The Country’s 10 Must-Run Urban Trails

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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The Country’s 10 Must-Run Urban Trails

Summer vacation season looms, but that’s no excuse for letting yourself go. Instead, seek out the best area running spots with the advice of a local or by checking out the neighborhood you’re visiting on MapMyRun.

If you’re heading to one of these 10 cities, good news: You’ll be near one of our 10 favorite urban running trails. (And if you’re not, consider these 10 good reasons to book a trip post-haste.)

THE BELTLINE
Atlanta, Georgia

Roughly 33 miles of interconnected multi-use trails, built on abandoned rail lines, trace Atlanta’s core. Each section is lined by natural plants, including wildflowers, making it a nature-oriented oasis amid the bustling city. Much of the trail is paved, but the so-called interim trails — where the final trails are not yet completed — are not. P.S.: Don’t forget to check out the Piedmont Park Loop, which connects to The BeltLine, while you’re there.

THE LADY BIRD LAKE TRAIL (AKA THE BUTLER TRAIL)
Austin, Texas

America’s fastest-growing city has long been home to a model trail, right in its geographical center. This 10-mile path is mostly dirt and circumnavigates a dammed reservoir called Lady Bird Lake (old-school locals still call it by its original name: Town Lake). Your reward for visiting is a moderately grueling route with unparalleled views of the skyline and water, where spotting a University of Texas rowing team practice might inspire you to push yourself a little harder. Oh, and keep an eye out for the city’s famous bats.

THE CHARLES RIVER BIKE PATH
Boston, Massachusetts

Rushing through Boston has been a tradition since Paul Revere’s Ride, and there’s no better place to do it in 2019 than along the Charles River. At 17.1 miles, this paved path isn’t quite as far as that other well-known race in Boston, but there are plenty of adjoining neighborhood loops for getting your mileage in. For a shorter run, you can’t go wrong with the 4-mile loop that begins and ends at the Esplanade.

WATERFALL GLEN
Chicago, Illinois

Sure, the Lakefront gets all the publicity (and honestly, the views are a sight to behold), but it can get crowded with tourists and bikers, which can make running a challenge. Instead, head to Waterfall Glen, an 11-mile crushed-gravel path that draws more of a running crowd. Plus, unlike the Lake, your forest preserve surroundings will almost make you forget you’re in the third-biggest city in the country.

CHAIN OF LAKES
Minneapolis, Minnesota

This 13.3-mile trail is part of a larger, 50-mile network of paths called the Grand Rounds. It’s part of a National Scenic Byway, so even in the city, you’ll enjoy lush wildlife and greenery, not to mention those namesake lakes, as you go. You’ll also be a part of history — this pioneering series of trails is more than 100 years old.

SCHYULKILL RIVER TRAIL
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Similar to Chain of Lakes, this is an urban path that’s part of a larger, borderline-regional network of trails. Unlike Chain of Lakes, this one is so new it’s not even finished yet, but this section — roughly 26 miles spanning both Philly and Valley Forge National Historical Park — is ready and waiting. No, you don’t have to celebrate like Rocky when you’re done — and, well, there aren’t any staircases to ascend on the trail — but it can’t hurt, right? (Note: If you find yourself taking this trail outside city limits, the website advises you to wear bright orange if it’s hunting season. We’re thinking you should follow that advice.)

WILDWOOD TRAIL
Portland, Oregon

This trail is 30 miles of dirt-path goodness, wandering through the city and its beautiful Forest Park. True to its name, you’ll sweat beneath Redwoods and fir trees, not to mention the occasional waterfall. Pro tip: Skip the car (and minimize your carbon footprint) by taking the light rail directly to one of the trailheads. Don’t forget to look up — more than 112 bird species have been identified in the park, which incidentally is where Lewis & Clark once journeyed.

THE BAYSHORE BIKEWAY
San Diego, California

Yes, you’ll have to dodge a few two-wheelers as you go, but the tradeoff is 13 miles of beachside bliss, a paved path that winds through Coronado and Silver Strand Beach. (The bikeway itself also includes 13 miles of road, but we suggest letting the bikers keep that to themselves.) Keep an eye out for both seals and SEALs — the animals are known to squawk away in the bay, and you’ll run past an amphibious base for the elite Navy unit.

BURKE-GILMAN TRAIL
Seattle, Washington

This 17-mile trail offers a charming tour of the Emerald City’s beautiful neighborhoods, all on a softly paved path. Post-game at Peddler Brewing Company, a nearby brewery that caters to cyclists — it even has a dedicated garage for bikes. If you’re feeling ambitious, the Lake Washington Loop (which the Trail is a part of) is a 60-mile bike path that ventures far outside the city.

THE NATIONAL MALL
Washington, D.C.

What can we say? This is perhaps the most inspiring urban route in the country — and even if it’s not technically a trail, enough people run it we’re considering it an honorary one. To see the National Mall at sunrise, or after dark, is an experience every runner should have at least once. The path is 4.3 miles, and you can add to it by taking the Ellipse out to the Memorials. (Should you find yourself craving a more traditional running experience, the nearby Capital Crescent Trail offers an excellent iteration of exactly that.)

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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