In recent years, trail running has exploded across the country, with more and more runners discovering a passion for pounding the dirt rather than pavement. No surprise why: Trail running not only offers a fantastic workout, thanks to the hills and obstacles, like roots and ruts, that muscles must adapt to.

Yet trail running is also an easy, stress-busting way to escape into the outdoors—so easy, in fact, it’s the perfect way to explore a place you’re visiting for the first or umpteenth time. Do any amount of travel in the U.S. and you’ll be sick of the identical malls, box stores, restaurant chains, and the miles of pavement stringing them together. But slip on your shoes and head in the other direction and soon you could be off into the wilderness, without hassling with tents or piles of gear.

And once you’re done, that urban setting will likely have unique options for slaking your thirst and hunger. In other words, it’s a perfect way to explore a destination, whether it’s the trails in your own backyard or the network in a new-to-you city.

Here then is insider intel on how to spend an ideal three days in three trail running meccas across the country.


Vermont Island Line Trail.Vermont Island Line Trail.

With a population just over 42,000, Burlington, VT, is the smallest town on this short list. Yet this picturesque New England college town—sitting on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and within striking distance of the Green Mountains—seemingly has more beautiful off-road options than people to run them.

And when you’re done running, there is no end to the good beer, food, and music you can enjoy. Home to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, the Alchemist Brewery (think Heady Topper) and farm to table restaurants galore, it’s safe to say that there are plenty of choices to easily replace all the calories burned on your run.

When you have had your fill of craft beers and local food, Burlington and its surrounds have plenty of options for lodging from hotels and B&Bs to great camping.

DAY 1:

The Burlington Bike Path, aka the Island Line Trail, is a perfect way to take in many of the sites that make Burlington an outdoor-lover’s base camp. The 14-mile rail trail meanders alongside Lake Champlain and offers unobstructed views of the lake and the Adirondacks—run in the evening as the sun sets over the lake for spectacular colors on the water. While the trail is a mix of pavement and packed gravel, rather than dirt, it’s still the best spot for a “trail run” right in downtown.   

Start your run at the beginning of the trail in Burlington’s Oakledge Park and head north towards Colchester for just over nine miles past beaches, parks, and across the Winooski River until you come to the Colchester Causeway, the highlight of this run. The flat, narrow (only 10 feet wide) causeway is surrounded on three sides by water and cuts an amazing three miles across Lake Champlain—makes you feel like you are running on water. When you reach the end, you can turn around and head back to town or take the seasonal ferry, which runs in the summertime, across “the cut” to South Hero on the other side. The trail (which includes the ride across the cut) extends for another 1.5 miles.

After your run, head up to the Church Street area and grab food at American Flatbread, the original home to Zero Gravity beers. You can also visit their new brewery just outside downtown on Pine Street. Or enjoy good eats at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill or Daily Planet. Stay at one of many hotels or B&Bs in the area, or check out the Burlington Hostel for a more affordable overnight.  

DAY 2:

After spending the first day getting your bearings in central Burlington on flat paths, it’s now time to head southeast out of town on Interstate 89 to Camel’s Hump State Park in Huntington for a mountain running/hiking experience.

Camel’s Hump, the third highest peak in Vermont at 4,083 feet, can be reached via several often-times challenging ascents of a few miles each. At just under five miles, the Burrows Trail is the best one for a run. It’s a challenging route with a mix of steep sections, switchbacks, and rocky terrain. But if you can do it, spectacular 360-degree views of the Green Mountains, the Worcester Range, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks await at the summit.

If you are doing a morning run, grab brunch at Penny Cluse Cafe just off Church Street before hitting the trail. If it’s afternoon, head to Waterbury where you’ll find a variety of delicious eateries with good food and great beer, like The Reservoir, aka The Rez, a local favorite that will satisfy any famished and thirsty trail runner with burgers, fried chicken, and steak, and any of the more than three dozen beers on tap.

Once refueled and rested, consider pitting yourself against local runners in the evening. Head to the privately owned, 500-plus-acre Catamount Outdoor Family Center near Williston (which is also a B&B) for the 10K trail race held every Tuesday night, other group runs and races held weekly, or just a solo run. The center has more than 20 miles of scenic trail shared by runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers.

DAY 3:

Head to Stowe. While it’s about a 30- to 40-minute drive from Burlington, the trails here are worth the journey. Start at Cady Hill Forest, which has 11 miles of singletrack and machine-built trail nestled in a maple and pine forest. Once you get up the sustained half-mile climb at the start all levels of runners will be able to find a trail to their liking.

If you are looking to add on, it’s easy to do from here. You can connect Cady Hill to Pipeline, a steep 1.4-mile ride, that brings you to Adams Camp, a not-to-be-missed five-mile loop, and Trapps Family Lodge, which has 26 miles of beginner to advanced trails. Trapps is pay-to-play though, so be sure to stop and buy a pass if you choose to run on their property.

With all of the different areas in Stowe you can easily make your run as long as you’d like. Run for an hour in the Cady Hill Forest or set out for a day along all the different areas Stowe has to offer. When you’re done, hit up one of many restaurants and bars in the area.

The Bench right across from the Cady Hill Forest trailhead offers a great selection of craft beers and good food. Or, if you are in the mood for pizza, head up to Piecasso, a casual favorite with great pizzas and good brews. You can also head up to Trapps Family Brewery to enjoy a pint while looking out over the beautiful forests and mountains you just covered running.


Colorado Chautauqua Park.Colorado Chautauqua Park.

Boulder's well-earned reputation as a top outdoors destination city can be attributed to thediversity of excellent trails. Trail runners are particularly lucky—there are long, flat, open trails on the eastern plains, moderate rolling trails in the foothills, and lung-busting, steep mountain trails along the western peaks and canyons. Add to that Boulder's high altitude location. The city is right in the sweet spot for endurance training, with easily accessed trails ranging from 5,400 to 8,000 feet above sea level. Oh, and over 300 days of sunshine helps, too.

DAY 1:

At the first opportunity, get yourself on the trails up Mount Sanitas. The choice is clear given that a) the trailhead is only a mile from downtown, b) the level of difficulty will put to rest any question why so many great runners hail from Boulder, and c) provides views clear to Longs Peak, downtown Denver, and, on clear days, Pikes Peak.

Mount Sanitas is anchored by two trails that form a long oval loop in the valley (the Sanitas Valley and Dakota Ridge Trails). There are three established trails that ascend the upper peak: the steep Mount Sanitas Trail, the moderate East Ridge Trail, and the newest way up, the Lion's Lair Trail.

Note that Lion's Lair starts roughly a mile past the Centennial Trailhead up Sunshine Canyon, but is a wonderfully smooth, gradual path (2.2 miles one-way) ideal for running. Plan to work up to the main Mount Sanitas Trail loop which climbs 1,343 feet over just 1.3 miles—and then drops that same elevation back to the Sanitas Valley Trail. When you consider that the town below is already at an elevation over 5,000 feet, your lung capacity will be surely tested. Even if you’re in top shape, expect the Mount Sanitas Trail Loop alone to take an hour to complete.

DAY 2:

West of Boulder is the notorious eight-mile-long Magnolia Road, known locally as “Mags” but more widely as a proving ground for world-class runners. The dirt and gravel road gained cult status after its inclusion in Chris Lear’s book Running with the Buffaloes as a staple Sunday run for the 1998 University of Colorado cross country team.

Starting at the west end of the rolling road three miles west of the town of Nederland, CU runners still complete a grueling 16-mile out-and-back or an even more brutal 20-mile loop that includes parts of adjacent Peak to Peak Highway and Highway 72. The lowest elevation on the run is 8,100 feet and most runners turn around at the eastern terminus where the dirt road turns to pavement.

Although not a trail per se, this dusty, scenic road passes ranches, homes, open alpine meadows, and cuts through pine forests. It has been run by the likes of Frank Shorter, Rob De Castella, Steve Jones, Uta Pippig, Dathan Ritzenhein, Constantina Dita, and John Korir.

If running in shadows that tall aren’t enough for you, add some technical singletrack on theEast Magnolia Dot Trails. These are popular trails among mountain bikers, but are officially multi-use and welcoming to runners.

DAY 3:

Chautauqua Park 1.2 miles west of Boulder serves well as a base for running the Mesa Trail to Eldorado Springs and back, a 13.4-mile round trip with 3,250 feet of climbing. Most of the well-defined, rolling path is shaded as it skirts the base of the Flatirons, which you’ll come to appreciate if you visit in the summer. That said, be sure to bring plenty of water, especially if you're doing the run as an out-and-back. And if you're going solo, wearing a bear bell is a fine idea—native black bear aren't aggressive but can be confrontational if startled.

As an appetizer, the trails within the park are satisfying, too. It’s a short hike up the Bluebird-Baird Trail to a fine view of Boulder. Then there’s the McClintlock and Enchanted Mesa Trails that lead deeper into the park, and the first and Second Flatiron, Amphitheater, and Royal Arch trails that are also must-do’s in this verdant historic locale.


San Francisco Lands End Park.San Francisco Lands End Park.

Roughly seven-by-seven miles, the City by the Bay packs phenomenal trail running options, into an otherwise dense urban area. Many of the best spots are literally within running distance of one another, which means you could theoretically cover these highlights in a day. Though the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and even trails beyond city limits are nearly contiguous, there’s enough trail to cover to merit several days of exploring San Francisco by foot.

One of the hilliest cities in the country, San Francisco challenges runners with tough climbs. But expect your efforts to be rewarded with unparalleled views of the city and the stunning natural beauty of the coast. San Francisco has a range of accommodation options, from upscale hotels, to online rentals, to quirky hostels, and even camping options across the Golden Gate Bridge in the National Recreation Area or on Angel Island. And you are never far from good food or drink.

DAY 1:

On day one, head to the northwest corner of the city to explore the Presidio, part ofGolden Gate National Recreation Area. The former military outpost has 24 miles of trails, including many hills and stairs to climb to great views of the bay, Alcatraz, and the bridges. You can either start at Fort Mason or Crissy Field on the city’s northern shore, pass the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and take the challenging Battery to Bluffs Trail to Baker Beach. Return via Lincoln Boulevard and the many stairs up to the Immigrant Point Overlook. From there take the De Anza Trail down to the Mountain Lake and Ecology trails to Inspiration Point and Golden Gate Promenade before arriving back at Crissy Field. This can be a run of 10 miles or more. Make it shorter and easier by taking the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which is gorgeous on its own. For food and refreshments in the Presidio, consider Arguello, a newly opened restaurant right on Presidio grounds featuring locally sourced ingredients.

As an alternative, runners can connect the Presidio’s trails with Lands End in the northwest corner of San Francisco with a short stretch of neighborhood streets. From the visitor’s center, follow Coastal Trail and Land’s End Trail to the turnoff to Mile Rock Beach. It’s 100-plus steps down, but at low tide you can see the remains of three shipwrecks along the shoreline. The cliff-hugging trails through Lands End offer almost non-stop views of the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands. Near Lands End, hungry runners can clean up and go to the Cliff House, a famous restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  

DAY 2:

On day two, plan to run through the heart of the Cityin Golden Gate Park. Despite its central location, you will feel a world away from the city streets as you crisscross the park on a warren of trails. Stretching over three miles from east to west and half a mile from north to south, Golden Gate Park offers great options for shorter to mid-range mileage.

If you are daunted by the prospect of navigating the park’s meandering trails, consider starting from the Conservatory of Flowers at the Park’s eastern edge, and running the trails that parallel John F. Kennedy Drive through the park as you head west. Run past open fields of picnickers, a waterfall, and a bison paddock. When you can see the tower of the park’s landmark windmill, you are steps from the Pacific Ocean. The trail spits you out across the street from Ocean Beach, a four-mile long windswept expanse of the coast where—if it’s not foggy—you can catch spectacular sunsets and watch surfers and dolphins play in the waves. At this end of the park, visit the Park Chalet for food and beer brewed on-site at the restaurant’s own brewery.

DAY 3:

Though not technically within the city of San Francisco, Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, is ground zero for premier trail running. Trails in the headlands of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, on Mt. Tamalpais, and as far as Point Reyes National Seashore are easily accessible from San Francisco and provide a stunning escape from the city.

For a classic experience (that could also be brutal, if it’s windy, and crowded), consider running the 1.7 miles across the windswept expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once across, extend your run by heading west to pick up the SCA Trail, which leads you to the Coastal Trail. If you would rather skip the bridge run, consider driving to the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and exploring from there, giving you access to options including the Miwok Trail, Coastal Trail, and Rodeo Valley Trail. Many of these trails have stunning views of the rugged coastline and the San Francisco skyline, as well as occasional beach access. Ambitious runners can connect trails for longer runs—a local favorite is a 12-mile loop that includes the Tennessee Valley Trail.

If you are willing to drive a bit farther, head to the town of Stinson Beach for trails that trace the western edge of Mt. Tamalpais. The Matt Davis Trail does not lack for scenery (or climbing), and be sure not to miss the infamous Dipsea Trail, which is home to the oldest trail race in America.

Originally written by RootsRated for Superfeet.

August 16, 2016