18 Most Beautiful & Best Running Trails in America

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Runners know a thing or two about the quality of life. Regular running boosts cardio health, sleep, and even memory. Add the wonders of nature, fresh air, and sensational views, and it’s the perfect mix. All you need now is the lowdown on the best running trails.

Happily for running enthusiasts, the United States is rich in both stunning scenery and fabulous running routes. From remote wildernesses to exhilarating city circuits, there’s something for all runners. We’ve come up with a nifty list of the 18 most beautiful and best across the country.

So if you’re training for a half marathon, planning running events or day trips, or looking for a gentle jog in the woods, read on. This list of tasty trails is sure to whet your appetite.

Most Beautiful & Best Running Trails in the USA

1. Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Kalalau Trail
  • Trailhead:  Ke’e Beach at Haena State Park, Hawaii 96746
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Out and Back): 22 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 6,512 ft

The Kalalau Trail, Kauai, is one of America’s most scenic running routes. Snaking down the rugged Nāpali Coast, it provides the only land access to this stunning part of Hawaii. Along the way, you’ll see lush tropical forests, waterfalls, and glorious Pacific Ocean views. 

The trail, open year-round, brings seasonal challenges. The rainy season, November through March, can bring flash flooding.

In summer, there’s little shade. Boulders block the path, and there’s no avoiding the infamous Crawler’s Ledge. (It’s worth noting, though, that many AllTrails reviews make light of this obstacle!)

If you’re up for a running adventure, and the reward of a glorious sunset at the trailhead, you can do this in a day. However, the unrelenting humidity and challenging elevation change really make this a route for more hardened trail runners.

2. Lakefront Trail, Chicago, Illinois

Lakefront Trail in Chicago During Summer
  • Trailhead: 2529 E South Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60649
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Point to Point): 18.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 289 ft

For a magnificent overview of a great city, hit the Lakefront Trail. Flat and fast, this is one of the best urban running trails, often hosting the Chicago half marathon.

It also takes in a bunch of Chicago must-sees. Along the way, you’ll pass Soldier Field, Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park, and more. 

The minimal elevation gain makes the paved trail suitable for both beginner and more experienced runners. There are designated lanes for bikers and pedestrians, but not everyone complies! To skip the worst crowds, avoid Navy Pier at weekends. 

There are plenty of rest areas along the way and you can cool off at one of the beaches. To experience the splendor of Lake Michigan and the Windy City skyline, consider staying close to the trail.

The moderately-priced Willows Hotel is in a quiet lakeside neighborhood. For a luxury stay, choose the Hyatt Regency Chicago, minutes from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

3. Wildwood Trail, Portland, Oregon

Wildwood Trail in Oregon
  • Trailhead:  2000 SW Knights Blvd, Portland, OR 97221
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 18.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 3,113 ft

The name says it all. Zigzagging through the majestic woodland of Portland’s Forest Park, the Wildwood Trail gives a sense of remoteness. A visit to the park, home to an exceptional diversity of wildlife, is one of the best things to do in Portland.

A National Recreation Trail, the Wildwood Trail gives you a great workout over the Tualatin Mountains. Runners who’ve tried both options favor starting in the south near Oregon Zoo. That way you get the serious climbs – and the crowds – out of the way early. 

The natural surface can get muddy, and good traction running shoes are essential. These La Sportiva Bushido II shoes are mid-priced and get consistently good reviews for comfort and grip. Or check this trail-running shoe guide from REI.

See Related: Things to Do in Seaside, Oregon

4. Broken Hill Trail, San Diego, California

Broken Hill Trail in San Diego
  • Trailhead: S Fork Trail, La Jolla, CA 92037
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Circular): 2.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 308 ft

Broken Hill might be the lengthiest trail in San Diego‘s Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, but at less than 3 miles, it’s hardly a long run. It makes up for this with fabulous views, particularly from Broken Hill Overlook.  You’ll also enjoy sea breezes and an encounter with the chaparral ecosystem. Watch out for rattlesnakes!

There’s little shade here, so remember sunscreen and a hat. You also need to be aware of high tide, when the beach isn’t accessible. Note that the Reserve closes at sundown.

There’s a parking fee, but if you’re staying in San Diego, several hotels and resorts are within walking distance. The 3-star Hampton Inn San Diego/Del Mar has a fitness center, while the 5-star Lodge at Torrey Pines is a wonderland of Arts and Crafts design. 

See Related: Best Restaurants in San Diego

5. Mesa Trail, Boulder, Colorado

Mesa Trail in Boulder, Colorado
  • Trailhead: 31 Chautauqua Trail, Boulder, CO 80302
  • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  • Distance (Out and Back): 13.1 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 2,903 ft

The Mesa Trail in Boulder, Colorado is hugely popular in the running community. Not only are there fabulous views of the Flatiron rocks and flower-speckled prairie. The trail also intersects with several major trails in Boulder, giving runners the chance to mix it up.

At 13 miles out and back, the Mesa Trail is a handy half marathon length. Nothing seems too steep; instead, the trail rolls along comfortably. There’s shade from the ponderosa pines at the northern end, but near the southern trailhead, it can get pretty hot.

This is a pup-friendly route, so watch out for dogs off the leash. Other creatures you may encounter include black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes.

6. Venetian Causeway, Miami, Florida

Venetian Causeway in Miami
  • Trailhead: Biscayne Blvd & NE 15th Terr, Miami, FL 33132
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Out and Back): 6.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 255 ft

You can’t really know Miami until you’ve grabbed city skyline views from the sensational Venetian Causeway. This series of bridges connects the city of Miami with the island of Miami Beach, via several man-made islands. There’s the added excitement of a drawbridge.

This is one of the best running destinations if hill training and GPS work aren’t your thing. The route runs straight and flat, starting at the “Gateway to Miami,” Biscayne Boulevard.

Focus on hydration – the trail is usually sunny and shade-free. You can pay big bucks for soft flasks, but I’m happy with my $20 17 oz Fitly folding bottle.

Note that among the ultra-swanky Venetian Island villas, you won’t find any refueling stops. Luckily, there are plenty of eateries on Biscayne Boulevard. Or stay a while at Miami Beach to sample the local cuisine at one of the great restaurants on South Beach.

7. Hidden Valley Trail, Moab, Utah

Hidden Valley Trail in Moab
  • Trailhead: 2962 Rim Rock Ln, Moab, UT 84532
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Out and Back): 6 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 1171 ft

With its red rock cliffs and winding canyons, Moab is perfect for adventure running and one of the best places to visit in Utah. The Hidden Valley Trail looks like something from a Wild West movie set right down to the cacti. Other plantlife includes cottonwood, Mormon tea, and blackbrush – all a bit scratchy, so running pants are a must.

The run begins with a rocky scramble – prepare for some stunning big-sky views. The trail then evens out and, after a mile or so, descends gently into the valley. For an added thrill, take a detour to see the ancient petroglyphs.

The desert setting means this is a dry old trail; a lightweight hydration vest pays dividends. Although, sometimes there’s too much water! Flash flooding can blur the trail, so it’s a good idea to download the route. The Forerunner 735XT and similar Garmin watches allow this via the Garmin Connect app.

8. McKenzie River Trail, Eugene, Oregon

McKenzie River Trail in Eugene Oregon
  • Trailhead: NF-2676, Foster, OR 97345
  • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 24 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 797 ft

One of the most beautiful off-road running trails is the McKenzie River Trail near Eugene, Oregon. This gorgeous riverside route is in the Cascade Mountains, a fantastic place for running vacations. Along the way, you’ll see waterfalls, hot springs, and the dreamy Tamolitch Blue Pool. 

If you don’t want to run the entire length of the trail, use a shuttle service and fix your own termini.  As the first mile from the western trailhead follows Highway 126, you may want to avoid this. Instead, start at the McKenzie River Ranger Station. 

You’re in for a mainly flat, fast run, though you’ll be sharing the trail with hikers and bikers. Be super-focused when crossing the volcanic rock – it’s particularly unforgiving.

And pick your time carefully to visit, as the area’s prone to summer wildfires. The good news is that the ancient forests – sensationally lovely in the fall – give plenty of shade. 

9. The Presidio, San Francisco, California

The Presidio
  • Trailhead: Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA 94129
  • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  • Distance (Out and Back): 6.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 777 ft

There’s a reason San Francisco ranks #1 in Running Insight‘s list of America’s most runner-friendly cities. (For the record, poor old Memphis and Louisville rate as the worst cities for running.) Good air quality, reassuringly low pedestrian fatality rates, and great parks all help.

The Presidio, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a key part of this vibrant running scene. Its many trails form part of the 340-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail network. The endlessly scenic routes take in bluffs, beaches, stunning outlooks, and beautiful cypress woodland. 

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best things to do in San Francisco, so if it’s your first running vacation here, incorporate this into a run. The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach Trail gives stunning views both of and from the bridge. Be warned, though – the traffic is noisy, and it’s always windy on the bridge.

10. Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, Lady Bird Lake, Austin, Texas

Ann and Roy Butler Hiking and Biking Trail
  • Trailhead: 200 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Circular): 10 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 246 ft

If you like trail running in cities, make your next trip to Austin, Texas. The Ann and Roy Butler Trail is one of America’s best urban running routes.

This loop around Lady Bird Lake provides plenty of variety. It also gets consistently good reviews among running communities.  

The surface is mixed, including a concrete boardwalk, sand, and gravel. You’ll encounter lush woodland, magnificent cityscapes, and tranquil lake views. There are even bats under Congress Avenue Bridge.

The trail skirts Zilker Park, one of the best places to go in Austin. Here you’ll find picnic spots and beautiful botanical gardens. It’s also a stone’s throw from both the funky Carpenter Hotel and the Pecan Grove RV park.

11. Hollywood Loop, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California

Hollywood Loop
  • Trailhead: Los Angeles, CA 90027
  • Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  • Distance (Circular): 9.07 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 2112 ft

Covering more than 4,500 acres, Griffith Park is the largest historic landmark in Los Angeles. Although it’s home to many of LA’s finest attractions, there’s plenty of unspoiled chaparral country. It’s one of the best places to unwind and – let’s be honest – escape LA’s notorious smog. 

Crisscrossing this mountainous terrain are 70 miles of fun trail running opportunities. The Hollywood Loop is one of the best trails, giving sensational city views. Although tackling the route clockwise gets the biggest incline over and done with, it means a mile running alongside the freeway at the end. But you choose!

One issue is that some trails are washed out or poorly marked. Because there are so many, though, you can usually find your way back to your route. 

12. Charles River Esplanade Loop, Boston, Massachusetts

Charles River Esplanade
  • Trailhead: Charles River Esplanades, Boston, MA 02114
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Circular): 6.88 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 134 ft

Coming a worthy second in Running Insight‘s list of best running cities, Boston is quite the running Mecca. Its most celebrated event is the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon. 

Among its many running routes, one of the most popular is the buzzy Charles River Esplanade. This runs between Boston University Bridge and the Museum of Science, within reach of plenty of Boston’s must-sees. 

The loop route starts along the Esplanade, returning along the MIT side of the Charles. For a longer run, there are connecting paths into Cambridge.

To enjoy some of the country’s top running tracks, linger awhile in Boston. Both the 3-star Verb Hotel and the 5-star Commonwealth Hotel are great bases for running trips, being close to the Esplanade. 

13. Shut-In Trail, Asheville, North Carolina

Shut-in trail in Asheville
  • Trailhead: Mount Pisgah Parking Overlook, NC 28716
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 16.1 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 2277ft

There’s an intriguing history to this route in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  In the 1890s, George Vanderbilt had it built to link the Biltmore Mansion to his Buck Spring hunting lodge. It was “shut-in” by dense rhododendrons. 

Actually, there are some spectacular views. It’s easy to stay on the trail – every mile or so there’s an overlook to keep you on track.

The mountainous terrain might take you out of your comfort zone, though, with its narrow and rocky sections. But it’s easy to dip in and out at the many trailheads.

While you’re in the area, take time to explore the Biltmore Estate. The Asheville area has plenty of fun things to do!

14. Rock Creek to Washington Monument, Washington, DC

Rock Creek Park
  • Trailhead: 16th St &, Whittier St NW, Washington, DC 20012
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Point to Point): 9.7 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 128 ft

This running trail is something special. As well as the natural charms of Rock Creek Park, you get to see some of Washington DC’s most significant monuments. Try to visit at least once in your life – the experience is unforgettable, I guarantee.

The track goes gently downhill as you follow Rock Creek southwards, and there’s plenty of shade. It’s an understandably popular running destination, so don’t come here for solitude. But the trail is wide enough for trail runners, hikers, and bikers to share, and there’s usually a friendly vibe. 

The Metro is the easiest way to get to Rock Creek Park, which is close to the Tenleytown-AU Metro station.

See Related: How to Plan a Family Getaway In Washington, DC

15. Central Park Loop, New York, New York

Central Park in New York City
  • Trailhead: Central Park,New York, NY 10025
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance (Circular): 6.4 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 217 ft

World famous Central Park is one of the best places in Manhattan to shrug off big-city stress and embrace nature. A favorite of the NYC running community, the Loop promises a pleasant workout. Cat Hill and Harlem Hill make you feel you’re burning calories.

Encompassing the whole park, this runner-friendly paved route offers plenty of shade. Runners share the trail with walkers and bikers – and watch out for poop from the famous Central Park horse carriages. Or go off-trail and explore – check out this Central Park runners’ map

No question – New York is one of the best vacation destinations in the United States. Websites like RunGuides show all the upcoming races, meaning you can plan your next visit around running events.

See Related: Where to Stay in New York City: Best Areas & Fun Neighborhoods

16. The Pacific Crest Trail

Mountain view in Pacific Crest Trail
Gail Ann Williams / Adobe Stock
  • Trailhead: 601-735 Forrest Gate Rd, Campo, CA 91906
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 2,650 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 400,000 ft

The Pacific Crest Trail promises runners a unique experience. This mighty hilltop highway runs from Mexico to Canada, taking in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. It crosses the wildest of wildernesses in California, Oregon, and Washington states. There’s some breathtaking scenery on offer.

But we’re talking 2,650 miles. Of course, if you’re a superhuman runner like Karel Abbe, you’ll complete it in 46 days. Or you could tackle it in stages. There are 505 miles in the Washington section, 454 miles in Oregon, and 1,691 in California. Sounding more manageable?

Or you can just dip in – you’ll find a list of every section of the PCT at AllTrails. Note that some segments require permits

17. Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania 

Rapids in Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania
Kathy / Adobe Stock
  • Trailhead: CX7W+3P Seward, PA
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 70 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 10, 351 ft

The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is one of the best hiking and running trails in Pennsylvania. (And check out these PA slang terms.) The starting point is the Youghiogheny [yawki-gay-nee] River in Ohiopyle State Park. Each of the five separate sections boasts spectacular scenery.

Endurance runners might want to try the Laurel Highlands Ultra, which follows the LHHT from Ohiopyle to Johnstown. The terrain presents plenty of challenges, with rocks, tree roots, and creek crossings.

There are eight camping grounds along Laurel Ridge – you’ll need to book. For more creature comforts, there’s the Holiday Inn at Johnstown

18. Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine

Sign on Appalachian Trail
The Pink Panda / Adobe Stock
  • Trailhead: Appalachian Approach Trail, Ellijay, GA 30536
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance (Point to Point): 2,190 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 515,000 ft

We’re saving the best for last. The historic Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states from Georgia to Maine and is the world’s longest hiking-only footpath. As it winds its way over the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, it covers a wide array of terrains and ecosystems.

The trail also takes in six National Parks, eight National Forests, and two wildlife refuges. Watch out for black bears, moose, and porcupines.

Most people hike, but this is a great running trail, with hundreds of access points. Look out for some wonderful day trips in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee or around Maine’s Kennebec River. Or plan a thru-run for the adventure of a lifetime.

Always follow Leave No Trace principles. This includes TP: say hello to the awesome pee cloth.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.