Where Are the Best Urban Running Trails?

Jun 6, 2014
Outside Magazine

The Central Park trail features bridges over clear ponds and views of New York City without the blaring horns.    Photo: johnandersonphoto/Getty Images


Pounding out miles on stoplight-strewn streets and past convenience stores quickly loses its luster. Whether you’re commuting or training, here are ten urban trails in the U.S. that offer scenic views and traffic-free paths to keep your run enjoyable.

Atlanta Beltline

Georgia’s Beltline cinches its largest metropolis’s sprawl via a planned 33-mile loop of multi-use trails. A great place for fartleks, it will ultimately connect 45 formerly disjointed neighborhoods and provide access to 1,300 acres of parkland. Four segments are currently open, with more to come. 

Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle

Established in the 1970s, this early arrival on the rail-trail scene inspired dozens to follow in its wake. Beginning at Golden Gardens Park, on Puget Sound, the 17-mile route hugs the shores of Lake Union as it cruises to Salmon Bay through some of the city’s best neighborhoods, including the University District, Freemont, and Ballard. 

Capital Crescent Trail, Washington, D.C.

Built on a former railroad spur, this 11-mile multi-use path connects Silver Spring, Maryland, with Georgetown. The Potomac River and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park bookend a large section of it. In Georgetown, the route connects to Rock Creek Park, extending the loop another 11 miles and passing the National Zoological Park and the Kennedy Center.

Central Park Trail, New York City

Want a scouting run for the last 3.2 miles of the New York City Marathon? This is the place for it. With several types of terrain and three trails to choose from, even those not marathon training will find a route to their liking. To go the longest (6.1-miles) way, opt for the Park Drives Path, which circles the green space’s entirety.

Chain of Lakes, Minneapolis

That this urban trail system is also a National Scenic Byway lends it some cred. The full Grand Rounds network encompasses more than 50 miles around a dozen lakes. The smaller section, Chain of Lakes, has the best running: its 13.3-mile loop has views of water and tall pines. 

Charles River Bike Path, Boston

Home to the world’s fastest marathon, the city of Boston takes toeing the line seriously. This 17.1-mile path traces both sides of the Charles River, with optional neighborhood-loop runs in Boston proper and Cambridge.

Lakefront Trail, Chicago

In a metropolis such as Chicago, you can never truly get away from it all. But with views of the downtown skyline and Soldier Field (home to the Chicago Bears) along the Lakefront Trail, maybe you don’t want to. The 18-mile path offers a worthy long run on the scenic shores of Lake Michigan—but if you bail, you can always ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, another landmark along the route.

MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, Columbia

Following a former spur line of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, this trail stretches from Columbia to McBaine. At 8.9 miles, the MKT is a worthy out-and-back, but should you wish to press on, this Missouri route connects to the 238-mile Katy Trail State Park.

Schuylkill River Trail, Philadelphia

When complete, this multi-use path will cover 130 miles in southeastern Pennsylvania. A 26.5-mile section runs through the heart of Philly and Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Wildwood Trail, Portland

The dirt-path National Recreation Trail meanders 30.2 miles in northwest Portland amid Douglas firs and the woodland of Forest Park. This Oregon route also connects easily to public transportation.

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