIX, AZ
Accommodations: EL TOVAR HOTEL (FROM $187)
A devastating run, with more than 10,000 feet of elevation decline and gain over 20-plus mile—but dude, it’s the Grand Canyon. “It’s so worth the bragging rights,” says Scott Dunlap, competitive trail runner and author of A Trail Runner’s Blog.
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Where: ITHACA, NY
Airport: BUFFALO OR SYRACUSE, NY
Accommodations: LA TOURELLE (FROM $129)
Run the waterfall-filled, gorge-riddled routes through “lush picture-worthy canyons,” as Dunlap describes Cayuga, where the USA Track & Field held this summer’s 50 Mile Trail Championship. Later, relax on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, boasting 17 participating vineyards.
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Where: MARIN HEADLANDS, CA
Airport: SAN FRANCISCO
Accommodations: MILL VALLEY INN (FROM $229)
The 7.4-mile Dipsea Trail—site of the country’s oldest trail race, dating to 1905—features a brutal three-flight, 688-step trek up the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, which rewards runners with a stunning vista of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.
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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Where: ONEIDA, TN
Airport: NASHVILLE, TN
Accommodations: BIG SOUTH FORK LODGE (FROM $51)
With more than 150 miles of easily accessible and staggeringly empty hiking trails, Big South Fork offers a plethora of options for all ability levels, not to mention stunning views of the Cumberland River. Go in the fall for the Big South Fork Trail Race, what Trail Runner Magazine associate editor Yitka Winn calls one of the raddest races in the country.
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Rio Grande Riverpark and Trail System
Where: EL, PASO, TX
Airport:EL, PASO, TX
Accommodations: CAMINO REAL (FROM $101)
The $30 million project puts you within a stone’s throw of Mexico while taking you through varied terrain including a rare desert wetland in Keystone Heritage Park and the famous Mission Trail that passes the country’s oldest missions.
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Where: KAUAI, HI
Airport: KAUAI, HI
Accommodations :HANALEI COLONY RESORT (FROM $301)
“The Na Pali Coast is wild, rugged, and right out of the Lost World,” says Dunlap. “This 11-mile trail run will test your vertigo and fill your camera.” You’re also running over history: Indigenous islanders built the path in the 1800s to connect their villages.
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Where: ASHEVILLE, NC
Accommodations: PISGAH INN (FROM $128)
You’ll run under a canopy of rhododendrons and mountain laurels, which give the 16.3-mile trail built by George W. Vanderbilt its name. When you’re done and all stretched out, hit up one of the several microbreweries that keep Asheville perennially ranked among the best beer towns in the country.
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Robert Frost Trail
Where: AMHERST, MA
Airport: BOSTON OR HARTFORD, CT
Accommodations: STONE HOUSE FARM B&B (FROM $175)
Go for the cool historical New England vibes you’ll get as you ascend the picturesque Bare Mountain on this 47-mile trail, named for the famous poet who taught at nearby Amherst College and regularly walked these woods.
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