Reason number one to travel for trail running: Packing is easy. Bring a good pair of sneakers, some shorts, and a shirt, and you’re good to go. Plus, you’ll get to see a ton of scenery a new place while still traveling on foot. From lake views to high-desert mesas to mountain-climbing singletrack, here are our picks for the best destinations to travel to hit the trails, fast.
Lake Tahoe, California
An endless array of singletrack awaits runners in the Tahoe area, but nothing beats the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, which circumnavigates the lake through areas like the granite-filled Desolation Wilderness, the wildflower paradise of Page Meadows, and occasional overlaps with the historic Pacific Crest Trail. You’ll get stunning vistas of Lake Tahoe and continuous stretches of remote, wild trails. Or stretch your legs on the eight-mile-long Rubicon Trail, which traverses the lake between Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park with plenty of swimming holes along the way.
With hundreds of miles of trails around the Boulder area, it’s no wonder this high-altitude town is home to heaps of professional runners and triathletes. Head to Chautauqua Park for rolling trails, like the popular Mesa Trail, that lie in the shadows of the Flatirons, or test your lungs and quads on the 1,200-foot climb up Mount Sanitas, both accessible right from town. Or take a short drive up Flagstaff Mountain and tackle the nearly eight-mile loop at Walker Ranch, which has multiple river crossings.
The Tetons offer a mecca of singletrack, enough to occupy a runner for a lifetime. But if you’re in Jackson for a week or less, station yourself out of Teton Village, the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. From there, paths are well marked for easy navigation (just steer clear of the ones marked for bikers only). Check out the Valley Trail, which starts in Teton Village and ambles through dense trees (watch out for bear and moose) for a relatively flat five miles to Phelps Lake in Grand Teton National Park. For more of a climb, head out on the Rock Springs Yurt Trail, which ascends 1,189 feet and 2.25 miles from the village to a neighboring backcountry yurt.
You can explore this quaint New England town via a trail system that weaves throughout the entire area. Called the Trail Around Middlebury, the path covers over 16 miles and links up historic landmarks, a steep climb up Chipman Hill (site of an old ski jump), and crosses through wooded, creekside parks, and the town’s liberal arts college. Or hop in the car and within 30 minutes, you can access feeder spurs to Vermont’s Long Trail, a 273-mile route that runs the entire length of the state and is the oldest long-distance trail in the country.
Head to the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, just a couple of hours east of Seattle, for some 700 miles of buffed-out trails. Then follow it up with well-earned brats and pints of lager. Icicle Canyon has glacial views and gorgeous alpine lakes on trails like the Icicle Ridge Trail or the Sauer Mountain Trail, which climbs nearly 2,000 feet across private land that’s open for hikers and runners. For orchard views and undulating singletrack, try Freund Canyon or the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses nearby Stevens Pass on its way north to Canada.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
You may visit Santa Fe for the green chile and hot springs, but you may as well score some top-notch trail running while you’re there. Hit the Dale Ball Trails just outside of town for 30 miles of interlinking singletrack that pass through juniper bushes and slickrock with views of the Sangre de Cristo range. Or head up toward the Santa Fe Ski Basin to run a section of the Winsor Trail—treat yourself to a soak in the hot spring baths at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style spa, on your way back to town. For a challenge, run seven miles round-trip up 9,121-foot Atalaya Mountain, which starts at Saint John’s College and goes straight up (and up, and up) from there.