Blame the weather, the color of the Thames, or the historical moniker of “The Big Smoke,” but London doesn’t always have the best reputation when it comes to the great outdoors. In reality though, Britain’s capital city is an urban runner’s paradise, housing 5,000 acres of parkland in the city’s eight Royal Parks and countless other canals, hidden routes, and greenspace.
The city’s collective grit and sense of can-do ambition means that Londoners understand running. A national aversion to being a nuisance means that pedestrians will generally move out of your way if you let them know you’re behind them (hint: apologetically saying “sorry” is the British way of saying “get the hell out of my way”). And if you’re worried about not knowing which way to look when you cross the road, don’t fret. Always fans of orderliness, the Brits have painted “look right” or “look left” on the cross walks for tourists’ convenience.
So put on your trainers, and hit the tarmac.
It’s not really fair to call a run in Richmond park “urban running” because as soon as you enter the enclosed 2,500 acres, you’ll feel far from a double decker bus or black cab. Rolling hills, woodlands, plenty of mud and wildlife, and an amazing view of St. Paul’s Cathedral (12 miles away) at the park’s highest point make it worth exploring. A perimeter run around the park will put you at just over seven miles, but getting lost in the park’s inner trails is the perfect antidote to city life. Oh, and thanks to Henry VII who was a fan of hunting, you’ll find plenty of deer to keep you company (they’ve been roaming freely since 1529).
Though it’s not a Royal Park, Victoria Park has the distinction of being the closest to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and thus served as the workout spot of everyone from Kenyan distance runners to Paralympic cyclists during the 2012 games. Its roughly 220 acres are a perfect place to run grassy and shady loops and catch your breath at one of the park’s three serene lakes—though you might have to dodge some hipsters thanks to its trendy location in the East End. The easternmost entrance at St Mark’s gate is roughly one mile from the impressive Olympic Park, which is still open to the public.
Grand Union Towpath/Regents Canal to Primrose Hill
If loops aren’t your thing and you want to cover ground while seeing the city, start your run at the Grand Union Towpath behind St. Pancras International Station at Kings Cross. Follow the canal path (you can peek into the windows of all the quaint narrow house boats while you’re at it) to Camden Lock Market, where you might have to dodge a few punk rockers. Once you’re in Camden, you’ll be running along the Regents Canal, take the signposted staircase exit for Primrose Hill and run to the very top to get one of London’s best city views. An out an back will put you at about 5 miles, or you can finish by running around Regents Park, which is adjacent to Primrose Hill.
There’s no doubt every English literature professor has at some point referred to the River Thames (pronounced “Temz”) as “liquid history.” If you’re a runner visiting London, it’s also a very efficient way to get your sightseeing in. Start at the Tower of London and cross Tower Bridge so you’re on the southern bank of the river. From there, turn right and you can run along the path and take in some of its most iconic sights: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Definitely bring your phone to snap a picture, but try doing this run early in the morning, as tourists will predictably descend on the path.
The Pall Mall/Hyde Park
There’s something about incorporating a palace into your running route that feels fittingly British. Start at the corner of The Mall and Horse Guards Road (right on the corner of St James’ Park). Run straight down The Mall and when you get to Buckingham Palace (how’s that for a landmark?), bear right. Run along Constitution Hill, which serves as the finish of the London Marathon, and you’ll reach Hyde Park Corner and the entrance to Hyde Park. From there, you’ll have 630 acres to explore in Central London’s largest park. Don’t miss the famous Speaker’s Corner, in the northeast corner of the park.
See the country’s most iconic wildlife and mountains at five stunning national parks along this 600-mile route.
Packing List: Binoculars, Stetson, beer mug
Highlights: Burn off jet lag with a couple of fingers of Wyoming Whiskey on the deck at Bin22, then rest up in one of 132 rooms at the LEED-certified Hotel Terra, in Teton Village ($309).
Start your adventure north of town with a seven-mile run around Jenny Lake in the shadow of the jagged Tetons. Once in Yellowstone National Park, drive north past Yellowstone Lake and into Hayden Valley, prime viewing territory for buffalo, elk, and grizzly. Before leaving the park, stop for a 100-degree soak in the Gardner River, two miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs, then make for an oatmeal stout at 406 Brewing Company in downtown Bozeman.
Break up the drive to Missoula by camping among the Missouri River’s braids at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Once you’re in town, stop and kayak or surf at Brennan’s Wave at the downtown Missoula Whitewater Park, grab a gin and tonic at Montgomery Distillery, then scarf down a Flathead cherry pie at Biga Pizza.
In Whitefish, hike, run, or mountain-bike the 26-mile Whitefish Trail past alpine lakes and pine forests. Buy bear spray, then bisect Glacier National Park on Highway 2 until you reach the Walton Ranger Station. It’s a tough 16.8-mile hike to Lake Isabel, but once there you’re just about guaranteed solitude to take in the jagged cirque towering over the lake.
Detour: Western Montana is home to 15 of our favorite craft breweries, including the recently opened Lolo Peak Brewing Company, ten miles southwest of Missoula, where you can get a Buffalo Trout golden ale and a locally sourced burger. Take a few extra days and see if you can hit them all.
Hit six classic national parks in a ten-day, 862-mile epic through the best canyons in the Southwest.
Packing List: Light hikers, mountain bike, extra camera memory cards
Highlights: At the Grand Canyon, skip the crowded South Rim and drive to the 8,000-foot North Rim. Give yourself two nights and a full day to explore; be sure to hike seven miles down the North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls.
Once you cross into Utah, be on the lookout for the Thunder Mountain Trail, part of a 15-mile technical singletrack route with steep drops, tight switchbacks, and a 1,200-foot climb. At Mount Carmel Junction, head 24 miles west to Zion National Park, where the best way to escape ever present crowds is a three-day basic-canyoneering course ($550).
Head 80 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park and pitch a tent at 99-site North Campground ($15), which has a full-moon view of the eerie hoodoos. Fuel up with Pumpkin Jenchiladas at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, then hit the town of Torrey for the Saturday-morning Mesa farmers’ market for fresh peaches and apples before driving through Capitol Reef National Park’s canyons, domes, and arches.
Backcountry-camp in the Maze, the least accessible district of Canyonlands National Park ($30 permit), before driving on to Moab and its ever expanding network of mountain-biking trails—like Captain Ahab, a 4.3-mile rock-benched wonder accessible from the Amasa Back Trail. Hike to the Dead Horse Point State Park overlook to scout 5,819-foot Washer Woman Tower, a 5.10-plus traditional climb on the northern tip of Canyonlands. To explore Arches National Park, crash at Moab Under Canvas, a safari-style luxury camp complete with hot showers and made-to-order breakfast, ten miles north of town (from $89).
Get your fill of Lake Superior views on this 550-mile, five-day tour through prime hiking and biking country.
Packing List: Sea kayak with spray skirt, 29er, flannel shirts
Highlights: Rest up for your tour with a waterfront suite at Duluth’s South Pier Inn (from $197). When you cross the Blatnik Bridge into Wisconsin, stop at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior for a Derailed pizza and an India Pagan Ale.
In Bayfield, buy provisions—like smoked lake trout from Newago Fish Market—then launch your kayak (or take a full-day tour, $99) and explore the sea caves in 22-island Apostle Islands National Lake-shore.
Once you reach Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, take a detour up 11-mile-long Black River Scenic Byway and hike to any of seven waterfalls before the road dead-ends at Lake Superior. Book a room at Eagle River Inn, near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula (from $99), and sip Knob Creek bourbon with your smoked spare ribs on the lakeside deck at adjoining Fitzgerald’s Restaurant.
Then head to Copper Harbor, which has some of the country’s best singletrack—the trails top out at 900 feet and roll through dense forest. Take a bike and have at it (rentals from $26). Drive down the sandy beach side of the Keweenaw Peninsula to the town of Marquette. Run the half-mile stairway up Sugarloaf Mountain, six miles north of town, then head to Black Rocks and take the 15-foot plunge into Lake Superior.
Pitch a tent lakeside at Twelvemile Beach Campground ($16) in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and get to hiking, fishing, and paddling along the park’s 40 miles of shoreline and in adjoining million-acre Hiawatha National Forest.
Explore the biggest, starkest landscapes in the country on this 950-mile, ten-day adventure.
Packing list: Headlamps, plenty of water, Cormac McCarthy books on tape
Highlights: Head 20 miles east from Las Cruces to hike around—or climb—1,800-foot Sugarloaf (a multipitch 5.6) in the Organ Mountains. Then drive northeast to the 275-square-mile gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and camp under the stars at one of ten primitive sites ($3).
Head southeast and explore the 119 known limestone caves of Carlsbad Caverns ($10) before driving on to Marathon, Texas, to splurge on a newly renovated room and a quail dinner at the Gage Hotel (from $109).
From Lajitas, put in for a three-day guided paddle on the Rio Grande through the sheer 1,500-foot limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon and Class IV Rock Slide Rapids ($475). Shuttle back to Lajitas and head west to Big Bend Ranch State Park to mountain-bike perhaps the most underutilized 238 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails in the nation.