Top 10 Western U.S. Cities for Trail Runners
I don’t know about you, but I tend to find my universities, jobs and other big life decisions heavily weighted on proximity to trails and outdoor recreation. It’s all about LOCATION! My criteria usually revolve around trail access that’s within 20 minutes of home, a variety of terrain options, and a vibrant outdoor enthusiast community. It’s also fun to choose vacation destinations that are trail-runner friendly. If you’re an avid trail runner, these cities are guaranteed to rock your socks off!
The eclectic town of Boulder has been called a “trail running mecca” by many. Boulder boasts over 200 miles of near-city running routes to choose from in the shadow of the Flatirons. The Mesa trail is a popular 7-mile route that connects to Bear Peak and others. Cruise around the trails of Walker Ranch and Betasso Preserve, or gain some serious vertical heading up Mount Sanitas and Green Mountain.
Get ready to gain some serious altitude training around Flagstaff, as the trails range from 7,000(city level)-12,000 feet in elevation! Sunset trail is a popular 8-mile out and back route, Buffalo Park connects you to the panoramic Mount Elden, and Schultz Creek and Oldham trail come highly recommended. With ponderosa pine forests and gorgeous mountain backdrops, plus the lower-elevation community of Sedona a mere 30 miles away, it’s easy to see why so many professionals relocate here for training.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is a hidden gem of trail running opportunities. The Bonneville-Shoreline trail system provides over 100 miles of recreation opportunity in the foothills and can be reached on foot from town. Locals enjoy trails off Millcreek Canyon, City Creek Canyon, Neff’s Canyon, and many others. Little and Big Cottonwood canyons provide world class skiing in the winter and dozens of breathtaking trail options in the summer. Red Pine Lakes to Pfeifferhorn Peak is a personal favorite. Mount Olympus is a strenuous but rewarding peak overlooking the city. Head over to Antelope Island for the unique Frary Peak trail (watch out for buffalo!), or head up to Park City for more options. Either way, SLC definitely won’t disappoint.
Anchorage’s backdrop of the Chugach mountains is sure to make any runners’ heart skip a beat. World class (often un-populated!) trails are a short 10-30-minute drive from downtown. Just remember to pack the bear spray! In the city, you could spend several days alone navigating Kinkaid Park, a series of popular skiing and mountain biking trails near the coast. Popular “after-work” routes include a huge network of trails leaving from the Glen Alps and Prospect Heights trailheads, as well as the North Fork trail system in Eagle River. Head south to explore the Turnagain Arm Trail, Bird Ridge, or the Winner Creek Trail System. Experience breathtaking glacier views on the 25-mile Crow Pass Crossing, and be prepared to ford about 400 meters of glacial waist-deep river near the halfway point. Weekend trips include the popular Lost Lake trail and exploring the Kenai peninsula, or you can head north to trail options near Eklutna Lake, Palmer, Hatcher’s Pass and beyond! The Kesugi Ridge Trail provides 31 miles of mostly ridge-based sweeping views of alpine lakes and the Denali range.
San Francisco, CA
Runners are often surprised to discover the bounty of trails surrounding California’s city of nearly one million inhabitants. The Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area has an incredible offering of over 600 miles of trails. Head over to the trails at Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park, or if you’re short on time, you can always hit the trails at Golden Gate Park, too!
Once the home of legendary athlete Steve Prefontaine, Eugene has recently blown up as a trail runner’s hot spot. The McKenzie River trail offers approximately 30 miles of Cascade Mountain delights including natural hot springs and lava fields, bridges and hairpin single track turns. The city has an extensive wood chip trail system in Alton Baker Park, or you can check out the 14-mile Ridgeline trail.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole is an up and coming trail runners’ spot with lots of room to explore. Check out the 16-mile Wilson Canyon trail, or access Josie’s trail right from town. The Teton Crest trail is a 39-mile little slice of heaven – as long as you’re up for some steep grinds with amazing views. And be sure to pick up a trail map for the rest of Grand Teton National Park – there are some lake trails you won’t want to miss!
Mammoth Lakes, California
More than 300 miles of trails await you at the Mammoth Lakes trail system, an area abounding in alpine meadows, clear lakes, pine forests, and sharp mountain peaks. Mammoth Lakes is a great jumping-off point for adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail, Devils Postpile National Monument, and (about 42 miles away) the John Muir Trail in Bishop, a stone’s throw from more recreation at Yosemite National Park.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
With a relatively warm and dry climate year-round and a series of single track trail loops near town, Santa Fe is a great option. Explore 30 miles of routes on the Dale Ball trail, or climb into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from the Windsor trail. Reserve the Rail Trail (from Santa Fe to the Amtrak station) for a flat recovery day in this artistic desert town.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction is the gateway to infinite trail possibilities, and the area already attracts a large number of mountain bikers. Colorado National Monument, McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area, Grand Mesa National Forest, and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area surround this small-sized city near the Utah border, with a wide variety of trails. The Lunch Loop and Bangs Canyon Recreation Area are popular local spots for trail runners. Grand Junction is just over 100 miles away from Moab, which offers the ultimate bucket list of trail runs in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.