There are many great ways to traverse this world of ours. Planes, trains and cars come to mind. But nothing lets you take in the earth’s landscapes quite like traveling by foot. No, we don’t mean guided city tours; we’re talking about the freedom that comes from a good trail run — out among the trees, the ocean, the mountains, you name it.
Whether it’s running through town, jogging alongside a river or churning your way up a picturesque mountain, these are 10 of the best cities in the world for trail running.
Located 7,000-feet above sea level and sporting a temperate summer climate, Flagstaff is home to some of the country’s best pro runners. They enjoy the Flagstaff Urban Trails System, which spans more than 50 miles over a variety of surfaces. The Schultz Creek Trails offer a variety of options and connecting loops for customizable routes along creek beds and comfortable dirt paths.
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Hundreds of miles of trails wind through the mountains and valleys of Whistler, one of Canada’s most popular ski destinations. When the snow’s gone, you can access trails higher up the mountain via the chairlifts, like the Alpine Trail on Blackcomb Mountain. To keep your elevation down a bit, you can run through the forest along the Cheakamus Riverrun or hit the cross-country ski trails around Lost Lake.
Located just 25 miles from Denver and situated at the doorstep of the Rockies, this university town is a haven for runners. The popular seven-mile Mesa Trail winds through the foothills and meadows to provide plenty of open space and scenery. If you want to challenge your legs further, the Mt. Sanitas Trail climbs a quarter mile over its 3.8-mile loop. And Chautauqua Park takes you through the Flatirons on hilly paths and flower-lined trails.
Seeing DC’s sites is easiest on foot, and the National Mall provides a surprisingly good run. But if you really want to hit some trails, head for Rock Creek Park. The main Rock Creek Trail is mostly paved, while several offshoots explore dirt paths through lush foliage. And the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is an aptly-named trail system popular among hikers. You, however, can run its 700-plus miles of connecting paths from D.C. up into Pennsylvania … if you’re feeling ambitious.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Utah’s capital city is a recreation hub bolstered by mountains, parks and trails. Many of the latter are easily accessible from downtown, including City Creek Canyon, which leads to multiple trail connections as you get farther away. Millcreek Canyon is another popular area to run and features 15 different routes ranging from 4 –14 miles. To get even further off the beaten path, check out Snowbird Mountain during the summer months. You can take a gondola from the base to the summit, where you can run trails at 11,000 feet above sea level.
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Just outside of downtown Santa Fe, you’ll find the Dale Ball Trails. This system covers more than 20 miles and appeals to runners of all skill levels, with sections ranging from flat and easy to steep and technical. The Winsor Trail starts near the Santa Fe ski area and heads 24 miles into the mountains — it’s a great choice if you don’t mind some climbing. If you really want to challenge yourself, there’s the extra-steep Atalaya Mountain, which climbs 2,000 vertical feet over just 3 miles before providing a great view from the summit.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
As one of the largest and most populous cities in the world, Seoul has a surprisingly good trail system. It helps that the city is situated on a river and nestled between mountains — all of which conspire to provide plenty of jogger-friendly nature. You can start in Olympic Park, home to the 1988 summer games and laced with trails of varying distances. Then take on Bukhansan National Park to run among the trees, temples and waterfalls.
VIA VALAIS, SWISS ALPS
OK, this one’s not technically a city but a route from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, that’s considered the holy grail among trail runners. The 225-kilometer route was designed by runners, for runners, and moves through some of the Swiss Alps’ most beautiful terrain. You can perform the entire distance over 9–10 days like elite runners do or you can tackle individual sections, going only as far as you’d like.
With more than 20,000 acres of parks inside city limits, there’s plenty of space to run in Austin, even with the booming population. Barton Creek Greenbelt is always a favorite — it starts at Zilker Park and provides a 15-mile round-trip route. The path that runs alongside downtown’s Colorado River is easily accessible and provides views of the water, though it can get crowded. And Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park in north Austin offers an extensive trail system allowing for many different distances, with paths ranging from smooth to technical.
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND
Queenstown isn’t short on views. That remains true when you tackle Jack’s Point Track, a trail that offers lake and mountain views throughout the 12-mile round-trip run. If you want something shorter (and steeper), try Queenstown Hill Walkway, where you’ll gain 1,500 feet over just 2 miles. If you’d like to make some running buddies, you can link up with the Queenstown Trail Runners, a group that shares your interest for navigating unpaved paths.